Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Remembering Sonya: The Origin Story of a Beautiful Friendship

A year ago today, I lost the best friend I have ever had, Sonya Bastian, after a long fight with lung cancer. She was just weeks away from her 42nd birthday.

I remember quite vividly the first time I met Sonya. It was the summer of 1990. I was with some friends, shopping in the Oregon District, when I spotted my old friend Jasmine sitting on a little grassy hill near the overpass. I had known Jasmine since second grade; we’d been neighbors and best friends back then, but drifted apart when my parents moved. By sheer coincidence, we both ended up in what was called “the Dayton punk scene” and re-connected. By then, we’d each had new best friends, as kids will do. I’d heard a lot about her bosom buddy, enough so that when I saw her that day, I immediately thought: That must be her. Sonya Bastian.

She was wearing a long, black dress and gorgeous boots with fishnet stockings. Her hair was jet black and cut in a bob, her face adorned with perfect Goth makeup, her long, black nails holding a clove cigarette. She looked beautiful, very much like Siouxsie Sioux, whom I adored. She was talking with Jasmine, and suddenly put a hand on her midsection and threw her head forward in what I would later think of as her signature laugh.

I hated her almost instantly.

It was the kind of hate that’s practically a major food group in young teen girls: pure, unadulterated, drama-fueled envy. Given the circumstances, it was just inevitable. She was the best friend of the girl who had once been my best friend. She had once dated the guy I was then dating, and he always spoke of her as if she were what we’d now call a perfect Manic Pixie Dream Girl. His father even talked of her as if he wished she was still dating his son. Another guy I had once had one of those quintessential unrequited high school crushes on never noticed it because he had his own unrequited crush on her. So I was already pretty biased against even the idea of Sonya Bastian long before ever laying eyes on her.

And when I did finally lay eyes on the famous Sonya Bastian, I went from minor bias to full-blown jealousy in record speed. She seemed to be everything I wished I could be. I had always been a tomboy, and rather unremarkably plain. My older brother once accused me of having embraced the punk look because it was the only way I could get any attention on my appearance, and there’s probably some truth to that. Deep down inside, though, I wanted to be goth...but I simply couldn’t pull it off. I didn’t have the talent necessary to do the makeup properly, nor did the look suit me at all. On the rare occassions when I tried to dress in the goth fashions I loved, it looked like a very poor attempt at a cheap Halloween costume. I was, to my occassional disappointment, the kind of girl who was best suited to a punk rather than a goth aesthetic: more Joan Jett than Morticia Addams.

But Sonya could not only pull that desirable goth look off, she did so perfectly, managing to make it look both glamorous and effortless in the process. I remember looking her, and then at myself, in my tattered cut-off jean shorts, torn black tights, a “Die Die My Darling” Misfits t-shirt ironically borrowed from a mutual friend, and my older brother’s old Army combat boots. Next to Sonya, I felt scruffy, boring, invisible.

There’s an old movie from 1980 that HBO would play on Saturday afternoons called “Midnight Madness,” and it was a favorite in my family. In it is a scene in which the antagonist, Harold, asks his father to stop comparing him to the film’s hero, Adam. He begs his father to just “see me as I really am.” The dad then looks at Harold from toes to top and says, “Blech.” That’s how I felt as I compared myself to Sonya the day we met: she was Adam, and I was Harold.

Our relationship did not improve after this, due to an incident engineered by my ex/former abuser/stalker, and compounded when I tried to help a mutual friend get back into a relationship which unbeknownst to me had been toxic. The latter occurance led to the first phone call we ever had, and boy did she let me have it! It was the first time I got to see how fiercly loyal and protective she was, when it came to the people she loved. It wouldn’t be the last.

The last time I saw Sonya before moving to Oregon was much like the first: jealousy-inducing. It was at a nightclub called The Palace. She was dancing, looking gorgeously goth. She was the mother of two children at that point, and yet looked as fierce as ever. I can still see her dancing, in my mind’s eye. The song was New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.” I still think of her every time I hear it.

A few years later, I joined a group on MySpace for punk parents. In that group, there was a mother identified as Sonya from Dayton. I quickly realized she was the very same Sonya I had a not-so-great past with. As I became more and more involved in the group, I began to feel increasingly in the wrong: I was anonymous to her, but she was not anonymous to me. It was time to come clean. So I sent her a message, telling her who I was and offering to leave the group if my presence there made her uncomfortable. After all, she had belonged to the group first. It seemed only fair.

Her response: “I don’t have time for high school drama. We were kids: I was a little shit, you were a little shit. How have you been?”

We began regularly messaging each other on MySpace, then chatted via AIM, and finally exchanged phone numbers. The very first time we talked on the phone in ages, she apologized to me for the incident with the ex. As it turns out, she soon realized he was manipulating her, and the guilt had eaten away at her for years. He had played on her extraordinary sense of loyalty and protectiveness, then betrayed her (AKA his regular MO).

My response: “He was a master con artist, and you are far from the only person who’s apologized to me over the years for believing in him. I don’t hold it against anyone. Besides, we were kids: I was a little shit, you were a little shit.”

She laughed. I laughed. And thus began the greatest friendship of my life: by two women agreeing they were little shits as teens!

We also soon learned that we were eerily alike far beyond shitty adolescence. “We’re basically the same person,” she would say. It was likely the reason we didn’t get along when we were kids: we were just too much alike. That was anathema to two teenagers in the punk scene...just admitting to ourselves that we were so much alike would have been utterly unthinkable. Ah, the fragile ego of youth!

But as adults, it no longer felt like anathema...it felt like kismet instead.

She was surprised when I told her how jealous I had been of her, because when we’d first met in the Oregon District that day, she had been jealous of me! After all, I’d been the first best friend of her best friend, I was dating the guy she still inexplicably had some feelings for, and while I was envious of her dancing, she was envious of my singing.

This lead to an epic conversation I recorded in my journal later that same day:

Me: YOU were jealous of ME?!? Why?
Sonya: All I ever heard was, “Have you heard Angel sing?” Ugh, it was too much!
Me: Umm...you know my last name is Singer now, don’t you?
—long pause—
Sonya: That. Is. Fucking. HILARIOUS!

We laughed so hard, we nearly choked.

There were ways, of course, in which we were not alike, but that never seemed to matter. Issues that would have torn other relationships to shreds was never an obstacle for us, for reasons I could never hope to adequately explain. We were polar opposites when it came to politics and religion, for example. Yet it never mattered. We were still “basically the same person.”

As the years went on, that incredibly unlikely friendship grew stronger and stronger. The closest equal in pop culture can be found in the show “Boston Legal”: She was Denny Crane, and I was Alan Shore. The Female Flamingos. Different, but somehow the same. And just as fiercly devoted and loving. I never lacked a companion, a confidante, or a defender, with Sonya by my side.

The woman whose beauty I was so jealous of came to call me “Pretty Lady.” Every conversation we had, every voice mail she left, always started with, “Hey, Pretty Lady! It’s me again.”

I called her “Dear Heart.” I ended every email and message and email with, “I miss you, Dear Heart.”

And so I can think of no better way to end this post than to say:

I miss you, Dear Heart.

Always.

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