I'm not entirely sure of the first time I met Fran, as in, when it was. But I do remember it, like yesterday. It was evening, a weekday after work, and I had just boarded the elevator in my building to swoop me up to the 7th floor, with my neighbor Michael. Fran was milling about in the lobby, talking somewhat loudly but to whom I wasn't sure, and Michael called to her. "Fran, are you going up?"
Her name is Fran. I remember sealing it into memory, so from then on, when I held the door for her, or passed her on the street or in the building, I could call her Fran, too. As if I knew her.
For a few years, this is what I did. "Hello, Fran." "Are you going up, Fran?" A feigned familiarity, because I knew her name. As usual, she would look at me, somewhat skeptically, as if she knew the things about me I didn't want people to know. Often she chose not to join me on the elevator - she would contemplate it, and she would decline.
One day, as I was doing my wash in the laundromat of the building, she noticed me, and came up. I was in Kundalini training at this point, meditating every day, and at this particular moment, stoned out of my mind. I can't remember the full details of our conversation, but I do remember a few key points. Like, how she told me she could feel me and my energy, and that she didn't like it most of the time. She asked me a few hundred questions, and we came to discuss my training as a meditation teacher, and she asked me to stand with her, hold hands, and close our eyes - so we could feel our inner light. I obliged, and so there we were in the middle of the laundromat, facing one another, eyes closed, feeling our inner light. As I left, she told me not to take offense if she avoided me, again repeating she didn't like my energy most of the time.
At first, I didn't understand what she meant. But one morning, as I slammed out of my building on my way to work - a ball of fitful hateful chaotic energy on my way to a job that made me fitful, hateful and chaotic - I ran into Fran, who literally ran the other way, yelling after herself "Nooo no nooooo, can't be around that." And I got it.
It was almost amusing to see. If I was in a hurry, or angry, or anything other than present and soft, Fran would run the other way. She moved around my energy field like the opposite end of a magnet. Sometimes, it was cute. Like the time I came home from work and she crossed the street as I entered the building, and then ran back over and pounded on the glass of the lobby from the outside, yelling "I LOVE YOU BUT I CAN'T BE AROUND YOU" from her safe distance. And other times, it was just plain fucking annoying. Like I GET IT. I'M IN A BAD MOOD AND YOU CAN FEEL IT FROM A MILE AWAY. I started to tell some of my friends about her. "I think God has taken form as an old Jewish woman to remind me to meditate."
Before Christmas 2013, she invited me in to her apartment, explaining she wanted to give me something, and to take down my phone number. As she penciled my number on her wall, she handed me a copy of Be Here Now, and gave me her number, asking that I call her sometimes, but not too much. That Christmas was my first real sober Christmas, one I have written about and one that is seared into memory as one of the loneliest and hardest experiences in sobriety. As I boarded the train for San Francisco, I argued with my mother, and was by all accounts, awful to her. Awful. Some hours later, somewhere in the valley winding my way back to my home on the Amtrak, I got a call from a blocked number. Against all better judgments to avoid calls from unknown numbers, I answered, and it was Fran. She told me she had been sitting in her apartment, and knew I was hurting. She could feel it. She asked me if I wanted to tell her about it, and I did, sobbing. She told me she wanted me to know it was going to be okay, and that this had to happen. I got off the phone, and thought for a minute, and then became certain that God had taken over Fran.
In April 2014, I sat in my friend Sally's home, my clothes and books and things separated into piles to be packed for my 50 day trip to Italy. I was a mess. I was leaving the country when I should be starting a business, and I sauntered into Sal's bedroom with my books. There were 10 of them - all on business and addiction. I'd be carrying them around in a backpack, and all I could think of was Cheryl Strayed in Wild and how ridiculous it would be to add twenty pounds to my load. I was also certain that if I took the wrong ones, my business would never become. "Which ones?" A few minutes later, my book pile refined from 10 to 5, my phone rang. Again, no caller ID, and again, though I never answer these types of calls, I answered. It was Fran. She'd marked her calendar, but couldn't quite remember the day I'd be leaving for Italy, and she wanted me to know that she'd just gotten a download and she needed to tell me it. "Honey, I want you to know that you're not going to Italy to do anything. You're going to Italy, and that is the thing. Please don't worry about anything but that. Just go. That's the work." I thanked her, and walked into Sally's bedroom. "That was Fran and I don't need to take the books."
