Lady in Red

by Shawn Presley

When she smiled, she looked like she belonged in a glossy magazine ad for tequila, a stylish thirty-something in the center of a cocktail-sipping crowd. It wouldn't matter if the ad was for the lowly salt-and-lime-required José Cuervo or super-premium Chinaco Blanco; she was versatile enough to blend in with any crowd. And she did. Her friends were from all walks of life. Everyone was drawn to her. She had the magnetic qualities of a good politician. And she was bipartisan.

As we celebrate Kenyon's homegrown urban and suburban legends, I can't help thinking of the handful of friends who have taken on mythical proportions in my mind. Unlike urban legends, these people are real, but I've probably romanticized them to such a degree that they've taken on an almost fictional quality. They whirled through life, radiant, creating fodder for tales that grow taller as the years go by. Her trail still gleams the brightest. It's been twenty years since I've seen her. It's hard to say how much of what I remember is accurate, but here's what I recall.

She lived in a rented house in a bad part of a small, midwestern college town that was home to a huge university. The decorating was modest, but it didn't take long to realize she could afford better. The leather sofa didn't look fancy, but when you sat down, you realized only Italian leather could be that soft. With her, there was always that opposition between the inside and the outside. Her car, for example, was red and shiny, but the interior was full of shredded upholstery thanks to her crazy dog who once jumped through her living room window, which she was in no hurry to replace.

She worked with an earnest fervor as an editor at a daily newspaper. Her home was a late-night social center for stressed reporters who needed coffee or a cigarette at the end of a shift. She made java in an old-fashioned percolator she swore by. The house was also open for revelers who wanted to sustain the fun after the bars closed. She eventually tired of her role as the queen of party central and shut down the house of fun. It became invitation-only.

When I threw a holiday party one year, she wore a red dress from a funky boutique that catered to women who look good in a form-fitting size two. You would think red was the obvious choice for Christmas. Not so much. She was the only lady in red.

Her beauty was unconventional. Her smile was electric. And she really did drink tequila, mostly the kind that involved necks, licking, salt, and limes. When she got a couple of shots in her, she loved to do "the bump" on the dance floor.

Her greatest talent? Timing. Always hesitant to commit to any social engagement, her typical reply to most invitations was "I'll try to make it." There were many times when she didn't. That was the key, because when she did show, you felt lucky. The planets were aligned. You could almost hear the collective sigh of guests whispering under their breath, "She's here."

She didn't stay long. One day she stored her expensive leather sofa and the rest of her belongings and left the country to roam around and write (or something like that). Rumor has it that sofa is still with the friend.

Thanks to Facebook, I now have more than memories. I found her recently living in California with a husband and a child. It was nice to reconnect, but kind of a shame, too. The legend was much more satisfying.

—As the director of public at affairs at Kenyon, Shawn Presley is surrounded by a cast of characters who are creating future fodder for legendary tales. He looks forward to romancing the trails they are leaving in Gambier.

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