We knew of Tanya before we actually knew Tanya. Tanya would ride around campus on a ten speed bike with a lit cigarette in her mouth when everyone else was riding mountain bikes and drinking bottled water. You knew her as much for her long, dark brown hair and porcelain skin as you did for her distinctively foreign uniform, which consisted of a black leather biker’s jacket, a Navy-issue baseball cap with “scrambled eggs” on the brim (pilfered from one of the many ships that would come to port near her home in Monaco), a white t-shirt, and ether faded jeans or leggings.
And, though we didn’t know this then, the uniform also called for a strict policy of no underwear.
This was at least 10 years B.S., but Tanya was forward-thinking in her intolerance for panty lines. At least she claimed this was her reasoning, and she would talk to you about this at length, if she could get you to listen. Since I rarely (if ever) saw her do laundry, I think the flaws in this policy should be self-evident, but apparently they were not to Tanya.
Listen, it’s not that you set out to become close friends with somebody who hates to wear underwear. I didn’t check with her about this topic before befriending her, and once I found out about it, it was all too late. Even her mother was disturbed by it, and would send Tanya countless unsolicited care parcels full of beautiful French lingerie that Tanya would never wear. If, after twenty years, Tanya’s mother still hadn’t accepted that her daughter would never wear underwear–no, not under any circumstances, absolutely not–how was I to accept this?
And if you looked at Tanya, you would never suspect she had such a disregard for basic standards of hygiene: the girl would take at least two to three hours to get ready if we were going to go out to parties, and half that time would be spent in the shower. I complained to her about this once, saying, “You know, Tanya, the soap really just needs to bond with the dirt and whatnot, it doesn’t need to be steamed off, or anything. Fifteen minutes, tops, and you’re clean . . . ”
And she said, “You only take fifteen minute showers? Ugh. I never knew that about you.” And I would think, should I bring up the underwear issue? Now might be the right time.
But I was always too afraid to offend her, all of us were. On one occasion, my friend Cate came over from her apartment next door to ask if I had any leggings she could borrow to wear to yoga. Before I could answer, Tanya, in an uncharacteristically helpful mood, jumped up to offer a pair of her own leggings to Cate. The look of panic on Cate’s face was precious, but I quickly saved her by insisting, “Oh you want to borrow those grey ones, right,” knowing that Tanya only had black leggings. Did Tanya offer the leggings to Cate to press the issue? Did she know we whispered about her underwear policy behind her back? We were all friends, of course–Tanya, Cate, Linda, and I–but it was no secret that there was a hierarchy of craziness among us, with Tanya and I rounding out the more “acting out psychic damage” end of the spectrum, and that Tanya thought of the rest of us as being occasionally prudish and American about such things as always wearing underwear.
I wonder where Tanya is these days. I wonder if she is even alive sometimes. But if she is, I know she’s going commando.