In June 2014, temporarily housed in my friend Geoff's spare bedroom in the Pacific Heights neighborhood, I stepped off of the bus and onto the corner of Bush and Fillmore, and there was Fran, window shopping. I froze, and wondered if I could pretend not to see her, but she saw me, and she waved, and she came and took my hand. I was certain I was hallucinating, and I asked her what she was doing in this neighborhood. She told me that all the neighborhoods were her neighborhood. She asked me to go with her to a special coffee shop, which was the Starbucks in the Mollie Stones. She bought me a juice, and she asked that we sit in a booth, and that I specifically sit to her right, so that I'd be facing the door. She placed me. As we sat and talked, my former boss walked in - the one that I'd been mean to, the one that I'd had dreams about, the one I needed to make peace with. We talked for a bit, and I told her how "good I was doing", and was certain she was thinking I'd lost my fucking mind. I was wearing tied-dyed pants, feather earrings, toting a sheepskin in an oversized patchwork bag, and I was drinking juice with a toothless woman in the grocery store Starbucks. Former boss told me to go to an event, and later that night as I sat in Geoff's kitchen telling him about the latest Fran incident, my somewhat agnostic, over-analytical, non-woo friend stopped in his tracks and with gusto, told me if he were me, he'd get his ass to that event.
In July 2014, I sat on the floor of my vets office, sobbing, holding my dying cat. I had a choice to make - to end her life and put her out of her suffering, or to prolong it. I was told she could recover, but she was a mess. She was dying, and I was dying. I asked for help. Out loud, to God, to anything, I asked for help, muttering over and over and over that I couldn't do this. At this exact moment, Fran called. This time, I knew it was her. As I answered, she asked me if I was okay. She thought I might not be. I thanked her for the call, and I told her through broken words I couldn't talk. I was at the vet, Winkie was dying, I needed to decide what to do. "Honey, you know what you have to do. Already. Listen to me: you can do this. Okay? You can do this."
The story of Fran became legend among some of my friends. Someone once asked me how they could get a Fran, and I simply said "you probably have one already." Our cycle of my energy being too much continued, and while most of the time, my energy scared her off and sent her running in the other direction, there were a few times where I was just right enough to be at her level. I wanted to write about her, and twice I asked to take her picture. Both times my phone died. I started to wonder if she was actually real, or if she was something that I'd made up. One night, walking with Tareq, I saw her on the street and I pointed to her. "Do you see that woman?"
Last night, sitting in my tub at 4:27pm, my phone rang. Unknown Caller. Because I was waiting to hear from a moving company, I didn't hesitate. It was Fran. She hadn't called in a while, potentially because I needed her less. She was distressed, and told me that she had come to understand that I was leaving the building for good. She'd seen the signs that someone was leaving - for the past week I've been slowly dumping things I would not be taking with me into the lobby, on the Free Goods table. She'd told me that she'd been drawn to one thing, and one thing only, and was sitting in her apartment at that moment, holding my war bonnet - the one I'd jumped out of a moving car to buy, the one I'd worn in the early days of unemployment and Justin to remember I was strong. She asked me if it was mine, and I told her yes, and she asked me if I had done good things with it, and I told her yes, and she told me that she had thought so. She could feel it.
She told me she loved me and would miss me and was worried about the energy of the building shifting when I left. I told her it would be okay, and then I told her she'd been one of the most important people in my life in the past three years. Confused, she laughed. "Really? I don't get it. How?"