She was a friend of Dr. Cooper‘s from his theatre group. She’d been in every play at his high school since the Doctor started there. Dr. Cooper goes to an all-boy high school and his friend was from their sister school. She was very impressive to behold — a very tall, rather heavy Black girl who was so full of pride and self-confidence. She was about six feet tall and wore platform shoes everywhere. She was probably close to 200 lbs. and she was unafraid to be photographed in a bikini.When I was her age, I wore one-piece bathing suits everywhere because I have a small birthmark on my hip I didn’t want anyone to see.
What would a world full of girls with that kind of pride and self-confidence be like? I wondered whenever I saw her. I couldn’t imagine. I still can’t.
I was in awe of her.
That girl loved herself and everyone around her and she died suddenly in her sleep a couple of weeks ago. I thought maybe the school was using a euphemism when they said she “died in her sleep,” and that she’d had some hideous dark side we never saw and had OD’d or something.
It turned out that when she was not quite 13, she was hit by a car and severely injured. She spent the next five years in and out of hospital and seeing various experts, but I guess they could never quite put her body back together as it should have been. Her head especially gave her problems constantly. Her girlfriends said at the funeral that she was always having severe headaches. But she didn’t want to be pitied, so almost no one outside her closest circle knew about it. She was still a fabulous dancer and a very good actress and a gifted student. She just had these headaches, you see. No big deal.
She had a bad time in junior year of high school and had to be homeschooled, but then she improved and was back at school for senior year. She had a good summer but started having headaches again around her birthday in early August. She came home after her first weekend at college, laid down to rest because her head hurt, and never woke up.
Her mother reserved a large room at the funeral home, because she knew that a funeral for a young person would have a big turnout. My own best friend died suddenly at 29, and I remember thinking at the time: At least when you die young, you get a good turnout at the funeral.
So this young lady’s family expected a large turnout and reserved a good-sized room for the funeral. But they were wrong. It wasn’t a good turnout at all.
It was a spectacular turnout.
They filled the main room and then the funeral director came in and suggested that the people standing in the back might want to go sit down in another unoccupied room until the service started.
Then more people came in and the funeral directed suggested that those people in the other room should just stay there and he would turn on remote speakers so they could hear the service. And then more people came and he had to get the speakers operational in a third room.
And then more people came and more people came and more people came. They filled every room of the funeral home and then the overflow sat in the lobby or stood on the steps of the main entrance to the building. They cried and laughed and talked about her fondness for wearing her “Black Feminist” t-shirt when she would stop in to visit her classmates at the school she was too sick to attend. They talked about how, in the midst of her own pain and illness, she would bake cupcakes and bring them into the lunchroom for those classmates. They talked about how much she loved to dance, and that her favorite musical was Rent, and that she intended to get a tattoo that said only:
Because all true lovers of musicals would get that reference.
By my calculations, she had approximately 9,460,800 minutes on this earth, and she did more with those minutes than most of us who’ve had a helluva lot more time. She will be missed, she will be mourned, but most of all, she will be an inspiration to the other teenaged girls who knew her. I hope they will dress flamboyantly and wear bikinis no matter how imperfect their bodies. I hope they will sing and dance and eat lots and lots of cupcakes and grow up to rule the world.