Portraits of America #6: The Girl Who Loved People As They Are


This is a drawing of me by my just married friend ε.

We have the same age. 1983 was a good year for babies.

We met at Brighton University when we were 22. We both had more cheeks and less hair. She was studying painting and I remember her saying: “I think my painting needs hot pink. That’s what it needs.” I don’t know why this quote stayed in my head all these years. She had asked me to write on a little paper a line from the movie Amélie that she was obsessed with: “Je ne suis la belette de personne” (“I am no one’s little beaver”). Years after, she was still carrying it around in her wallet.

She generally is a multi-talented girl, like all my friends. But to me, her main skill in life is her propension to love people as they are. It threw me off in several occasions. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her talk bad about anyone, which certainly doesn’t mean she’s naive or candid. When someone would make me want to slap them in certain situations, she would simply say: “This is how he/she is.” She is the incarnation of acceptance.

I owe ε my last American autumn tour, as I traveled to Chicago for her wedding, shortly after some guy had tried to set the airport control tower on fire. It took ages to get there. I’ve been to very few weddings in my life, because the people in my circles don’t get married much. They are outsiders, single or broke. It was my first close friend’s wedding.

I therefore was a maid of honour for the first time, with the bunch of my fab American friends that goes by the name of “Whore House”. We are an army of strong women, thus spoke the bride.

We rehearsed a little bit before the ceremony. The bridesmaids had to walk two by two down the aisle. I was wearing my rainbow fake fur coat (the one all over this blog) above my maid of honour gown to keep me warm in the autumnal Illinois weather. A few moments before we were all going on “stage”, ε, in her vintage elegantly sober bridal dress, looked at me and my crazy outfit and told me: “I want you to keep your fur down the aisle.” -“Are you sure?” I asked with astonishment, because it was so anti-wedding and I was afraid of ruining the chic of her ceremony with my extravaganza. She was. This is you.” She wanted me to look like myself, even under solemn circumstances.

Who else on earth would have let me do this? It meant the world to me. This is NOT anecdotic.

Many contradictory thoughts crossed my mind at top speed. A series of flashbacks of many ordinary instances of my life where I was asked, advised or suggested to change something in my outfit or in myself unraveled in my head. Past memories were colliding with present gratefulness.

I grew up in France and I spent half my life hearing comments about what I wear – and implicitly, about what I am and how I live. Invariably, whatever adjective was picked, it would be preceded with “too” : too provocative, too casual, too mismatched, too ruined, too original. What could have been great compliments always turned into reproach.

Clothes and style are way deeper than the importance we want to grant it. It is the way you present yourself to the rest of the world. My appearance shows exactly who I am, I’m not putting any costumes or characters on. Surface can be deep. “Skin is the deepest” said Paul Valéry (“Le plus profond, c’est la peau”).

I’ve always lived with the feeling that people wanted to “fix” me. Anything “too much” is suspicious, problematic and has to be brought back to regularity. France is very much like that, at least. No wonder I left when I was 18 and 2 weeks. No wonder I still feel I can only blossom and explode in America. I am still much of a misfit in my homeland, but I’ve tamed it now.

ε & my American friends always encouraged me and helped me embrace my true nature. They made me feel comfortable with my originality. They laughed at my character instead of being annoyed or envious. They never thought that my differences had to be corrected because they were “wrong”, they made me believe that it was my beauty and my diamond. I’ve run for who I am a thousand times more since they’ve been in my life.

Oh man. It takes so long to feel accepted. It may be a lifetime battle. But some exceptional souls give you a little lift along the way. I certainly won’t forget what ε did for me.