From her Facebook: “Me, how old? 19ish? Proto-grunge phase as you can tell by the fact that my hair is dirty, and I clearly hadn’t brushed its dreddiness in literally weeks–not joking at all. When hair brushing time would come, those were some bitter and hard-drinking days.”
GIOVANNA Alighieri called to let me know she had a job interview coming up. She’d bought her home before getting fired from the film school and had recently relocated to the garage where she was living encircled by all her stuff on shelves while trying to rent the main house, so far without any takers. Alighieri was my long-suffering friend who seemed to encounter an endless series of misfortunes pursuing a series of desperate last-ditch gambits.
“Well, that’s great news. Good luck.”
“You should come over and help me practice.”
I’d met her a few years previous at AWP through a mutual friend since which time she’d suffered a head injury, been fired from her job, and seemed always in dire straits of one type or another. She seemed to remember her years as a child star fondly, having turned to the study of film as a second best to stardom, ultimately moving to Denver and buying a house before losing her teaching job at the state film school.
“Well, okay, I guess I could—” There came a knock on the door, and I opened it. A kid in a checkered ball cap said, “I’m here for the inspection.”
“I never got any notice.”
“Yeah, I got all these doors last night, man. See?” The kid pointed to a notice on the door of a neighboring apartment.
“Well, I never got one. Come in.”
There were always different maintenance people, as if they kept hiring new ones. This time a kid in the checkered cap came in and looked under my desk with his penlight.
“Something wrong with using a power bar?”
“No, you’re all right. Just looking under there.”
“Are we done, then, or will I be hearing from you?”
“You’ll be hearing from us,” he said as he left. Who are you? I might have asked. What are you looking for? What do you want from me?
“Sorry, Giovanna,” I said into my phone, where she’d been waiting. “Good luck with that job interview.”
“Thanks. It’s been so long I’m afraid they’ll ask me a question and I’ll just freeze. Stop talking and not start talking again.”
“I’ll come over and help.”
Alighieri owned a beautiful house several blocks away and had moved all her stuff into the garage, which she’d converted into a guest house, living in there now along with her little dog. I walked over there, and she met me at the door. “Jezebel, down!” The little dog jumped at my heels. “No hugs today. We’re not supposed to.”
La Alighieri was a beautiful woman obsessed with her fading beauty, always posting pictures of herself on Facebook and comments about how men didn’t look at her the same way anymore. She had a few devoted suitors on Facebook, stray souls charmed by her tapering eyebrows and immune for various reasons to her seemingly endless travails. Since losing her job at the film school because of anti-semitism, she was seeking a well-off Jewish man in his fifties to marry her and buy her house. I didn’t fit these criteria, being a qualified agnostic non-Jew less interested in sex since getting to know her worried mind but had become a trusted acquaintance over the last few years.
She believed her allegedly incestuous neighbor was stalking her and had claimed her house was protected by agents of Mossad since the offending party had fired a short at her house. “I found a shell casing directly in line with where I might have been sitting!” and had paid me twenty bucks to escort her up the drive from her car a few times during this period and I’d seen someone walking from room to room in the house across the street before she arrived, nothing incriminating.
I sat on the couch across from Alighieri’s bed in the center of the little room she now lived in. Alighieri had hired a professional organizer to arrange all her possessions on a series of shelves in the little room she now lived in with a little unexpected hallway and bathroom off to one side. “Those sure are beautiful boots,” I told her.
“That’s why they’re on display.”
It looked pretty good, all her possessions orderly arranged on shelves on every wall, but surely must have felt humbling for her to find herself so driven to the outskirts of herself. reading her interview questions from a website on her laptop and telling her if I thought her responses were good. “Am I sitting up straight enough?” she asked.
“A little straighter. Perfect.”
“All right. That’s enough for today,” she said, after we’d gone through about five pages of questions. “I feel like a drink. You feel like a drink?”
“Sure. You have something to drink?”
“Yeah, that vodka you brought over the other day.”
“That’s right. Sure.”
A former child star who had never made it big as an adult, Alighieri sometimes spoke of going to the same teen soda pop clubs and auditions as the ones now claiming to have been molested there. “But I never saw anything funny.”
After a few plastic cups of vodka mixed with lemonade, I affected an air hug as if making love to a violin, then slipped out the garage door and walked the seven or eight blocks back to my own booby hatch, where I sat watching sitcoms from the 1970s on YouTube for a couple of hours as my upstairs neighbors let their hair down bumping and grunting on a chain of fools above.
A few days later, she sent a text: “Want to break the code or whatever and come over this weekend sometime? I got some wine.”
“Sure, let’s do it.”
“I’m full of health.”
“I haven’t seen anyone in a week.”
“I may have gone to the grocery store within that time but probably not.”
“I haven’t. I’m running out of food.”
“Can you get delivery?”
“My handyman is taking me. I didn’t get that job I told you about, but an old friend is giving me some hours tomorrow. It’s $50 an hour.”
“That’s great. I’m glad to hear everything’s starting to work out.”
“We’ll see what happens. He said he can give me some hours tomorrow.”
Alighieri told me she’d sold her house and she and Jezebel needed to stay with me for a little while this spring or they’d be homeless.
“I thought you said you would move to New Jersey.”
“Yeah. I had to sell then buy there and I couldn’t do it.”
She had explained the nuts and bolts of this statement at length in previous conversations about what might go wrong, but I couldn’t remember the how or why. Something to do with timing. “Sure, I guess if it really means the difference between being homeless or not, I’d let you stay here for a few days.”
