When I noted my upcoming vacation in Phoenix, only one local Facebooker responded.


Irma was one year behind me in the Graphic Design program at Arizona State. It is common in professional programs, and certainly at the ASU GD program, for upper classmen to develop a mentor/protege relationship with an underclassman. The professional program began in the sophomore year, and before it ended, most sophomores know who they want as mentors and candidate with that individual.

This is not a formal process, except through observation of the repetition of the pattern through the years. When I was a sophomore, I sought insight from several juniors male and female, and eventually found that Cindi was the most friendly and helpful. I think I’ve journaled about sitting for hours next to her in the computer lab, watching over her shoulder as she struggled to master Adobe Illustrator or Aldus Pagemaker (yes, Aldus).

In my junior year, I ran for and was elected to the position of Secretary of the Graphic Design Student Association, and as such, I adopted a legion of sophomores as I was the “human face” on a sometimes most monstrous course of study. However, a few students came to me for more than to whine about rigors, and these bloomed and waned such that as I moved from junior to senior, Irma was among my few proteges.

This explains how we became friends, it doesn’t explain much of why and definitely nothing of the texture of our friendship itself.

Of all the things I could write, Irma was feisty and frequently fun. We had similar tastes in food, exploring, talking and listening. She was actually a year older than I was, but her experiences were strongly limited to the Phoenix inner city. As such we both had a great deal to learn and share from and with each other.

Did I mention she was feisty?

She was often self-contradictory, self-conflicted. This became a barrier to getting to know her deeper. We often had heated discussions which ended in one or both of us storming off (although I generally storm internally). But for all of that, I always appreciated her company and perspectives.

The last time I saw her was probably about 10 years ago. It was the last driving trip I made to Phoenix. Although I had traveled to see family, I was mobile, and spent much time visiting and cycling around the valley. My brother’s youngest child was still an infant, I was recovering from laryngitis, and there was a concern about infection, so I spent little time at my brother’s.

Irma had just moved into a house with, like, five other guys. It was a roommate situation. The week that I visited, she bought a new mattress. As circumstances had it, I was the first person who slept on her mattress (it was only the foot of the bed, and I was only half-sleeping on it. Only because the concrete floor sapped the life out of me).

She and the friends she was hanging with were toking at the time. She did not remember my stopping by to say goodbye. She has thought the whole time that I was upset with her and didn’t come by.

So I did not understand the act of bravery, nor a cryptic-seeming apology which she gave me when she connected with me via Facebook. I am glad that she took that step, though, because it allowed us to connect while I was visiting the Valley.

Wednesday evening, she picked me up at my brother’s, spent a few minutes chatting with my folks and family. Then we took off for campus. We spent an hour or more sneaking into the various buildings (which are now all protected with card-locks) and visiting various classrooms, and being critical of how the computer has spoiled the purity of form of the formerly Swiss-based program of study.

Irma filled me in on some of the gossip about how our former program coordinator was forced out of his position by some underhanded and career-centric staff members, which by my appraisal hurt the program at large.

And, I discovered as much by her manner and tone as by her self-revelation that this Irma has calmed down. The nervous chaos which had ruled her demeanor was no more.

We then walked around Mill Avenue in Tempe, then settled on the Big Fat Greek restaurant for dinner. We talked constantly, mostly her life story (mine is not very interesting over the last ten years).

After dinner, we drove to Sonic for a free root-beer float.

Then I suggested we drive to the Buttes.

The Buttes is the new name (new to me) for Westcourt in the Buttes, a small, intimate resort hotel nestled against and around a solitary thrust of rock. The hotel is on the shallow-graded eastern face of stone, and follows the curve of the butte, with hidden trails to hot-tubs secreted in the hillside. The western face of rock features an overlook and several unofficial trails to viewing areas.

It is the western face where we spent the next five hours.

From 11pm to 4am, we sat overlooking the flat valley floor and talked about her dreams and goals and the greater meaning of life, and hers in particular. And I reconnected, too, with that attractive element in her, made more so by her new found self-control or discipline.

By the end of the evening, I was laying on my side using a stone as a pillow, listening to her sort things out through the city grid as the moonlight reflected from her eyes and lips.

We eventually stirred for her car and she drove me to my temporary home. We kissed each other on the cheek as we hugged and thanked each other for the evening. I snuck in through the garage to find my brother had waited up (sleeping in a chair) for me, in case I had not received his text-message with the garage door code.

I crashed and slept until almost noon local time (two hours later than my native time).

It was a wonderful evening.

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June 8, 2009

It’s always wonderful to connect with old friends 🙂