Thursday, February 17, 2011

KARA ENGEL 1968-2011

I met Kara in late 1999. I'd just moved to southern California and was living at my future mother in law's house. My dislocation highlighted the importance of quickly stepping into a new social circle. I needed to impress my girlfriend's pals, and I needed to impress them quickly. As my spouse's best friend, Kara posed an extra challenge. The two of them had been tight since 8th grade. What if Kara and I didn't get along?

We did get along. I think we were both relieved that we actually liked each other, and weren't facing years and years of feigned interest. In fact, we had a great deal in common, especially in the List Of Things We Call Bullshit On. This list included, but was not limited to: bad coffee, bad smells, Jane Valez Mitchell's hair, kids, people who have kids (a topic I softened on after several pals started breeding), marriage (a topic we avoided altogether after I married), bad art in general, bad L.A. art in specific, and social networking. Up until two weeks ago, we were both still churning over this list.

Kara's death Monday, at her home in Temecula, offered more than just the shock of death itself. Up until this weekend, I'd have guessed she had many months left, possibly even years. When the end came, the speed and ferocity of her cancer seemed almost supernatural. She was 42.

Twelve years ago, one of many things I had to digest in the strange new state was the versatility of the word "dude". On the east coast, "dude" was a dated, one-note joke. On the west coast, the word was alive with multiple values; as a casual greeting, a heartfelt greeting, a pip of annoyance, a face-saver, a defuser, a warning. The inflections and intonations seemed endless.

Kara had her own way of saying 'dude'. Her voice would drop to a growl and she'd stretch the word out with a slight prelude of phlegmy annoyance, forcing it to carry far more weight than it was intended for. It was how an elderly middle Eastern woman might say "dude", if elderly middle Eastern women used California slang to convey the sorrow of the world. There's no way to spell Kara's version. In the last few years before she got sick, Kara frequently focused this word on growing old, a subject that rose to the top of the Bullshit List. We were approaching our forties, then we'd all entered our forties. She wasn't having any of it.

It seems strange now that she has bypassed growing old altogether. When I think of Kara - as I will do often for the rest of my life - she'll be the same Kara every time: young, funny, annoyed, alive.