Photo of a painting of fruits and vegetables on a table

Fiona and friends

I first heard—really heard—Fiona Apple during my second week of college. My new friend from Buffalo was a huge fan. 
Buffalo lived a few doors down from me in the freshmen dorm, and I was in love with her the minute I saw her. Were there people like this, people who showed up for you when you first left your hometown, people you were drawn to instinctually, magnet to magnet? Buffalo was one of two girls I met my first year at college that, when I first saw them, some internal alert flared and flashed, “That’s her! That’s her!” I’ve never felt that kind of intense platonic attraction since.
Buffalo was wildfire with an ice pick. Where I had hung a poster of Van Halen that I’d won playing SkeeBall at the county fair the past summer, Buffalo had taped up a handwritten self-manifesto of “Who I am and what I believe” on her wall. Where I had a Caboodle box on the shelf above my computer, she had a betta fish in a bowl. A betta fish named Sue. Like the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue.” Yeah, dude. So cool, especially for an 18-year-old from Buffalo.
In Buffalo, I saw a model for the kind of girl I wanted to be. Strong, certain of herself, giving, curious, and effortlessly fun. We would end up accomplishing a lot during our first semester of college together. Where I got a Monroe lip piercing, she got a nose ring, etc. The fact that we were both redheads worked in our favor at parties; we’d snag free beers from the boys and then sneak back to our dorm floor and hang out on our own.
I was starving for culture by the time I got to Kent State in fall 2004. I knew how to find a world beyond the one I’d been born into, but only in a fractured way. I spent much of my senior year of high school checking out CDs from the local library and having a friend with a computer burn them onto CDs I could listen to in my Buick Skylark while I surreptitiously smoked Pall Malls out the window. In this way, I learned the entire catalogs of the Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, The Pixies, Janis Joplin, and (of all things) Supertramp. Mesmerized, but still hungry. By college, I’d eeked the Marion County Library dry and I needed more. (To be honest, I had also lost the fourth CD in a Rolling Stones multi-pack and owed the library the kind of money a 17-year-old Applebee’s carside-to-go girl just doesn’t have!)
Culturally, I needed some direction. I needed people like Buffalo to be my source, my guide to music and art and books and ideas. When Buffalo let me borrow Fiona Apple’s album “When The Pawn…” it was her idea. “I think you’ll really like this,” she said. “Oh and this, too,” she added, putting The Distiller’s album “Coral Fang” in my other hand. 
That handoff changed everything. Fiona Apple and Brody Dalle—and, by proxy, Buffalo—are cemented in my spirit. The lyrics to “Limp” still ring righteous shivers like a shot right through me. “Drain the Blood” still makes my pulse pound hot and rapid. These furious fucking women helped me feel not so fucking furious.
Sophomore year, Buffalo and I were in different dorms, in different areas of campus, and we naturally drifted apart, but not before she showed me how to find more of who I was and how to express it. My sense of self was forged through our friendship. I learned to balance my adoration for Buffalo and what I learned from her with what I brought to the table as myself. 
My first year out of college, I bought my own betta fish. I named her Black Betty, after the Ram Jam song—a song I used to blare from my smoking Buick, tearing down a lonely country road, with so many more miles to go.