I’d like to say a few words about my friend Ann Humphreys. If you pardon the terrible mix of metaphors and puns, it’s easy to get Pollyanna about Annie, because she the kind of woman that inspires so much love in the people around her that one is reduced to inane blatherings about “how important she is to me” and blaggedy-blah-blah. I will say this, however: my life without her in it would be definitely the lesser.
I met her briefly in 1989, during the anorexic summer that followed her father’s quick passing due to brain cancer, and like everyone else, had a hopeless crush. By the time she came to Chapel Hill for good in 1993, she had finished her stint at Barnard College in NYC and was trolling the waters around her home state for something to do. Fortunately, she, her brother (the illustrious Greg Humphreys of Hobex and Dillon Fence fame) and I found a semi-abandoned farmhouse on the outskirts of Carrboro and lived there for a year.
Life on that farm was, like any hazing ritual, the best time we ever hated. Our rent was $117 each, no lie – Annie actually paid her rent one month by discovering a box full of pennies. I made about $400 that year, and lost 25 pounds by subsisting on cans of Slim-Fast and parsimonious bowls of pasta. Sean and I started a failed cover band, Greg’s relationship with Dillon Fence became terminal, Ann began a tortuous affair with one of my best friends – and the only salve we had was a floor-to-ceiling forced-air heater that purported to warm the entire house. Of course, it only warmed the three feet in front of it, so Ann would stretch out there for days at a time, like a cat following the patch of sunlight on the carpet.
Greg would go on tour for months in a stretch, so Ann and I spent entire epochs together in front of that heater. I was writing a semi-digestible novel, and she was honing her craft as a budding poet, thinking about grad school at Warren Wilson. I was truly at my depressive, gadfly, cynical worst, and Annie, while always bristling at her surroundings, never took me seriously enough to warrant an argument. In fact, I have been blessed by many roommates in close quarters without quarrelling (Bud, Salem, Scott, etc.) but I think I could be locked in a steamer trunk with Ann on a cross-Siberian voyage and we’d still get along.
For me, there are two lasting effects from that farm: one, my undying desire to have Ann as a permanent confidante; and two, a complete immunity to most diseases thanks to drinking well water infected with E. Coli.
We’ve been near enough each other for the last few years (she was in San Fran when I was in LA), but I’ve always wanted her in New York, even when I wasn’t living here. For some reason, I thought only New York, with its unrelenting dialogue and emphasis on excellence, could deserve her. But she loves her house in North Carolina, and if there’s one thing the last two years have taught me, it’s to leave people alone about where they live, because what the fuck do I know? Being in NYC during 9/11 drove me to anti-anxiety drugs. Nothing is ever that simple. Nothing worth doing comes without ambivalence.
I would say this, however: a change of scenery, however arbitrary, can be a godsend. My sister Michelle is in the rather insane position of having to choose between Napa Valley and Niger, but I think the choice alone will be worth more than the destination. Human beings tend towards repetition to calm fear, but a life without some stomach-churning trepidation would be the life unexamined.