I have something I wanted to tell you.

MaryChenMary Chen, Life of0 Comments

I’ve mentioned here before about Jim and Becky’s visits to LA when I lived there. They would always be the ones who got me really thinking about moving to Philly, and in the end, they succeeded. In fact, my whole move was planned around them; I decided to wait until June so that they could come stay with me one last time when Jim had a show there. Becky and Mars found me an apartment in Philly, so I didn’t even have to worry about it. My last week in LA, the week of mine and Mars’s 30th birthdays, Jim and Becky were ensconced on the aerobed in the living room; Mars flew out mid-week to surprise me (possibly the best surprise I’ve ever gotten, ever) so we could spend our birthdays together, and Chi and Ben were out there for the same show. So us ladies had an amazing week: shopping, eating, drinking, wrestling, dancing, and celebrating. And stressing, but having them there took that edge off and eased my transition… I knew exactly what I was leaving LA for, and it made me so very glad.

I need to tell you something about Jim and Becky as houseguests. I had a lot of houseguests in LA, and it was always fun, but when two people come stay with you in a one bedroom apartment, by the time they leave, you’re generally ready for them to go. I mean you’re glad they came, but also a little glad they’re leaving. But it was different with Jim and Becky. It didn’t matter how long they stayed; I would never be ready for them to go. I would always want them to stay longer. Becky’s famous among her friends for making people feel at home; their house in Philly is a love letter to the art of homemaking… and if this makes any sense, she actually genuinely would be able to make me feel more at home in my own home. She’d cook amazing food, she’d wake up early and go for walks and come back with coffee and the paper. It was a joy just having their marriage around in my space. It was fun watching how well it worked; how Jim could “make fun” of her and she’d just laugh and laugh at the joke, because she was so 108% positive of how much he loved her.

One time I remember her just stopping what she was doing and saying it out loud: “We’re so lucky.” And I most vividly remember her in my living room, doing a dorky little white girl’s roger rabbit, “rapping”: “I got my mind on my honey and my honey on my mind,” grinning and laughing like an idiot.

That last week in LA, Jim, Becky and I went out to eat, and as I sat there mulling over a longstanding boy issue, the two of them clarified it for me in a matter of two minutes. And it was easy to believe that they knew what they were talking about. Jim told me about the first time he laid eyes on Becky and Becky listened with love on her face, and I know this is hard to believe but it wasn’t annoying at all. It was inspiring to know it was out there.

That same week, I walked into my kitchen one day to find the two of them holding each other really tightly. And I asked what happened, and they laughed that they’d both forgotten that it was their second wedding anniversary. I thought that was pretty much perfect.

Their wedding in Nantucket was one of the best I’ve ever been to. It was one of those weddings where everything feels right; it was the right two people getting married, the right time to be doing it, a beautiful day, a handsome couple, and Becky walked down that aisle grinning her head off with unmitigated joy.

Anyway, that week of my move, she was a godsend of helpfulness, as always. She helped pack me up, meticulously wrapping all of my art — except of course for the one painting of hers that I have (it says “Wildcat”), which she just stuck a single piece of newsprint and a single piece of scotch tape on. She had just won the Pew grant, a very prestigious and hefty painting award, and she was so endearingly, honestly surprised by it and honored by it. And I was so glad she had that tangible bit of recognition, “proof” that people could see what she was doing.

Oh, man. Becky’s art. A lot of the articles about her quote from this one review that said her portraits have a “warts and all honesty”, but… in my opinion, that’s not quite it. They’re honest, it’s true, but the honesty isn’t about capturing flaws… it’s about… god this is so hard. It’s about, in my mind anyway…. insecurity and security and hope and personality and body language and people. They capture so much in the angle of how a bare foot dangles, or how tightly an arm is held to the body, whether or not a shoulder is relaxed… and in the eyes. Her eyes, her portrayal of other people’s eyes is just mindboggling. And her non-portrait work is just… it’s just her in a bucket. All of her work is about the things in her heart, and to peek inside that heart is to feel hugged and presented with a warm bowl of soup on a cold rainy day.

Jim talks about how Becky always gravitated to the girl in any gathering that seemed the most uncomfortable or out of place. She was just kind. To everyone. I mean she wasn’t naive and she wasn’t Jesus (and I’ve heard her talk some hilarious shit about those who done her wrong), but she was full of love and understanding and everyone who met her felt it.

(Thinking of that now, I’m actually ashamed that I didn’t reach out to this one woman at a recent Christmas party at their house, who didn’t know anyone there except her fiancee, a friend of ours. I wish I’d treated her the way Becky would have. I’m embarrassed and sad that I didn’t.)

When I finally got to Philly, I knew I was going to go through a short depression from the shock, and I did. And Becky was On Patrol for it. She had me over for dinner, got on the phone to make sure other people had me over for dinner, took me to see a movie in the park, bringing delicious food and wine for us to enjoy on some beautiful blanket that she probably didn’t even think twice about, because beautiful things were just always all around her. Not in a spoiled way; in a magic way. Becky liked cooking with cream. And butter. And bacon. And cheese. And lots and lots of garlic. Becky really, really liked living. She was excited about it, every single day. And she was good at it.

