Marlayna From His Memory

Back in the Inland Empire, Marlayna was wild. She listened to Suede, the Cure and Morrissey and went into an alcoholic coma the first time she drank. One time she disappeared from her friends at a Lollapalooza concert, and they didn’t find out where she went until the next day when they called her mom, who said she’d gotten a ride home with different friends. She had a job at the local independent music store, where she worked alone and got to play in-store DJ. That was before she moved to L.A. and got a job in the LACMA gift shop, a job she likes because she gets to be around the art all day. She’s 26 now. She’s pretty and tamer, and sometimes she acts in commercials.

Her old friend from the Inland Empire, Tim, works across the street as an editor for the Tokyo Pop publishing company in the People’s Bank building. Once a week, the two meet on the grounds of the museum to eat lunch and talk.

“Funny story,” says Tim, who is now 28 and wears simple sunglasses. “I lost touch with Marlayna five years ago. We had been good friends prior to that. We actually dated briefly when she was 14 and I was 16. I recently ran into her and found out that we worked right across the street from each other.”

What were you like back then?

“I don’t know. What was I like when I was 16?” he turns to Marlayna. “You probably know better.”

“You were into theater . . .”

“I mean, was I at all like I am like now?” he asks, interrupting.

“You were a lot the same, absolutely. You were into Tori Amos.”

What was Marlayna like, Tim?

“Marlayna? She always did things her own way, which is unusual for out there. That was one of the things I always admired about her. She followed her own path. Most people there follow trends, and Marlayna is not a trendy person,” says Tim, who still lives in the Inland Empire and commutes each day to work.

“She definitely got me into things I hadn’t been into. I am always curious about what she’s up to, and at the same time it’s not like she forces people to do these things or be more like her. That is one of the cool things about Marlayna — she is accepting of people, like if you ever see any of her other friends, none of them are exactly like her. They are all different.”

Marlayna was Tim’s first kiss. “I was really nervous about the whole thing. She was 14.”

Marlayna, who has a Band-Aid on one knee and a small flower tattoo on the opposite ankle, laughs hearing this.

“You knew that, you knew that,” Tim assures.

Marlayna shakes her head no and smiles.

“Yes, you did. You knew you were my first. You may have forgotten it now, ’cause I wasn’t yours, but you knew it at the time.”

Marlayna looks like the rad chick from someone’s memory. Her short dark hair has red streaks and is stylishly unkempt. She wears black sunglasses with tiny rhinestone hearts in the corners. She has a gray wool skirt, black sequined flats from Chinatown and the self-confidence of someone who is used to the attention of others. Winona Ryder could play her in the film.

She says Tim is “loyal and dedicated” and a “real individualist.” She knows that if she ever needs something she can always count on him.

“When I count the friends I have that I can pick up the phone and call if I need to just talk to somebody, absolutely I know he is on that list. I mean, imagine five years apart, we are still really good friends?” she says reflectively.

Tim, who is wearing a black fleece and black Skechers, is seemingly reserved and has the manner of someone who has watched a lot of people and things.

Sitting along the sunny wall of the Pavilion for Japanese Art, it is clear they have a deep fondness for each other and their shared memories. You can see them from the museum’s second-floor balcony, their feet and legs extended in front of them. It is the kind of moment architects might draw when designing public spaces.

Marlayna, whose mother named her after Dietrich but spelled it “phonetically, if you will,” remembers once when they were younger holding hands at a fair. She admires Tim for finishing college and working in a job he loves. She believes she could push herself harder with the acting. In fact, they were just talking about that.

Tim, who uses Marlayna’s full name when he talks about her, says he thinks she is “a lot more sophisticated now that she moved to the city, where there is a lot more for her to experience.” He hasn’t seen the Diane Arbus show — he doesn’t know who the photographer is — but she says she can help him get tickets.

Because of the commute, the two only see each other here for lunch. But, as always, they talk on the phone a lot.

“I talk to you more than I do most of my friends,” Tim says to her.

Behind her cat-eye sunglasses, Marlayna smiles.

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