I met Jessica Valentine in Vegas. It was 6 am, and I was walking back to Ballys—drunk. The sun was coming up, casting the neon lights and billboards of the land of superficiality in a sandy hue. Jessica was walking towards me from the opposite direction, wearing a low cut dress and sharing the same mental state. We started talking and she told me she lived in Portland, which I couldn’t believe. How random is that? Two people who lived in Portland randomly meeting in Vegas. So, with that common ground between us, we went to the bar of Ballys and got a drink. After that, we went upstairs.
We ended up hanging out when we both got back to Portland, off and on through the fall of 2015. One time, I told her that Basil Hayden was my favorite bourbon, and she’d keep buying it for me whenever we went out. I felt bad because it’s really expensive, but that’s the kind of person she was. Even if she couldn’t afford it—and she couldn’t—she’d still buy it for me because she wanted me to have it.
Another time, on Thanksgiving of that year, I didn’t have any plans and was depressed because of it. So she brought me a Thanksgiving plate of turkey and mashed potatoes and all that. And it was delicious—I devoured it. Then we got high and sang karaoke with Ashley and stayed up till five am playing cards.
Throughout that fall of 2015, we would randomly get high and stay up till sunrise. My friends all know this by now, but when I hang out with people, I have intense personal or philosophical conversations. Small talk doesn’t interest me. And during those long conversations and late nights, we got to know each other. I told her about my family and how I didn’t speak to my brother. She told me about her life in California, and how she wasn’t close to her family. She didn’t feel like she could talk to them. And it was here that I began to catch glimpses of a deep loneliness that she rarely revealed to others, billowing just below the surface of her self.
She told me about her ex-husband, and how she was worried that he had used her for his green card. She told me how he was verbally abusive, calling her ugly and unattractive. And these words damaged her. They made her feel insecure about her looks to the point where she would not look at the camera when we took pictures. She told me that she wasn’t sure if her and her husband had ever really loved each other.
I think this is a trap we can all fall into after a relationship ends, when we’re left meandering the mental graveyard where love once bloomed. But for her, it was different. I think she was admitting to herself, for the first time, that she’d never loved him. But she’d spent all those years telling herself that she had, so where did that leave her? What did that reveal about who she was?
On one of those nights, when we were standing in her kitchen around four am and in various stages of undress, I asked her: “Do you still believe in love?” She was a little stunned, and she paused. Her eyes became glossy and distant and she became lost in her memories.
A quick aside: the fact that I asked her that question reveals a lot about our friendship. I was revealing that I didn’t love her in the way that I loved my ex-girlfriends, for example. But there are different types of love. I deeply cared about her. But what I was referring to, in that question, was romantic love. Spend the rest of your life with someone love. Carry someone to the grave love. Stare into someone’s eyes on Sunday morning and kiss their belly as they erupt in laughter love.
“Do you still believe in love?” I asked and after her eyes were glossy and distant, they grew wet. She said she hoped to. She wanted to. But….she shook her head. She didn’t know if she could.
And I think that response speaks more to whether or not Jessica Valentine believed in love. It speaks to whether or not she had hope for the future. Because believing that you’ll fall in love again isn’t about being a hopeless romantic; it’s about believing that good things will happen in the future. And I don’t think Jessica believed that.
But that’s a mark of faith, isn’t it? To hope that the future will be good. That you’ll be happy. That you’ll love and be loved. I can’t give hope to any of you that are reading this. But I can give you love. I can tell you that we’ll see each other in the future. And that’s something. We’ll hang out and share a laugh and smile and talk. And that’s nice. If that’s not nice I don’t know what it is.
That was also the same night I told Jessica that her scars made her beautiful. And I meant it. I still do. It’s true about all of you as well. Our scars make us beautiful. They make us unique. Our scars give us canyons for someone else to crawl into and adore.
One day, Jessica and I were drinking whiskey, and I brought up doing acid, as I am wont to do. And she said yes because she always said yes to living. She was down for anything. So we go and pick up the acid, a few tabs on Altoids. I tell her to put them under her tongue and let them melt. I reach over and pick up my beer and look back to her and she’s chomp-chomp-chomping down on it. So I figure, fuck it, and do the same. We don’t feel anything in about ten minutes, so we decide to take another one–not a good idea. And again, I’m like, just let it melt under your tongue. And again, she’s like, chomp chomp chomp. It was funny. We ended up taking a third tab, and tripped for about 16 hours. And something to consider about Acid, and her sister mushrooms, is that I never felt bad or sick on acid. I just wanted to get off the ride. But it wasn’t like other drugs where I hated myself afterwards, and was depressed and numb for days.
The last time I saw her, she insisted that we play foosball again. Last year, we used to play a lot, and we were unbeatable with her on offense and me on defense. Which is good, cause she was really competitive. She’d really get into those games. And that night, a couple days before she passed, we played foosball at Bare Bones for the last time.
And she kicked my ass.
Then I gave her an Irish goodbye, because I knew if I stayed she wouldn’t want me to leave. So I never said goodbye to her. I never thanked her for the things she did for me. For being there for me, for helping me, for listening to me. I never told her how much she meant to me. And I’m sorry. Even though I don’t believe she can hear me, I’m sorry Jessica.
Maybe she knew. People have told me this. I appreciate them for saying it, but I don’t think she knew. I mean no disrespect or negativity for the things we tell ourselves, but for me, I’d rather look at the harsh truth of the situation, and learn what I can from it. I’d rather stare into the void and turn the darkness into a light. Stare into the void and turn the darkness into a light. And the harsh truth is that she was one of my most meaningful friends in this city, and she’ll never know that. And I can’t take that back. I never get to tell her.
But I can tell all of you. I remember everyone I’ve spoken to this year—from the friends in Koh Phangan who shared that party scene with me, to the friends I met and knew in Chang Mai, to those wonderful souls in India that I spent one of the absolute best months of my life with, to the old high school friends I reconnected with because a friend got married, and to all the people I reconnected with in Portland when I returned. All of you, please know, that in all the years that pass, remember that I saw you. I knew you and I saw you and you made my life better. My life is better for having you in it.