Eisa Ulen Remembers Her Pal, Erica Kennedy
I don’t want to write previously tense. I must use the past tense not only because I am writing in regards to the previous, but in addition as a result of I’m writing about proper now. This current. This presence. My sister. Our pricey, lovely, amazing, wonderful, smart, sharp sister. Who is now gone from this earth, and yet so very present. A presence.
As I stood in JFK and heard Nikki say, “I can’t even imagine I’m telling you this and you’re at the airport,” I felt the last moment of my personal stability tick tock away. In the next breath she advised me about Erica. Our Erica. Our sister Erica. A sound came out of me, and i cried, and that i didn’t care that others were watching me as this sound got here out of me and i cried. And I have been unstable ever since.
But this is not about me. It is about our girlfriend. I am supposed to communicate to the world what she meant to us. I do not think this is possible. She is – was – too too far beyond words. How am I to speak her love, expressed with a easy brush of cheek towards cheek The delight in her smile, the way she gazed at our children, the ones Aisha, Rachel, and i brought into this world and our circle, and whom she loved so deeply simply because they, of course, were her children, too How can I tell you, The World, what she meant to us all How I’m crying proper now as I type this as a result of it hurts an excessive amount of to write down about her this manner
I don’t suppose I can talk how she made us really feel. So, I will try to share what. What we did, and how we did it, and when we did it, and with whom. I will try to express friendship that spanned over two many Finish years. That was speculated to final a lifetime.
As I pulled photos to go with these words, I remembered how bright and beautiful she always was. How it all came together. I remembered the place all of it started.
That is one reminiscence: We’re at Alfred’s Ocean Palace, and Alfred’s Ocean Palace is a wood shack on the seaside. Aisha, Rachel, Erica, and i lie together on a bed and discuss. I remember feeling beautiful, with all of them, together like that, in this shack on the beach.
Nikki and Jane have run outside, through the parking lot, to the only guest shower on the property, a pipe with a spigot and one knob set on cold. Cinder blocks surround the pipe and reach up toward the open sky. Now we have all run to that shower for 2 weeks now, trying to bathe at that precise moment when it is too late in the day to swim or sunbathe, but well before it is night. When the sun is low but the air continues to be warm. This is the only time our bodies can take the cold that shoots from the spigot as it blasts salt and sand from our skin.
Aisha, Rachel, Erica, and i lie together and wait for them, and we talk. I do not remember what we talk about. This was 22 years ago. I only remember the feeling. It is warm and right. It is beautiful. We are beautiful, all of us, together. We talk and chortle but we are quiet, too. For long stretches we just lie there in the silence at dusk. We are somewhere between day and night. We are somewhere between lady and girl. This will last ceaselessly, I think. That is sisterhood. I do know I felt that then. I felt, ‘Yes. These are my sisters.’
A few years later, Rachel will have a child. She will have a girl. She will name her Jamaica. She never has to explain to any of us why she chooses this name for her daughter.
On the return flight from the island, the plane shook and bounced and rattled, and I was wide awake and in prayer. I was never good at flying. Erica reached out from her sleep, reached out from the folds of the blanket that was wrapped around her like a chrysalis. She reached out to hold my hand. She kept me protected like that.
And she saved me safe like this: I remember when I used to be about to jump on a moped with a pal, and I used to be putting on my actually cute shoes, and she said, “Eisa, are you going on Gree’s moped tonight ” And i mentioned yeah and kept chatting to Aisha and she mentioned, “Eisa, put on your sneakers.” And I was like no method, and that i stored chatting. And she said, “Eisa, you needn’t trip on a moped with sandals.” And i finally stopped chatting and said why not And she said really fast and a bit of louder, “Because anything might happen on that bike and also you need to be prepared and also you can’t do shit in these sandals.” And I used to be like, whatever Erica. And she got real low and said, “Eisa, I want you to wear your sneakers.” And i looked her in the eye and said no. And she stamped her foot and stated, “Eisa, take those sandals off and put your damn sneakers on now.” And that i received real quiet after that and for, like, a second, nothing happened.
I have a picture of Gree and me on the moped that night. I am smiling and safe. I am also wearing my Tretorns.
I remember her at Oxford, showing Aisha and me her room, her friends, her life there.
Throughout that same journey to Europe, Erica and i danced at a concert at Hammersmith Odeon. We were at Jazz to Pop to Soul. Or Jazz to Soul to Hip Hop. Or something like that. This was 21 years ago. Anyway, we were backstage with the Hip Hop teams who performed that night, and I was starving. I had not eaten much since landing at Gatwick, racing to the resort to satisfy Erica, and heading into the London streets. I used to be consuming oranges. There was a bowl of oranges in the greenroom, and I used to be consuming orange after orange after orange. So I remember these oranges. And partying with my lady. Each recollections are sweet.
