i only wear white when it rains

because blogging is cheaper than therapy

an old tribute to a forever young friend

with one comment

March 2002

I first met Michele in 5th grade. She was new and shy and by far the prettiest girl in our class. In junior high and high school, we were BFF, and occasionally, if one of us was mad at the other, we were reduced to “2ndBFF.”

Michele & Tara 100 years ago

Michele Hoffmann 2.21.1974 - 9.11.2001

In 7th grade, we crimped our hair, parted it on the same side, and always wore the same frosty pink lipgloss: #44. I can remember dressing alike in 8th grade, and actually thinking that was cool. But then again so were Benetton sweatshirts, gold nameplates and Z Cavaricci jeans. What did we know about fashion? It was the 80s.

We used to eat Melba rounds and cream cheese after school in her grey carpeted room with mauve Formica furniture while we listened to The Cure and Yazoo’s “Upstairs at Eric’s.”

Our favorite song though was written the year we were born and later made famous by Kim Carnes. “Her hair is Harlow gold,” we used to sing and Michele always giggled at the part, “Roll you like you were dice” as if she held a secret that I’d never know. I hadn’t seen Bette Davis’ eyes, but whatever they looked like, I assumed they were beautiful. And that Michele had them.

Michele’s father Fred once got a limo to take us to see U2 at Madison Square Garden. And even though it was March, when we surfaced after the concert from a giddy, young girl-high, we were delighted to discover it was snowing outside. I’m 28 years old now, but I remember that fluffy unexpected snowfall as if it were yesterday.

During our senior year in high school, Michele drove me and two other friends to Myrtle Beach where we spent a week falling asleep in the sun without sunscreen and using fake names when we met boys. I was Taylor. She was Dale. Michele’s laugh was contagious, and one of my favorite photos of her is from when she fell backwards onto the bed because she was cracking up like a hyena in that oceanfront hotel room that was a spring break palace to four, 17-year-old girls.

After we graduated high school and I moved to Florida, Michele came to visit me in Marco Island where she’d secretly smoke outside my bedroom window, disappearing into a steamy, white, coming-of-age fog. We spent hours that hot, lazy Summer trying to decide, “What’s next?” But we were only 18 then and wouldn’t figure this out until much later.

In 1994, I went back to the Jersey Shore to spend a week with Michele and friends at their Belmar beach house. She looked the same: tan, blonde and still smiling from gold hoop to hoop.

That was the last time I saw her.

But even though college, life and distance made it easy to lose touch throughout the years, she was never far from my thoughts. I’d even dream about her on occasion and wake up wondering “why?” Not quite mature enough to realize that when people comprise the landscape of your life, especially in your formative years, memories of them don’t become extinct with the passing of time. They just lose their shine.

On September 11th, my heart sunk at the possibility. My thoughts turned to Michele’s mother — the pleasant and kind Mrs. Hoffmann — who had a gentle way of reminding me not to paint my nails in Michele’s room.

I naively concluded that this world would never be so cruel as to take a woman’s husband and daughter both on the same day. Would it?

It was Tara, Michele’s closest friend, who confirmed my fears. I became dizzy with an unfamiliar grief that settled onto my shoulders like a dumbbell I didn’t quite know how to lift.

Whenever I remembered that distinct laugh of hers, I couldn’t help but consider the grim reality that Michele would never get married. Never have children. Never look at a picture of our crimped hair again, wondering: “What the hell were we thinking?”

In the days following September 11th, I kept hearing Fred’s voice echoing in my mind, shouting up the stairs: “Shelly! Someone’s at the door for you…”

“Do I have something in my teeth?” Michele used to ask me, but then be too embarrassed to show me if she did. It’s amazing how a voice from a decade ago can resonate so clearly in one’s memory.

With our 10-year high school reunion approaching, I wonder whether or not I should go, and also this: how has it been nearly a decade since we drove back to NJ from Myrtle Beach at 3 a.m. in Michele’s white Grand Am, drinking diet Dr. Pepper and listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

My memories of Michele represent much more than random thoughts of an old pal. In a way, they symbolize our youth and innocence, and always send me back to a time where our biggest fears culminated with a high-pitched, “Does he like me?” at a slumber party.

I was no less ready to lose her as I was to relinquish the playful innocence we cultivate in youth and hopefully always carry somewhere in our hearts.

After hearing of her death, I rushed home to my parent’s garage where my high-school memories aged in a cardboard box labeled, “stuff to keep.” I was overcome with an urge to gather all the photos of Michele in a desperate effort to sustain what I feared would be a fleeting memory.

But after weeks of lamenting Michele’s lost life, and my own missed opportunity to talk to my friend one last time, I am now more resolute than ever to preserve her memory as well as that of our youthful innocence that always manages to bring a smile.

And with that, I hope I always hear the song of Michele’s laughter in the back of my mind.

September 11, 2006

It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since I last wrote about you, Michele.

It seems like yesterday and forever ago all at the same time.

In those four years, I have lost my father, given birth to a baby girl and celebrated my 5-year wedding anniversary. Oh – and I saw Tara just a few weeks ago. She’s still the same “LuLu,” plugging along in her slow and somewhat giddy signature style, but left noticeably different by your absence. I was at her wedding and sat behind Nicole and your mother at the church. I knew in an instant it was them, as your mother sniffed quietly into her tissue.

“It took me all Summer to get up the nerve to come here,” she said with a sorrowful smile.

I later spoke to her at the reception and marvel at her strength in the face of what is a crippling loss. She’s still beautiful, with your green-blue eyes and perfectly straight, sun-streaked hair. I often want to reach out to her and tell her you’re still thought about, even by people like me who haven’t seen you in so many years.

But I carry on with my busy life instead, still looking up at the sky whenever I hear “I want you to want me” by Cheap Trick (the song playing as we finally ended our 13-hour trek to Myrtle Beach). I’m not sure what I’m searching for, but I guess I’m hoping for some sign that you’re with us still. I look for my father now too in that same sad and desperate way.

I still think of you on your birthday, just two weeks before mine.

“How can you only be 27?” I wonder, confused.

My brother once said, “Death can never be understood because it defies all logic.” And I think that is true.

But the other night, I had a dream so vivid I knew it was unlike anything I ever experienced. I was on a sailboat with my father surrounded by this beautiful peace and calmness.

“Would you choose it again? Would you do this all over again, if you had the choice?” I asked him.

He gestured around to the still waters with his Barney Rubble-like hands and said, “I would. Because of the quiet…”

It was then that I understood why he left this world just 11 months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

So I like to envision you in that same place. Forever 27 and at peace, sailing along through a tranquil Utopia none of will ever experience until it’s our time.

And if I do see you there, someday, promise me something? That you’ll actually let me see your teeth.

Written by I only Wear White When it Rains

September 10, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in heady

One Response

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  1. Very sweet and poignant. Good friends are priceless. Not sure when I’ll stop crying now, but I am so proud of you. Love you to bits.

    mom

    mom

    September 9, 2011 at 10:59 am


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