I am embarrassed to admit that I have never had a lot of close girlfriends. Maybe it’s because I’m skeptical about why someone would befriend me. Every time I start to get close to someone, I retreat because no, I don’t want to buy those leggings you sell. I don’t want to come over and hold your hair back while you puke. I don’t have time to dissect what he said to you, seven different ways, the tone in which he said it, or to muster thin shreds of false hope for you. I am just not a girly-girl: I would prefer to go to Barret-Jackson than to high tea. I want to go to Cabella’s, not Nordstrom.
Please don’t think that I don’t like people. According to Meyers-Briggs, I am quite high on the extrovert scale. I am a social person, and I know lots of people. I enjoy being around people and am not an antisocial hermit. Although this blog installment is not about me, you need to know all of this because, after years of flying mostly solo in the girlfriend department, I was lucky to have a close girlfriend later in my life. I found what most women are fortunate to have. I finally had someone to confide in, someone who shared many of my same interests, and we even worked together at the same company, doing the same job (on different teams). We went to vintage popup markets. We met for lunch or a movie, and we commiserated on work projects. We traded husband-training tips. I had what I was missing in my life: a close girlfriend. I understood all the girlfriend hype. Finally!
On December 2, 2018, Michelle’s husband called me just before 11:00 PM, while I was in a Lyft ride, coming home from a Christmas party. Michelle had suffered a severe asthma attack while attending an event with their daughter. The attack left her unresponsive, as her brain was deprived of oxygen for several minutes, causing irreversible brain damage. I tried to convince him – and mostly myself – that she was going to be okay.
“It’s bad,” he said. I refused to believe him.
I heard from Michelle’s mother-in-law two days later. By her most generous spirit, Michelle was an organ donor. Her husband and daughter had said their good-byes, and the donor network had set about finding organ recipients.
Michelle was in my life for just over 20 short years. And then, most unexpectedly, my best friend was gone.
A week before she passed, my thoughtful friend sent me that year’s l’Occitaine Advent Calendar. Every day leading up to Christmas, I cried as I opened a little door that revealed a small, nicely scented gift. Michelle kept bestowing kindness even after she was gone.
But here’s the thing: Since Michelle’s passing, I have met her longtime friends from elementary school, middle school, and college. I also met her first “adult close friend.” We all knew about each other, but we didn’t know each other. We lived in Texas, Virginia, Arizona, and Illinois, and had never actually met. We finally came together at her memorial service. After the memorial, at the reception, we started talking and laughing like we had known each other all along. We shared stories that Michelle told us about one another, and we quoted her favorite sayings. Because of Michelle, we had found one another. We were like needles in a haystack that were suddenly divined by a magnet. I had a group of women with whom I instantly identified. Although we’re all dispersed, I feel like I have this network – “The Friends of Michelle” – whom I can text or send a Facebook message out of the blue.
Last Saturday, April 18, would have been Michelle’s birthday. Keri, one of her longtime friends, organized a virtual “Michelle Day.” We got together over a Zoom session and toasted Michelle with our favorite adult beverages. We shared our favorite memories and laughed and cried. Michelle’s dad, stepmom, husband, and her daughter were also in attendance. Her daughter is this scary-perfect copy of her mom, with the same head of hair, a great laugh, and her mother’s love of music. It was nice to see everyone and to honor Michelle’s memory.
I was lucky enough to have had Michelle in my life, if only for a short time. Michelle Day inspired me to tell the rest of the world about our friend. I would like to tell you six things that you should know about our friend. She was a genuinely fantastic person, and I pray that this is a fitting tribute, though more than one year overdue.
Number 1: Michelle was a connoisseur of alternative music.
Someone remarked during our Michelle Day festivities that Michelle was probably the “oldest known person to still subscribe to Rolling Stone.” That’s arguably accurate. When we traveled on business trips, Michelle was usually packing a tote full of back issues that she needed to catch up on. She had this encyclopedic knowledge of popular music. Michelle’s forte was alternative music of the 1980s.
If she was in her car, and a song came on that she remembered your liking, you would receive a text of the radio tuner display. If she heard a new release of a song that she thought you’d like, she’d tell you about it or send you a YouTube video or MP3. She was like a human Spotify meets Encyclopedia of Music.
I say that she was a connoisseur of alternative music, but she was knowledgeable about all kinds of music. Once, when I was trying to decide between two operas on which to spend my annual Opera Attendance Allotment. I had to choose between Lucia di Lammermoor and Abduction From the Seraglio, she advised me to see “Abduction, of course.” What? From which left field did that come? Her advice turned out to be spot-on. She knew me and knew I would enjoy it.
Number 2: Michelle was one of the most thoughtful and generous people I have ever known.
Michelle’s encyclopedic memory was the catalyst for her thoughtfulness. If you told her something that you liked or had an interest in, even if only once, in passing, she remembered it. I told her that when I was a kid, I was a penguin fan. Each year, no matter what she got me for my birthday or Christmas, she would send me “something penguin.” I think I mentioned it once, but she always remembered it.
