© Ted Manolatos
It is a tough task to recall Susannah and how much she touched me and meant to me because of that touch of god I felt from meeting her like I did so randomly and by accident. Susannah probably never has realized or understood the depth I saw in her and why. I find myself making that mistake of sorts a lot of times but it is not like I don’t see the bad with the good and think everything is perfect in an individual that touches me. In fact a lot of those people have always been in the grey fringe of life many times.
I am very measured in who I choose to trust and let myself feel feelings for. I don’t expect perfection because there is no such animal with people. But there are just those kinds of people that come and go sometimes in life that reach me in a certain profound way. They touch with lasting memories that change me somehow. Susannah was one such soul in her own way unbeknownst to herself.
Susannah left me with a loss of sorts in a short lived relationship that never had a chance to blossom. But I still see the good in Susannah and feel a certain love and care for her. I have fond memories as much as sad ones about Susannah in the same sentence. I can never see or speak to her again yet she lives just around the corner where I live so to speak. I am not sure what I would say to her anyway after all these years –22 or so to be exact but she’ll always have a place in my heart and soul.
Susannah was gay and such a private subtle person in some respects yet then so outgoing too. She was mysterious in a way like a new bird chirping in the outdoor choir in the morning. You just saw something different there, something so beautifully different. At least that is what I thought. Susannah could crack such a subtle yet profound smile that was like no other. You never knew what she was thinking and she rarely told you but you knew she was happy or at least laughing about something. I just had to hope it was not me but it often was.
I could not help be attracted to Susannah before I knew she was gay. She never once said she was but you could just figure it out with a sixth sense for such things as I always seemed to have. I was still attracted to her afterwards but I wanted to respect her. I liked her anyway she was. I felt a deep connection to her regardless of her sexual identity. It was just hard to know when you crossed to far over the line or not. Eventually that is what killed us so to speak.
If there was one thing I could take back most, it would be to not have crossed the line with Susannah and been able to keep her as a close friend. She always seemed like a soulmate of sorts to me even if it could never be a romantic thing. I just did not know how to communicate that well at the time. I was so dysfunctional and awkward socially in college just like high school. I guess I still am in many ways but I learned so much from my disasters too like this one that I am better. What is hard is that you can’t take those things back or come back and fix them. Once it is done, it is done.
Me and Susannah did get a chance to share some snippets of life with each other before it all came to crashing halt. It was always a joy to sit with her in college and just talk like we did a lot. I saw so much depth in her. She was so tough in a way yet so fragile underneath too. It would be just so many little things that would reveal who she was when we talked.
Susannah rarely came out and said anything directly. It was not like she was hiding so much as she was just a subtle kind of person. It is so hard to explain but I loved that about her too. It was just like the way she smiled, so revealing yet a bit mysterious and you had to figure her out and guess. I am not sure I guessed right or figure her out very well but I felt like I did back then. Maybe I was all wrong but my gut seems to differ with my conscience still after all these years. Susannah was such a beautiful person with some very dark demons tarnishing her soul. That much, I knew for sure.
Susannah’s mother was a big alcoholic –Susannah told me that herself. Susannah was an alcoholic too but she never really came out and said it. Her mother died recently and it was probably liver disease like I have myself. The alcohol thing with Susannah was easy to figure out but the rest of Susannah was written in codes nobody knows but the author. It never bothered me so much with her though. It was always a joy to me to figure something new out about her. There were so many little things. There were things that were just so beautiful to me that I saw inside of her.
I remember this story Susannah told me once about some little kid in Church Hill here in Richmond, where the kid was putting some animal in the trash can and Susannah stopped him and had a little talk with him about it. It just spoke to a part of who she is as a person. It reached me because I saw such a wonderful caring warm side of her. Most people in that neighborhood at the time would have just beat the kid with a stick for doing that. That was Susannah’s paternal instincts I guess.
I also remember once at school downtown. I just happened upon Susannah walking around alone in the rain looking for a ride to her sister’s apartment in Church Hill. She felt like she couldn’t ask anybody and she said something about it and I just offered to take her myself without a second thought. We walked in the rain by the Catholic Cathedral on the edge of campus to my apartment. Susannah shared another snippet of her life with me that was so profound out of the blue for me –I don’t know why. It was something about a car accident she had and that almost killed her although she was not that direct in her revelation.
