I’ve always wondered why some memories stick to my conciseness and others drift off forgotten. Sometimes the moments that define past times seem so trivial that I wonder why they’re kept. But some memories are so pivotal, and their importance so obvious, that the second they happen I know I will never forget them. The first time I saw Alaska Alderly is one of those moments.
Half way through my sophomore year I left the public school system for a year and a half to do independent study. I wanted to focus my attention on the classes I needed to get into college, and get the grades necessary. I accomplished both and decided to finish out my high school career at the public school. On the first day of school I set out to make some friends. I got to my first period early, economics with Ms. Sweet. I sat in the back. I knew that this class and all my others would be a cake-walk but I had no intention of letting the kids around me know that it was easy. The bell rang and everyone took their seat. Ms Sweet began her introduction lecture and five minutes later, Alaska walked in.
What I saw was a five foot three version of everything that my mother would ever fear her son bring home. She was wearing large dark sunglasses that matched her long pitch-black hair, covered by a slightly tilted backwards trucker hat. Her slender figure was only barely covered by a dangerously low-cut white tank-top and a cut off jean shorts that could not have been permissible even by the liberal standards of the Ventura Unified school district. Her wrist was covered by a red bandana and both arms were decorated with a couple dozen sterling silver accessories. I counted 7 piercings on her ears but I couldn’t be sure. The chuck Tayler’s on her feet were decorated with several sharpie skull and crossbones and her every movement dripped with confidence, sex appeal, and rebellion. My jaw unhinged as she glided across the room without acknowledging the teacher and, of course, took the seat directly to my left.
Halfway through the class I looked to my left and we made eye contact. That was the first time I saw her smile, and that is a moment that will remain engrained in my mind. Even as an 18 year old I knew that as long as I was alive I would be powerless against that smile. At 24 nothing’s changed. My heart melted and the dilapidated smile that I returned bore witness to her spell. After class, it only got worse when she tapped my arm and said:
“How come I’ve never seen you before?? You’re super cute!”
I was done for. As the weeks went on, it was Alaska and her extroverted flirting that sparked the friendship that would grow. On my own, I never would have had the courage to get to know her. We talked more and more and eventually we got put together on a group assignment. The exact order of events in those precious months is a blur now. But I do know that she and I became very good friends. We talked for hours on the phone, went to parties, listened to music, and she would come over to my house at lunch for Mac N Cheese. She had a boyfriend but was always complaining about the relationship and I couldn’t be happier to be her vent.
I figured out pretty quickly that the rebellious attitude she exuded stemmed from demons buried deep. There were abandonment issues that showed themselves in self-abuse and a very serious, and very dark, drug problem. I had always wondered why she insisted on staying on the phone almost all night sometimes, and when I found out why, I was crushed. I was crushed because I saw through the bandannas and piercings. I saw the heart that she tried to bury and the amazing soul at the core of who she was. I wondered if she would ever see what I saw.
There was always a connection between us that went deeper than friendship. There was a tension and attraction and I wasn’t the only one that noticed it. Sure enough her boyfriend began to get a bit “miffed” at how much we interacted but soon that relationship ended. When it did I started to pursue things with more intensity. One late night at my house after a weekend party we kissed. Another moment I’ll never forget. But that makes one. Drugs were still a part of Alaska's life and that night was no exception. We’ve since talked about that night and although she remembers that it happened, she can’t recall the details.
Eventually Alaska and I began to drift further and further apart. It became pretty clear to me that her lifestyle wasn’t one that fit with mine, and I’m sure she felt the same way. I cared about the girl and knew that I always would but when she began to date another boy who fit better with the life she had chosen, I wasn’t hurt.
My senior year ended in 2004. On grad night Alaska and her new boyfriend dropped me off at the party that was thrown at the fairgrounds to celebrate the occasion. I didn’t see her after that. I went off to college and started a new life. Pretty quickly into college I had a girlfriend, a new group of friends and a new home. I was on the soccer team and studying for my business major and rarely went back to Ventura. But as the years went on I found myself wondering how I could find the girl with bandannas around her wrist. Every time I went back to Ventura it was her face that filled my thoughts as I passed the spots that we had frequented. Even though she had only been in my life for a very short time, she was my personification of home and I always found myself wondering what had become of her.