I remember strolling by means of the flea market on West 4th here in New York to buy those prairie print dresses we really looked pretty good in.
I remember sitting in her dorm room at Sarah Lawrence every Thursday at 8:00 sharp. Nikki would drive us to get KFC, and we might go to Erica’s and turn on NBC. And Erica would eat chocolate chip cookie dough from the log. Uncooked. The entire thing. She did that every week.
But there are more recollections to help you see her, who Erica was. Aisha says, “I remember many trips to Red Lobster with Erica because she cherished their cheesy bread. I remember her asking me if I might read her first few draft chapters of Bling and feeling very honored that she actually trusted me and respected my opinion. We became even closer associates after I had my kids because Erica loved children and had a pure means with them.”
However this does not actually categorical how essential Aisha was to Erica. Rachel called Aisha Erica’s lifeline. She was right. Aisha was Erica’s lifeline. I believe The World should know that.
When Erica went away to Oxford, she called Nikki and advised her all about her life, filling her in so Nikki nearly felt like she was going to Oxford, too. “She would tell me where she would journey her bike to go get her hair achieved,” certainly one of a very powerful details to share with a sister. When Erica was coming again to Sarah Lawrence, she known as Nikki and mentioned, “I’m coming back. And i wanna reside with you.” Nikki didn’t hesitate. “Accomplished.” They were suitemates, sharing two rooms with a bathroom to join them, their senior year.
Does this categorical the time spent speaking together about politics, movie star gossip, guys, world events, fears, hopes, and – sure – hair Does it categorical the depth of emotion when Nikki says, “Being an only child, she’s always been my sister.”
A fierce sister. Tatiana said,
“The thing I admired a lot about Erica is that she deferred to no one. Shortly after Miramax optioned her first novel Bling, she known as me at the Hollywood Reporter, and we had been talking about the deal’s press coverage. I was able to get a photo of Erica in the paper — a fantastic one, natch. But she was outraged that Variety ran a photo of Harvey Weinstein instead of her. ‘It’s not like he wrote the e book,’ she deadpanned. And i just had to laugh. She was right, of course. Most people would have been glad to take second billing to an Oscar winner. But not Erica. And that was the form of hutzpah that so defined her for me.”
But this doesn’t tell The World how Tatiana came into our circle after we’d all graduated, and how we named her an honorary Sarah Lawrence alum even before she married a guy who did go to college with us. And this story also doesn’t tell how Erica and Tatiana would banter. All the time. How they cracked each other up, and admired each other’s snazzy one-liners.
I could tell The World what Rachel remembers, which tells so much about our Erica:
“You and Aish were taking your junior year away. I was basically on my own. I signed up for “Slavery, Civil Conflict, and Reconstruction.” There were a couple of white peeps in the class but mostly it was women of color. Erica was a freshman and obviously I noticed her. Strong and quiet. Beautiful. Maybe a bit of intimidating, though she was two years my junior. Remember I was considered one of the one white girls in a category with a pretty charged subject. One day, we had been two of a few left in the room. I was pulling my curly hair back into a pony tail and fussing with the little wisps of hair that stuck out above my ears. Urgent them back, wishing they’d grow. Erica was quietly, intently watching me. I seen and finally, bravely supplied ‘I have these items of hair, I simply can’t get them to stay down. They don’t grow. It’s so annoying.’ Erica said, ‘So, you’re saying you may have breakage.’
Breakage I never heard of it. What a revelation!
I answered, ‘Sure, I do.’
To which Erica said in that inimitable Erica straight-faced manner ‘that’s very Black of you, Rachel.’
After that we had been buddies.”
I wish I had area to describe to The World the beat and pulse and energy of Hip Hop in the 80s, when Erica and Rachel would be in the city dancing. The way you dance with your lady in baggy jeans and jackets and knapsacks and feel, know, you might be in a moment together. A second as large as Hip Hop in New York in the 80s. The best way they rolled appreciated that by the town.
The town was about 30 minutes away from the place we all lived collectively in faculty. And we all did reside together there. Going to Sarah Lawrence with lower than 999 other undergraduates was kinda like growing up on one 1,000 individual family estate. It was like living with family. Erica treated her ladies like family.
Just a few years ago, when Aisha and Erica started Diego Garcia they had a sale at Aisha’s house in the Hamptons. Camille happened to be visiting that weekend, and she purchased one skirt however agonized over two dresses. Camille was freelancing again then and will only afford one. She made her alternative, regretted not having the resources to buy both, and went for a swim. When she came back, Erica had folded the dress Camille couldn’t afford and placed it on her mattress.
