1. homie down
There was a girl in my high school Spanish class, Jayne Milton, who was always running out of class in tears, often about some boy. I found it kind of braggy, like she was trying to show everyone how exciting her life was. I was always the Quiet Girl with nothing going on. Until I became the Jayne Milton of P&W’s California office and discovered that being the Drama Girl is no picnic either. Apologies to Jayne Milton and to Jamie.
I wanted to work at Homeboy partly because it’s a place where even the hardest and quietest people cry, and it’s okay. But I was also hoping that I could take a long hiatus from Jayne Milton theatrics.
Then I got Sizzle’s email, subject line “news.” Tracy passed away. Her brother called me today to tell me her parents found her in her bed this morning.
|Photo by Robert, known on Tracy's blog as The Hotness.|
When someone healthy gets sidelined with a serious illness, they seem suddenly fragile. But when someone has a chronic illness that lands them in surgery every other week or so, and when that person also has tattoos and swears freely, they start to seem weirdly unbreakable. That was Tracy. It’s like, “Well, if that didn’t kill her, nothing will.” But then something did.
I stared hard out of my office window at the strip mall of pho restaurants and Chinese beauty supply stores, yellow stucco and faded red signs. I wasn’t sure what to do. I wavered between collapse and perseverance. I was good at both. I was certain people would understand if I told them my friend had died. We had four therapists on staff, after all. This was a language everyone here spoke more fluently than I did: another homie down.
I walked out to the mezzanine that overlooked the lobby, where determined men in baggy jeans waited each day for a minute with Father Greg, their last, best hope. My eyes were filling up when I spotted Gavino, a mustachioed trainee in his forties, who’d told Ruben, in Saturday’s writing workshop, that he was not alone. He asked if I was okay.
“I just found out a friend died.”
“Aw, you just got the news?”
“Yeah. Our mutual friend emailed me.”
He hugged me, and I thought how crazy it was that this dude who’d known prison and addiction and no doubt the traumas that led to prison and addiction was comforting me, but I left guilt like that behind (mostly) circa 2003. I hope it does trainees good to know that they give as much as they receive at Homeboy.
I walked out to the half-empty lots that stretched north and east of Homeboy. The bus parking lot, the nooks clogged with shopping carts and other urban debris. I left AK a message. I thought about Tracy.
|Cobblestone and cryin'. Downtown L.A. is made for days like this.|
She was not someone who could be accused of having first-world problems. She was a recovering addict who lived off her disability check because her kidneys crapped out on her. She wrote about taking anti-psychotic meds so she’d stop hallucinating bugs. Her day-to-day was a series of doctor’s appointments and dialysis and simple things made difficult.
Is this the part where I say she handled it all with a smile on her face? Where suffering is rewritten as a comforting cliché?
No, this is not that part, but it’s not the opposite of that either. I’m struggling to explain: No, you don’t understand, she was Tracy.
That’s how I felt when my mom died, and when my friend Tania died. There’s a time before people become mythologized in your mind, and you want to cling to it. You feel you owe it to them, not to let them become just one of those lovely dead people.
|Tracy and Sizzle in 2009. Tracy was pissed that they didn't have Coke Zero at the bar.|
Because when I was going through treatment she emailed me things like this:
I have been thinking of you often, and want you to know that even though any chronic illness robs you of many things, including the ability to regain “before,” there will come a time when you look around and realize that your life is no longer made up entirely of being ill and a patient, and you will be amazed at how much it used to occupy life. I promise.
And also this, when I was venting:
I suggest you punch that questionable friend in the tits. And I get quite sick of the Positivity Police. Sometimes shit just sucks, why can't people just acknowledge that? It would certainly make me feel less stressed if they could. It's annoying to have to be the cheerleader when I'M the one who's sick. And the fact that everyone has something that sucks doesn't make your particular suck any less sucky.
She understood the suck, and the anger, and liked to talk about stabbing people with spoons, but she was also kind of Zen in a way I can accept only from people who’ve been through what she had been through. I would like to say she taught me how to live with the unexpected, how to love life even when the odds aren’t in your favor, even when the world makes your world confined and difficult, but I don’t think I’ve totally learned it yet.
I made plans to visit her in her new, perfect little pad in Joshua Tree in the fall, and she stocked up on pescatarian-friendly food and almond milk. And then her mom got sick and the trip got pushed back and pushed back.
Tracy was, in many ways, only a voice for me, on her blog and in her emails. But she was a kickass writer, so I believe that missing her voice is missing her. I believe that, thanks to the magic and weirdness of the internet, her voice lives on, and she lives on. Few people liked and hated things harder than Tracy, and I imagine there will be a lot of talk of sharpened spoons, evil cats, robots, cartoons and dim sum at her memorial service this weekend. Tracy, I’m pouring a bottle of Coke Zero on the ground for you, homie-style.