It's about Leslie ...
I checked my voicemail as soon as I landed on Monday. One message, from Lance. He said it was "urgent." I'd never heard him use that word before. I called him back before I even got off the plane.
He broke it to me as gently as he could. There's really no easy way to say that someone you love so much is gone.
We stayed up late that night, drinking wine, staring at the walls, talking about her.
+ + +
I met her back in the early days of the web -- circa 1997. She was living in New York and I in Memphis, and I dropped her a note to compliment her on something she'd written. She wrote back to me a while later, full of questions about things she'd read on my site. I was taken aback -- how did this incredibly talented, busy woman have the time to peruse my site so thoroughly?
As anyone who knew her will say, That was just Leslie.
Emails became phone calls became shared work became friendship. She taught me how to freelance successfully, taught me to be assertive, taught me to say "I'm sorry, that's extra," taught me her favorite invoicing rhyme:
Roses are red,
She cheered my every success and when I failed, she helped me figure out where I went wrong. She picked me up, dusted me off, and put me back on my feet more times than I can count. In those years she was, in every sense of word, my mentor.
We became friends in the process, talking for hours and hours and hours late into the night. I could call her at 3am and know she'd still be up.
+ + +
When she was living in New York, I stayed with her a few times. She loved having houseguests, and she loved sharing New York with them.
One day I ventured off into the city alone while she stayed at home to work. I had some crazy adventures, things I thought would be interesting to only me, but when I got back she insisted on hearing every detail. God, how she loved that city.
If anyone were to say New Yorkers were rude, she would visibly bristle. No, they're not. They're really caring people. They just express it differently. If you're walking down the street with your backpack hanging open, they're gonna say Hey! Idiot! Your backpack is open and someone's gonna steal all your shit!
That's how she was too.
+ + +
Several years ago, one thing led to another, and she was in the hospital. I sent her a pink Hello Kitty boombox (Sanrio anything brought her joy), and called to see what else she needed.
Well, she whispered, the toilet paper here is like sandpaper, and my eyebrows are out of control.
In those days, if you ordered something from drugstore.com and sent it to someone other than yourself, they automatically gift-wrapped everything. She called me in fits of giggles when she got the box -- explaining how the nurses thought she'd gotten something extra-special and how their faces fell when she unwrapped Charmin and tweezers.
It was so easy to make her happy.
+ + +
It probably surprised everyone when she accepted a job in San Francisco. I mean, Leslie was the quintessential New York girl. But she needed a change -- 9/11 hit her especially hard. She went to funerals two at time for a while.
I helped her find an apartment. I also narrowly avoided being hit broadside and accidentally rolled her fingers up in the car window. But she thought it was hilarious. Jesus, are you trying to kill me?!
She stayed at my apartment, the perfect houseguest. Knowing my hatred of doing dishes, she cleaned the kitchen every morning and took up a tiny corner in my living room.
I came home one night and found her and my then-boyfriend Dave sitting at my desk, surrounded by empty bottles of Diet Coke and a nearly-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. They were passing a glass Pyrex measuring cup back and forth, drinking from it, while singing bad 70s songs. Blotto, the both of them.
When I asked why they were using the measuring cup instead of a glass, she looked up at me all wide-eyed.
She loved that story so much.
+ + +
She kept a textfile on her desktop. At first glance it looked like a lot of mishmash, but upon closer inspection you'd find someone's name and then under it a giant list of seemingly unrelated words. Red, cats, 6/19, Sirius, Lyle Lovett, Aaron Sorkin.
If she knew you, you had an entry in that textfile. And if you mentioned something you liked, something you wanted, your birthday, your anniversary, your favorite color, what size you wore, she'd make a note of it under your name.
That's how she was able to surprise people. And she loved doing that.
+ + +
Date: Wed, 06 Dec 2006 17:34:10
Leslie didn't know how to type, but she had the fastest "hunt and peck" I've ever seen. The problem is that she had to look at the keyboard rather than the screen. And unless she was writing a business email she never proofread before sending, so her emails sometimes required a bit of translation. (She occasionally joked that I "spoke fluent Leslie.")
I recently accepted a job back in Memphis, a job whose terms she helped me negotiate. She was positively giddy when I told her we got exactly what we wanted. It sounds like a lot of money, Shauna, but you're worth it. They're so lucky to have you!
We talked about how Northwest flies non-stop between Memphis and Detriot and how easy it would be to see each other again.
I left last weekend to find an apartment, and came home on Monday to the phone call from Lance.
The next day, 12/12, just as she'd promised, I got her package. An entire Sirius satellite radio set-up -- car kit, docking station, a year's subscription. We'd talked about Sirius before, and I'd mentioned I was thinking about getting it. In true Leslie fashion, she beat me to the punch.
Everything is still in the boxes. I can't look at them without crying. And I know that would've pissed her off. Goddamit, I spent the money already. Use it!
+ + +
Losing someone like this is a lot like having your house robbed. Just when you think you know everything that was taken, you remember something else, and you get angry all over again. The stories I've told here don't even begin to scratch the surface.
It'll be a long time before I don't have a day when something reminds me of her, and an even longer time before I stop reaching for the phone to call her. She's still speed-dial #2 on my cell phone. I can't bring myself to erase it ... for almost a decade, I haven't made a major personal or career decision without discussing it with her first.
By now there are dozens of online tributes to her. Every time I find one, I read it out loud, just in case she's listening. She'd be so happy to know everyone thought so much of her.
She loved everyone until they gave her a reason not to. She was fiercely loyal -- if you were her friend and someone hurt you, they were out of her good graces until they made things right with you. Come hell or high water, she had your back. There aren't enough people in the world like that.
She always said "I love you" before she hung up the phone. She'd been through so much in her life, but she never let it make her bitter. Her resilience was nothing short of amazing.
I was so lucky to be her friend. I'm a better person for having known her.