And rather proactive about it:

Date: Aug 25 2004
From: Rebecca Westcott
To: Mars and Mary
Subj: are you awake yet??

ok, it’s 8:17 am and someone is a little too excited about going to the new Ikea.
let me know when you lazy asses get the hell up.

After the shock of the move cleared (which happened very quickly), this summer in Philly was everything I wanted it to be, every confirmation of why I decided to move. Becky was in Nantucket often, but when she wasn’t, there were so many great moments with her. Watching the first presidential debate and yelling at the TV together. Going to see a Johnny Cash impersonator with Adam Wallacavage at some dive bar in South Philly, stacking up a castle of empty tall Bud cans on the table… which reminds me: There is not a man that I encountered when with Becky that did not instantaneously fall in love with her, Johnny Cash impersonator included. On her and Jim’s honeymoon in San Francisco, they had me come up and stay on a cot in their room for a few nights so that Becky would have someone to go to bars with (Jim’s not a bar dude), and I just remember sitting there watching this glowing, beautiful newlywed woman break the hearts of a handful of SF stockbroker types when she innocently showed them her new ring. Everywhere I went with her, all variety of men — construction workers, mummers, businessmen, the homeless — would come up and introduce themselves to her and respectfully offer her drinks, company, transportation, money, livestock, their eternal devotion, whatever. Because she was absolutely stultifyingly beautiful and magnetic, in a completely understated, soft way. And she was never mean or dismissive to those men. Ever. To Becky, they were all new friends, or at the very least good stories. Again, she wasn’t naive about their intentions… she just didn’t seem to see the point in holding it against them.

One day, it may have been the day after seeing “Johnny Cash”, she called and asked if I wanted to get some grits. We had brunch together on a school day at South Street Diner, talking about girl stuff, and I just remember being in awe, literally, of the sweatshirt she was wearing. It was this specific color of muted yellow that she seemed to be able to find everywhere and I can never find… and she had a pendant on, or maybe it was earrings, that matched it perfectly. I can’t explain it without sounding like a total fangirl, but she was always a pleasure to sit across from and look at. Never mind talk to.

A week or two after that, in October, I finally decided to get off my ass and start dealing with my PA car registration. I needed a tracing of my car’s VIN, and when I went outside to get it, I locked myself out. It was a gorgeous day, one of the last T-shirt days of the year, the best possible day to be locked out of your apartment without your car keys in a walking city. Since Jim and Becky’s house is only ten blocks away, I decided to head over and see if she would get a beer with me while I waited for my neighbor to get home. Going through beautiful bella vista and queen village on foot, on my way over to my dear friends’ house, I was in absolute rapture. Every brick in the sidewalk seemed to be repeating to me, “You, too, are so lucky. Moving to Philly was the best thing you ever did.” I half expected an animated bluejay to alight on my shoulder.

When I got there, Jim told me Becky was in Nantucket but would be back that evening. We sat for a bit and talked about stuff; about his book, about how Mars was thinking of moving to Chicago, and how that sucked (not for Mars, but for us). And Jim talked about how Becky was coming back that night but then leaving again in a few days for Paris with her mom, and how that sucked (not for Becky, but for us). I walked back home in the lovely pre-autumn air and thought about how wonderful it was that I could walk to Jim and Becky’s house whenever I wanted and they would normally be there.

The next morning, I awoke early enough that I could lay in bed reading for a while before I had to go strap myself to the desk. And then when I finally got up to put in my eyeballs and brush my teeth, Ben Woodward called. My phone said it was 9:05 am, which was strange, because as far as I know there is no such thing as Ben before noon. But he had been up all night with Jim because Becky, our warm, beautiful, pink little Becky, had died on the way home from Nantucket the evening before.

It wasn’t a joke, and he did mean Becky Westcott, and it really was real and it really did happen. I checked. Apparently a lot of people doublechecked with him about those things that day. I don’t know how he made all of those awful, awful phone calls, over and over again.

She was pulled far over on the side of 95, trying to change her flat tire… it was her first time trying; she called Jim and said she wanted to learn (I can just picture what her attitude towards it probably was: an adventure wrapped in a hassle; an opportunity to learn something new and be more self-sufficient). But someone swerved across a few lanes of traffic and killed her.

I know this type of thing happens every day. I know 150,000 of these emotional nuclear bombs just went off in Asia, and I guess I now finally understand something remotely close to what that means. I know it’s just my own love that makes this seem somehow magnified, like it hit people harder than it might have. But there were some snapshots of how the news affected people she barely knew that I’ll remember forever: That week, my landlord called me (she had met Becky a few times when they worked out my apartment) cause she’d heard something might have happened; when I told her, she burst into tears. And on the art.blogging.la page that popped up after her death, I saw this: “As an air medical pilot for over 25 years I’ve become enured to most of the situations I encounter day to day, yet am having difficulty putting Rebecca’s flight behind me.”

I’m telling you: Becky was special.

I think that day we got grits was the last time I saw her, but I’m not 100% sure. And I kind of like it that way. At the funeral and memorial, her parents gave all of us such support… such love… it just became clear to me how she became Becky, how she grew up to be the person whose friendship would change all of our lives for the better. And as her many, many admirers stood up to tell their Becky stories, one clear picture emerged that made it all a fraction easier to bear: At 28, up until the very moment she died, Becky Westcott was happy, lucky, very loving, very loved, and always game for an adventure.

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