Susannah had a scar I remember and I always wondered it was from and suspected it was from a head injury. Susannah had told me she drove straight into a tree in a new car she had just bought in Louisiana before she moved to Richmond to go to school. She was probably drunk –in fact I think she told me she was but I can’t recall exactly.
I just felt a certain touch of god instantly after that story Susannah revealed with the looming Catholic Cathedral behind me and her walking in the drizzle rain. It was like I just thought “thank god she did not kill herself …” I am not sure exactly. I just know it was so profound. I loved that woman somehow but it was different from a romantic love although I did not realize that fully at the time. Alcohol was always an unspoken battle for her –at least when I knew her.
A few times, shortly after I graduated from college and had lost Susannah in a way, I would run into her at the old 7-11 near campus I always frequented. I saw so much more of her in the span of a few minutes that it was unreal. Yet then, it was like always, I still loved her and cared about her somehow. I didn’t always know what to say but a few times she beat me to the words and said something to me.
These last few telling meetings in the 7-11 were long after my debacle at Christmas with her that kind of ruined our chance to get closer. I had brought her a gift bag full of flowers and treats and she freaked out so after that it was like we never recovered. We both had a problem communicating with each other but then we did not have a problem communicating if that makes any sense. It was almost like Susannah was scared of a part of herself and me as much as I was a little scared of my feelings and what I wanted to say to her after the Christmas incident.
I remember seeing her drunk one night at the 711. It was a Sunday night and she was getting beer. Ironically, I was not getting any that time. She passed me at the door and she just smiled this smile of hers but you could tell it was a little different and a little riddled with alcohol. It was like a distinct change in her in a way. All I could see was a very intoxicated woman I did not know but then I still cared and still loved her somehow. We passed each other at the door and it was like the stereotypical blue line. We just looked at each other and spoke without speaking and it was done with.
It was sad in a way to see Susannah drinking again because in college she had been trying so hard to stay sober –that much I knew. I think it was a constant battle of hers. One reason she didn’t want to hang out with me was because I was drinking pretty hard myself back then. I just worried about her after that. She was driving and while I had driven drunk too many times myself –I didn’t want to see her do it especially after what she told me in college.
One time I saw Susannah at the 7-11, I was thinking “what do I say to her …I hadn’t seen her in a year or so…” and so much was so funky between us too. I almost felt like I couldn’t talk to her or shouldn’t try. But then, before I knew it, Susannah began to speak to me first. Susannah was justifying to me why she never finished school like she wanted and she seemed so upset and embarrassed too. I didn’t know what to say or do.
I wanted to just hug Susannah at the moment in the store, but I was never much at physical intimacy like that. I wanted to just say “I don’t care Susannah, I still love you and care about you and always will….” I am not sure what I said exactly. It was so sad. She was buying some of those old forties I use to always get and packing them out of sight.
I met Susannah, so randomly and unexpected if not a bit funny way. Both of us were standing outside a graphic design class for the first day of the semester. She had this boyish look and this dark brown smoking jacket on. She had this golden blonde hair that was fixed a certain way and she just looked so good.
I remember looking at Susannah as the prettiest girl in the hallway full of them and she just smiled back at me. Susannah had this unforgettable smile that was so subtle in its way. Susannah herself was so subtle and mysterious too. It was like a Cello stick dancing about the strings with such a mellow yet stark memorable sound. It had no form yet then it did. It was so free yet then it was so tied to a note structure that you had to know to play it.
I just could not imagine Susannah being my girlfriend yet stupid me (at the time) wanted to try it. I was like some kid with his first tool box. I got into the air conditioning unit and cut all the coils and wires and blew the damn thing up not knowing how to use my tools or how to play the notes. I remember when I first met Susannah in that hallway, I told myself “I got to meet that girl….” and then when we got in the classroom I sat right next to her. I finally did get at least a bit of time to know her in snippets. But it did not last long.