She remembered birthdays and pet adoption anniversaries, and wedding anniversaries. Each year, my husband and I received an anniversary card from her. A friend sending an anniversary card to another friend is just downright, level-five considerate.
In her final act of selflessness, Michelle donated her organs to several recipients, including a woman in Washington, in her twenties, who received her generous heart. She made it possible for others to have another chance at beautiful lives.
Number 3: Michelle was a dedicated animal advocate.
Okay, we all love animals. But Michelle put her love into action. She volunteered with the Arizona Humane Society and was one of the earliest Rover.com hosts I can remember. She would volunteer to watch our dogs when we would take short weekend trips, and she and her family treated them like royalty.
I cannot remember the number, but over the years, she fostered probably close to 50 kittens, some of those being gravely ill. She wanted every animal to have their best chance at a good life. We were talking on the phone one day when one of her foster kitties passed away quietly from parvo. She was so calm, and I was tearing up as she told me what happened. But you know what? That kitten passed away in a comfortable home, on a soft, clean blanket, with someone who had bottle-fed him, keeping watch as he crossed the rainbow bridge. That kitten did not die alone, somewhere out in the big world.
Michelle would have saved a corral of kittens and puppies if she could have. Her Texas girlfriends made a point of volunteering at the shelter where she volunteered the weekend they visited Arizona for the memorial service. That was indeed the most fitting way to have honored her volunteer spirit. Her commitment to volunteering inspires each one of The Friends of Michelle to this day. Some of the Friends have started fostering shelter animals, which they’d never done before.
That is what I would call a legacy of action.
Number 4: Michelle was quite smart.
Michelle was one of those rare people who had equally adept left and right brain abilities, which I always attributed that to her left-handedness. She was great at math, a talent I’ve always admired in anyone, but she was also one of the best editors I’ve ever met. Whenever I needed someone to take a look at a paper I’d written for a graduate school assignment or a customer communiqué I’d written for work, I could count on Michelle to find that one obscure error that everyone else missed. I would send her something to review, thinking that I’d sent her the most pristine copy ever, and she would find something that had hidden from anyone else who’d looked at it. It was uncanny.
We collaborated a lot at work, especially in the last two years of Michelle’s life. If we had to come up with a process or policy for our team to follow, I would write the draft, she would refine it, and we would both work on the final copy. We had an unspoken but discreetly defined workflow we’d follow when we teamed up on a project. I miss that collaboration. I don’t know if I can sync up with anyone else like that.
In 2017, our company transferred me to a team that would afford me more opportunities to work directly with Michelle. I had to learn the product and the processes surrounding it. The company shot down my repeated requests for product training, but Michelle saved my professional skin. She was my mentor on that team. After Michelle e passed away, and I took over responsibility for many of the things we did together, I found myself using her approaches to problem-solving when I encountered technical roadblocks. I didn’t realize how much she helped me at work until I didn’t have her knowledge to draw upon anymore.
Number 5: Michelle’s personality had a balance of seriousness and fun.
Michelle was the fun adult in the room. She was serious about things like managing money, keeping organized through lists, and other necessary things that most of us know are necessary but are loathe to do. Michelle was her family’s de facto accountant, chef, and business manager. She was the queen of the castle.
But Michelle had a fun, mischievous side. She was an expert at coming up with apt nicknames for people at work that we could use to “encode” our messages to one another. She would send the best cartoons and memes, just when you needed them most. They usually harkened back to a long-forgotten inside joke or offhand comment.
At her memorial, I learned that Michelle once snuck out of her house, joined up with a friend, and met a guy from the band Night Ranger. The band member decided that he wanted to meet Michelle and her friend, who worked at the same restaurant, after admiring them from afar. They hung out with him for a while, sticking to Diet Coke, on Michelle’s practical advice. And that’s about as far as it went. I could listen to that story a million times.
Number 6: Michelle was married to her soulmate.
I remember a particularly lovely photo of Michelle and her husband at their wedding. She posted the picture to Facebook on the occasion of their wedding anniversary. She added the caption, “Never a doubt.”
They were such a matched set. They bonded through music when they met while being the wingman/woman for their respective friends on an unsuccessful date. Michelle and Chris hit it off, were soon caught up in a whirlwind romance, got engaged, and married. They always reminded me of the fun, high school couple whom everyone wanted to be around. Their senses of humor, and everything else about them, could give hope to anyone who doubted the worth of marriage. It made me happy to see them and how they interacted. They gave each other buoyancy.
Michelle gave many of us the gift of her light. Someone posted something on her Facebook page after she passed away that sums it up so well:
“There are some who bring
a light so great to the world
that even after they have gone,
the light remains.”
I am forever grateful for that light, no matter how fleeting.