It was the sweetest gesture however not a complete surprise. Does it inform The World how she gave without gush, with out pomp or expectation
And she gave us all the Lobster Theory, a treatise on womanhood that she developed during her year at Oxford, two decades before the publication of Feminista. Stone Island Erica typed it and printed it and stapled it together and mailed it, Par Avion, with hand-written notes to us all. When i read it, I advised her what I thought. “You’re a really good writer, Erica,” I said on the phone. “Really good.” I can tell you we are going to all the time have The Lobster Concept of Love, but I can’t tell you the actual Lobster Concept. (I just can’t.)
So I will ask you to stay with me as I tell you, The World, this story, this memory. I think it could be all I have left to offer you:
We sped down the Hudson River Parkway, away from the rolling lawns and stone buildings of our tiny suburban college and into the night, into the flashing lights, and the blasting air of the city. I drove, flipped from BLS to KISS, and pressed harder on the gas pedal, fueled by the Friday night master mix and the new air of righteousness fogging the windows of Nikki’s Ford Festiva.
We were on our method to CBGB’s to confront the lead singer of a certain rock band. He had been dating Rachel, had stopped dating her, and had her belt, a really nice belt. We were determined to get it back. To get him back. You realize.
It was about the belt but, like, it wasn’t.
Anyway, we roared into the city, strode backstage (not a troublesome thing for us in any respect), and i do remember my finger and neck transferring again and forth. He was penitent, even pensive. He swore he would send Rachel the belt.
We showed him.
After the show we ladies sat in the car eating St. Marks pizza. And then, this occurred:
A taxi driver and his fare received into a struggle, the cab U-turned on 3rd Avenue and hit the taxi double parked next to the Ford Festiva, which hit us, and the fare pulled the taxi driver out the window of the taxi and threw him on the hood of the taxi that had banged into us, and in addition threw him on the hood of the Ford Festiva, and hit him, lots, and we screamed, loads, and for a long time this lasted, after which the fare strode off, and ultimately the police came, and the police officer told me to only stay in the automobile while he wrote a report (which we found out later was a false report with no contact information and ultimately figured the taxi driver must’ve given up that night’s money to pay off the cop), after which in any case that it started to snow, and I was like, ‘There is no such thing as a approach I am gonna drive us back to Sarah Lawrence,’ and so I walked to a pay phone and Sky-Paged the DJ of a certain Hip Hop group with my code, and he called me back on the pay phone, and I was like, ‘Yo, you gotta come get us now!’ and within minutes he and Randy drove over from Chung King, and i followed his black car with the crimson; black; and green flag on the antenna to his black on black on black apartment, and me and my girls ended up picking out afro wigs for a big part of that night before we settled in enough to really crash and sleep until the following morning after we drove back to high school in a busted up Ford Festiva that would never get properly repaired since we would never be able to file an insurance claim with the faux report the cop wrote out.
And after all that, Erica just said, “Advised you you shouldn’t go.”
See, it was Aisha, and Rachel, and Nikki, and i in a Ford Festiva. Erica refused to go with us. When we pow-wowed in her dorm room about how we just Had to get the belt back, Erica, in her infinite wisdom, advised us this: “Like, I don’t get it.”
And when we tried to convince her that this was our mission, that we simply had to accept it, she simply said this: “You shouldn’t go. This is stupid.” And once we were all like, “We are going” she was like, “Whatever.” And she fairly dramatically shook her duvet and acquired in the bed.
She was right, of course. The guy by no means even despatched Rachel her belt.
And so though Erica wasn’t in the car with us, the story is incomplete without her. Her “Advised you you shouldn’t go” the next morning has echoed these 22 years since and can sound on a decrease frequency in my mind for the remainder of my life.
It was a hall-of-fame, traditional, wild, loopy, bananas college expertise. And so of course she was in the automobile with us, the whole approach there and back, although she was the just one with stone island jacket hooded sense sufficient to know to not be.
Erica was at all times smarter than us. Than all of us put together.
I like to think of us all rolling together like we did that night we went after Rachel’s belt. Rolling into the decades waiting for us up ahead. Erica won’t ever be in the car with us. Not ever again. But the story, our story, will never be complete without her. She will always be riding with us. Somehow. Her presence guiding us, correctly, into our uncertain future. Her voice will echo in the stories we will remember and tell after we reach that future. We’ll conjure her name, our vitality willing her presence again to us. Erica will be with us that way.