I remember my first act of unmeasured passion with Susannah was writing her this personalized page advertisement like something in a magazine or paper. I was doing that sort of thing a lot back then with girls I liked. It was a silly disaster that never worked. Anyway, I wrote this ad in three columns in such a way where you could read part of it sideways across columns (and it made sense) as you read it normally left down and right up and down. I was kind of afraid to give it to her but I finally did.
I remember the next morning I saw Susannah after I gave her the ad, she was walking on campus and she saw me and just smiled and kind of laughed a little. We later sat outside a class waiting for something and she never said she read the ad but mentioned some wording deep into the ad so I knew she read it. One time Susannah just blurted out “I love talking to you (to me).” I wanted to reply “I love you too” but I didn’t say it. She was so happy and it made me happy to know she felt a little of what I did at least too.
I just happened to see Susannah getting coffee once at the 7-11 and she saw me and we talked for a minute. It was right after Thanksgiving. She was living with some family at the time. She smiled and said “I started to call you” as we talked about the holiday. That just touched me so much because I would have loved to had talked to her. I never guessed she was alone and thinking of me at all.
It was always little things like that thing Susannah told me in the 7-11 that just scattered so much upon my heart and soul with such a warmth and meaning I rarely had in life before. Yet, somehow, it had to get so lost it seems. I will forever regret that. I really did love Susannah but it took me a long time to figure out what kind of love it was. In the meantime it was like we just got lost in the communications too. That was an irony for me because I was supposed to be a communications major and a professional someday at such things.
One time, the only time, I asked Susannah to do something outside of class with me was when I asked her to join me for a graphic design event they were having in Shockoe Bottom just beyond downtown. She turned me down and I did not think much of it. I had really wanted her to go with me but it was not like it tore me to pieces that she didn’t. Anyway, that weekend, I drove around there debating on whether to go or not. I did not want to go alone. I was a little afraid.
Later on I discovered Susannah had been driving around there around the same time and I suspect (but will never know for sure) that she was looking for me or debating to go like me so we could run into each other. That was the irony of it all. It was like she was so afraid but it was like I just wanted her there with me because I wanted company and we both had interests in graphics. I had chosen that event because it was something sober and I knew about her battle with that so I wanted to do that instead of invite her to some bar with me.
The last time I saw Susannah in the flesh was in 2006 during a family dinner at a fancy local hotel downtown called The Berkeley. We were there for Easter Dinner of all things. It was almost poetic –the resurrection of Christ. It always seemed to be in a way with people like Susannah who touched me so deeply. What was even more poetic and almost crazy coincidence is that Susannah was assigned to our table. She came to take initial orders and then got so flustered in a way she had another person wait out table. I did not say a word to her or my family about who she was. I sure did not want my family near her. I was like that with most people I knew.
Anyway, my father kept looking at Susannah even after she left our table. He had no clue who she was or what she was to me. He kept smiling at her. It was so funny. Susannah seemed happy that day and was smiling the rest of the time but there was some reason she couldn’t wait on us and I knew it was something to do with me. That was the sad part. I would have never set things up purposefully like that. My mother had made the plans. I would not have come had I known she would be there, just for her own sake.
I never wanted Susannah to be uncomfortable with me if I could help it. Yet then it was so good to see her again. I wished we could’ve talked even if just on a small talk level. I had missed her for years and thought about her for years too. I still do. To this day I don’t know why we cannot just talk like we used to. So much has changed since then and I just see her as a special person but I know she’s not perfect and I am not looking for a date or romance with her anymore.
I just really liked Susannah a lot. I liked all the good I saw in her. I wanted to share creative things with her and just laugh over some of the past too. I don’t think I will ever get that wish before I die though. That is the saddest thing of it all to me. My life is so limited now with my disease so I would like to make peace with her and share something good again before I am gone.
I reached out to Susannah over the years to no avail and finally I let it go. I used to send her and her twin sister music arrangements and sometimes other creative trinkets. It did not seem to matter. I guess me and Susannah just had one blip on the radar screen and it just seemed to fade to black quickly. It is ashamed because I think we could have shared a lot of good but then I was drinking myself back in those days. I didn’t stop until I got sick with Cirrhosis so maybe we would’ve been gasoline on a fire to each other because of it. I really don’t know but I miss Susannah so much in a way. It does not consume my mind but it is always there underneath my skin and soul. It always will be.