“This would probably be more like a few weeks.”
What about all those boxes and books and boots of hers, her big mattress? There was no way all that stuff would fit on top of all my shit. Not to mention my bachelor life—letting inspiration come to me at a natural pace, sitting there doing nothing for hours, days, weeks, letting the kitchen and bathroom get cluttered and only cleaning up in periodic decisive purges—I saw all of this threatened, driven forward like chaff by the thresher of Alighieri and Jezebel setting up camp in the living room. “Three weeks! Wait a minute, I don’t think I wanna agree to that.”
A few minutes later she sent me this message on Facebook: “Don’t worry, we’re not going to stay with you. Jezebel and I will make other arrangements.”
Judging by the things they posted, most of the people on Facebook were taking the shutdown hard. The emotional overspill was manifesting along lines of existing division like race, class, sex, and orientation. All the extroverts were putting up videos about what they were doing during the lockdown. There was still a week to go of the supposed virus danger peak time, and I was forced to reconsider purchasing a pair of summer shoes this coming Tuesday.
At the dispensary, there were pieces of tape on the floor measuring safe distances to keep and he ordered from a couple of feet away. The tax was crazy, but I didn’t lose my temper, saying something about how I couldn’t afford to be a choosy shopper today, no matter how they tried to rip me off, ha ha.
When I got to the grocery store, everything seemed fine. There was an old man walking slowly in front of me when I arrived, and I stayed back about fifteen feet. A lot of people didn’t even wear masks. After taking what felt like too long standing in aisles allowing space for gawkers between myself and the products I wanted, I sped past one unmasked guy in shorts and a T shirt, to grab some cheese, then sped off again, holding my breath, toward an open register, commanded by an elderly black woman without mask or gloves. She had a beehive hairdo and high cheekbones that looked polished. I spoke to her through my bandana. “How are you today, Olivette?”
“I’m fine, how are you?”
“Well, I guess it could always be worse.” I walked home with the bags in my hands, saying that to myself and remembering it could always be worse.
In the weeks before the bug scare, I’d been waking up to lots of patterns I’d created half-consciously that were taking up space in my life without leading me anywhere as if my bill was about to come due. Things like moving into this apartment with the cardboard insulation because my mother was willing to pay the rent while I worked on my writing. There I was, the pot-smoking creative writer with five or six lucky connections just waiting around in the void to get rich as a creative artist of some kind or inherit whatever was left of my mother’s estate when she died and invest it in some get rich quick scheme, or multiple lottery tickets.
I decided I couldn’t say no to Alighieri and sent her this message: “I don’t think I have enough room for all your stuff, but it’s possible, and we’ll have to figure out what to do about the pet deposit. Give me an idea of your plans when you get a chance and we’ll work something out.”
“What are you talking about?” Somewhere in her adventures, Alighieri had contracted a head injury leading to partial amnesia.
“You asked if you could stay here for a few weeks this spring,” I reminded her.
She remembered me telling her I hadn’t paid the pet deposit at my place. “I will have to re-home Jezebel. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Maybe I can find someone to put her up.”
“Thanks. My doctor is looking. I will only give her to someone with a yard.”
“Seen. Maybe Levin will do it. I think he already has a dog, though. Definitely a cat. And I’ll post something on Facebook saying that about the yard requirement.”
“Sure. Sorry I said no right away like I did. You took me by surprise, but that’s no excuse. You’ve always been a good friend to me, and I want to help you.”
Maria Black answered the ad I posted asking if anyone could home Jezebel for a few weeks. “If she can handle my chihuahuas, she’s in!”
“Thanks, I’ll find out.”
Alighieri ended up moving out of that place, I guess she sold the house, and now she lives in an apartment with funny looking tinfoil chandeliers off Yale Ave southeast of here. The dog still lives with her. Sometimes she posts things on Facebook like, “Does anybody single still believe in love? If so, why?”
The other day she posted asking people to invite her to Thanksgiving so I invited her to have it with my mom and me then I told my mom and she said she wasn’t planning on doing anything this year. Then La Alighieri wrote back saying she couldn’t make it being sleep-deprived and so far unable to get any Adderall. Then she posted something about her liver having failed and being in the hospital.
There were a few more posts after that.
“Had some bad and weird Quantum Leap moments that kind of screwed up my world,” she posted one day. “Ended up waking up at the edge of my bed, screaming ‘help me.’ I feel sorry for the other patients. Anyway, I have something to ask of you all: Please share with me your joys and happiness, your fears and triumphs. Your just checking in from time to time. Whether I make it or not, I’m going to need your help to “make it” whatever that means. And please remember to savor your joy. You deserve it.”
Her second post read, “Any good news anyone want to share? Anything at all.” I told her about going to get my glasses fixed thinking it would be expensive and the optician doing it free.
Then, “It’s eerie for people to be sorting your stuff for hospice even though no doctors have told you you’re gone yet.”
Everyone reacted with crying emojis or the ones with their arms around a small heart. I kept posting hearts and saying things like “Sending love ::” Facebook has become a battlefield of semiotics and love is better than pity. Say the word, love.
But a few months later when I checked in, I found news of her death on November 16th of this year.
That Facebook page has since become a place to leave remembrances and ask questions about Giovanna’s remembrance, interment and the safe whereabouts of her beloved pet. Above it all the shot of these words on a diagonal: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Complimented by Giovanna’s comment, “Exactly.”
She was an exceptional soul and I feel honored and rewarded to have been caught up in her slipstream for several years as a friend and neighbor and listener.