One Thousand Words on Sammy

A series based around the concept: a picture is worth a thousand words. 

Exactly one thousand word essay to describe a photo. 

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This is a photo of my friend Sammy jamming out in her temporary LA home. Even though she has texted me multiple times that LA is the armpit of the Earth, she still decided she should go there for a bit. To push herself. Because Bowie did, and some of his best music came out of it, she pointed out.



When she left I wrote her a sad song about New York losing her, titled “Sammy, Why Did You Go To Santa Monica?” In it I reference her in a witchy wardrobe walking the beach at dawn. Which is appropriate, you can’t really picture Sam among tanned skin, blond hair, and Fred Segal clad peers. You picture her on the M train crossing over the East River at dawn. Her six-year-old iPod with 16GB with not room for one more song in her lap and tears in her eyes. Taking the subway makes her emotional. You might see a smelly transport system, a petri dish of the city so to speak, but I think Sam sees it as the veins of the history, a place to get lost in thought, to cry, to make eye contact with cute boys and tie together the heart of Harlem with the soul of Queens, with a long, underground string.

The first time I slept over at Sam’s it was summer, hot, and we had just gone dancing. I scooched next to her in her full bed, the room spinning a little bit. She put on a vinyl as soon as she came home, like she always does, so the crackling of the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust was the soundtrack to my dizziness. Her overhead lights can also be set to any color. It’s a brief process when she gets home, tuning in the hue of the room and flipping through her case of vinyl to get just the right mood. Putting on a flick of Chanel lipstick or an iridescent cowboy hat. Setting a scene.

She turned to me, “dude do you want to hear a song.” She plugged her iPod to the sound system as soon as she finished the question. A misty, blue-colored melody reverberated through the room. It felt like velvet and lust and a daydream I might have on the first day of spring. I turned to her, what is the name of this?

I wrote it! It’s my song! She said with a smile, and then not another word. She went to bed. We didn’t speak about it for a while, the fact that she wanted to make music. At the time she was stuck in the fashion world. Making displays, being a manager of this store or that one. Gathering vintage clothing for this client. Transporting zipped plastic bags of perfectly steamed Alexander Wang garments to Lady Gaga. You know.

One night when we were both journaling on her balcony, candles scattered about and a bottle of wine passed between the two of us, we got on the topic of our worst qualities. I am bad at communication. She’s bad at expressing herself. In the end we told each other we loved and appreciated each other and read out some of our journal passages to each other. I always think of this night as the day our friendship solidified. It made it okay for her to text me thing like “DUDE YOU NEVER CALL ME BACK, love you tho”. Made me get on top of being a better friend.

Sammy’s apartment was a trek from mine, maybe 1 hour by subway. I made my way down there for her famously-extra dinner parties (balloons, skeleton decorations, platters of vegan cheese, and always, always a theme of some sort). Going to our favorite coffee shop around the corner to work, write, and split a plate of biscuits and gravy.

Early 2017, I moved temporarily to Bushwick and was now just half a mile away from her. Now it was daily dinners and rendezvous in-between her strenuous fashion week schedule. Brunches at my place and dancing and jamming into the night at hers. The half-mile walk was nothing at all, until one blizzardy night. I had finally decided I had enough and was going to break up with my then-boyfriend, but couldn’t find the courage myself and needed backup. In an anxiety-ridden 3 in the morning state, I threw a huge coat on over my striped pajamas and RAN through the falling snow to Sammy’s apartment. I waited outside her hallway until 6 am, when she finally woke up and found me, shivering and swollen eyes outside her front door. “Whoa Dude.” She said. I fell asleep in her bed while she went to work.

We were both reaching a weird place with ourselves come end of February. Me because of a breakup and months spent in the darkness. Her because of her itching to leave the fashion world behind and pursue her true passions. She had a move out date mid February to go to LA and live with her band mates. She had visions of doing music everyday and getting better at guitar. I had visions of being anywhere but here.

On her move out date I helped her pack up all of her things, her skeleton posters, feather boas, journals. She carefully folded the letters I had written her throughout her friendship and tucked them into her journal; I would later find them framed in her LA apartment.

I finally saw Sam in her Santa Monica space, which is where this photo was taken. What I love about this photo is she has just gotten out of the shower and she immediately went over to the guitar to practice progressions. She looks so young and determined here that the New Yorker shines through, and in the small space of her Santa Monica apartment, we were somewhere between the rise and fall of Samantha Riley.

(She’s back in New York now, where she belongs)