Elizabeth Gilbert‘s 15-year friendship with Rayya Elias has transformed into love – a revelation that came Wednesday, just two months after the Eat, Pray, Love author’s separation from husband José Nunes.
In an emotional Facebook post, Gilbert, 47, said of Elias, “I love her, and she loves me.”
Gilbert also revealed that the romance blossomed after Elias was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer this past spring. The author has vowed to stay by Elias’ side throughout her treatment, calling her partner a “role model” and “most trusted confidante.”
Here’s everything you should know about Elias.
1. She’s also a published author
Elias has published a memoir: Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk From the Middle East to the Lower East Side.
The ranging life story, which hit bookstores in 2013, features an introduction by Gilbert.
2. She was born in Syria
Elias was born in Aleppo, Syria, now the war-torn center of the country’s refugee crisis. Fleeing political conflict in the country, Elias and her family traveled to the United States, settling in Detroit, Michigan, in 1968.
According to Elias’ website, she knew no English, and had to learn the language in fourth grade.
3. She’s an accomplished hairdresser
Before relocating to New York City in 1983 in pursuit of her dream of being a musician, Elias discovered her hairdressing skills, according to her website.
“In Detroit in 1979, I was playing in a band, and this kid came up to me wanting a mohawk. He had knicked these clippers from his parents, and I refused,” she explained to Australian student newspaper Honi Soit in 2015. “He was like, ‘Come on man, everyone knows how to cut a mohawk. I know you could do a really good job.’ ”
She continued, “So I plugged them in and gave my first mohawk in a bathroom at a club called Todd’s, and that was it. People started calling me, like his friends, saying we want this and we want that.”
Elias decided to attend beauty school, and, after hitting the Big Apple, began to do hair for fashion shows, working with big design houses like Armani.
In fact, Elias and Gilbert met when the latter was sent to her now-girlfriend for a so-called “hair intervention,” they revealed during a sit-down at the Sydney Opera House last year.
4. She was once homeless
Though she now been sober for nearly 20 years, Elias once dealt with addiction issues – a path that left her homeless in N.Y.C. for a time, she told Honi Soit.
“I remember being homeless. I remember sleeping on a park bench,” she explained. Of getting sober, she said, “It’s funny, because after 12 rehabs and 23 detoxes and jail and institutions and three deaths, I didn’t need to go anywhere. I just basically picked myself up, shook myself off and took about a week’s worth of Vicoden just to get rid of the ache of withdrawing, started going to meetings and got clean.”
5. She’s also a punk rock musician
Elias’ Harley Loco has an accompanying soundtrack, with music entirely performed by the 55-year-old.
First getting involved in the punk music scene during her time in Detroit, Elias joined a band, Ancient Beat, upon arrival in N.Y.C. The group performed at a variety of local clubs, with Elias on the electronic instruments and vocals. Their performances, according to her site, were often accompanied by live performers and dancers.