Sunday, September 13, 2009

Diane and Diane

Diane and Diane were roommates. And complete opposites.

I was thinking about Iceland today. And looking at the amazing portfolio of my favorite Icelandic professional photographers (online here). It's a place of amazing and unexpected beauty that can sneak up on you unexpectedly. And, yeah, it really does look like this.

Which reminded me of Diane and Diane.

In my first job after college, I worked at a company with a guy named Dan, who came from an Irish Catholic family and had eight siblings -- and all their names started with D. (He thought there was nothing unusual about this, which struck me as unbelievably bizarre.)

One day, Dan invited me to a party his sister Diane was throwing; he begged me to come because Diane was afraid none of her friends would show up and everyone would be there for her roommate (who, Dan told me, was also named Diane).

Dan said it would be too confusing to keep specifying which Diane people meant, so everyone called the roommates PD and Up-D. PD was Pretty Diane -- 5'11", 110 pounds, long golden hair, high cheekbones, could've been a model. Dan's sister was Up-D (and he reluctantly told me that stood for "Un-Pretty Diane"), and she was shorter, with dark hair, glasses, and a fashion sense that was almost cool and chic (but always fell just a little short). The irony was that Up-D would have been considered gorgeous in almost any circumstance -- except when she was compared to PD.

Up-D was in med school, studying a million hours a week, working in a clinic, and subsisting mostly on whatever she could buy from vending machines.

PD, on the other hand, had come from money. She worked for a fashion magazine, always looked like she'd just stepped off the runway, and was dating a guy everyone called "the Duke." The Duke wasn't really a Duke, he was a minor Count from a disgraced family from a minor European country. When oil was found under his family's land, they went from very poor to very rich in a heartbeat. And the Duke loved to spend money -- he once flew PD on a private jet to Paris for dinner (Up-D was invited, but she had a test in the morning).

Needless to say, I became fast friends with Up-D and we'd hang out whenever she was free (about every other month). I'd drag her to see bands at a club down the block from her place that had a $3 cover charge (but she the bouncer was dating her sister Donna, so she never had to pay) and she'd drag me to the greasiest all-night diner in town for the $1.99 special (which was only good between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m).

PD and Up-D were rarely in the apartment at the same time and sometimes would go weeks without seeing each other. Up-D had little patience for PD's jet-set lifestyle and didn't like most of PD's friends. One night, Up-D slipped and referred to her roommate as PD and when I tried to deny that I knew what it meant, she laughed about how she knew people called her Up-D, but she didn't care.

Up-D was often annoyed about PD's attitude towards money. PD came from money and thought nothing of spending hundreds on fancy meals and clothing. To make matters worse, on the 12th of every month, an expensive gift would arrive for PD from the Duke (because they met on December 12th). And, every month, PD would exchange that expensive gift for cash on the 13th (while Up-D's student loan debt spiraled out of control).

I hadn't seen Up-D in several months, when she called me out of the blue and told me Diane was dead. She was crossing the street when a guy in a van ran the red light and hit her. Up-D told me all the clinical details (she was in med school, so she knew all about how life seeps out of the body); I don't remember any of them. All I remember is looking out the window and seeing the shadows move across a parking lot. And thinking I'd never known anyone my age who'd died before.

Dan and Diane (who never again would be Up-D to any of her friends) and I went to the funeral. I dragged my black suit out mothballs. And even wore a tie. Diane said she wanted a few friendly faces because she knew the funeral would be filled with PD's rich, glitz friends. And a few of the rich, glitzy friends came, but most sent flowers instead. Gorgeous, amazing flowers.

And then a weird thing happened. A few minutes before the service began, a group of men in ratty clothes walked into the church. They'd tried to clean themselves up, but still looked like hell.

Diane spoke, telling a few funny stories about PD and the Duke -- not knowing they'd broken up nearly five months earlier. After the funeral, the men in ratty clothes surrounded Diane. Each of them had been served by a soup kitchen downtown where PD worked three days a month. And, they all said, on the 13th of every month, PD would bring in a large cash donation (which often kept the soup kitchen open).

I hadn't thought of Diane and Diane in years, but this wonderful video by Hafdis Huld reminded me of both of them.

After the funeral, Dan, Diane, and I wound up at a bar, drinking toast after toast to PD. Diane had no idea her roommate had ever done anything selfless and felt guilty for resenting PD (and wished they'd been closer). We told the soup-kitchen story to four strangers and then to the bartender (just before last call). The bartender shrugged, poured us one last drink, and said "everyone is complicated. Especially the ones you think are the simplest."


Anonymous said...

I once knew three girls named Kathy who shared a house but I never knew their nicknames.

Alex said...

All spelled the same way? I've known several Kathy/Cathy roommates (and I think they always went by "Kathy with a K" and "Cathy with a C").