A few years passed before I first saw Michele again at a festival in town, and to my surprise! My initial thought was, “Wow! Michele has apparently reinvented herself... as a clown!” No …
A few years passed before I first saw Michele again at a festival in town, and to my surprise! My initial thought was, “Wow! Michele has apparently reinvented herself... as a clown!” No kidding, there she was in motley garb adorned in sparkles, green wig, stuffed animals and multi-colored balloons. I asked what she was up to nowadays, and although nothing fully explained the costume, she offered me her new business card that read, “Life Coach.” I appreciated that her services were free to veterans but was unsure what to make of this new Michele. She shared with me news of her divorce. She admitted, “he had been controlling” but, “there’s nothing else bad I can say about him.” Her words were respectable and reasonable. She didn’t sound crazy but, in bright contrast to her former self, looked like she could be. No matter where she went, she modeled another vibrant version of this new fashion. Granted, it was fitting that she dress-up like a rainbow on the Day to be Gay event where we met up, but she would have dressed like that anyway.
I could not have been the only one shocked and confused by her Day-Glo mystique, so I dared to inquire with a couple I knew were her friends. I carefully selected words not to offend: “I recently saw Michele and noticed a distinct change in her persona. What can you tell me about that?” They jointly replied, “We suspect that maybe earlier there was some medication, and maybe now, there is not.” This reasonable assumption, I discovered later, was not the case. Legitimately high on life, aside from moderate consumption of wine and coffee, Michele was nearly chemical-free. She was extremely cautious and conservative in her use of any medication. It might be argued, however, that her ex-husband felt differently.
Grandma Michele, the Storyteller, self-published a fairy tale book of the same name, and a second book about the theoretical planet Zatar. With puppets on hand wherever she went, she was kooky but loving. She could be really “out-there” but sincerely wanted to help people right where she was. While most of her charity work was legitimate, much went unrealized. She created a nonprofit for female veterans returning from tours and offered her designer home as an accommodating retreat. I am unsure how many she served, but I know she prepared for droves. A jest or confession, she once described this effort as a bipolar episode. Entirely benevolent, I saw it more as an unrealistically generous attempt to invest some of her divorce settlement in feminist philanthropy. I defend her mental wellness, despite her eccentricities. One could argue that this childlike persona was in natural defense of her mental stability. Long-term health often depends on negotiating arrested development lost to childhood trauma. We all have our own demons to deal with, or not. Like many of us, Michele’s variety was related to innocence lost early in life and having grown up too quickly. It is not outside of reason that shift in persona was a method to liberate herself from certain emotional constraints toward an experience of childhood joy and fantasy she might have missed. Nevertheless, her mission to spread happiness held real merit and value for her and others. Negotiable embarrassment and neon colors notwithstanding.
Several seasons had passed before I saw her next. I was tending bar at the Dancing Cat Saloon one summer evening where she sauntered in looking like a million bucks and like she could be worth at least that. She was gorgeous in her new glamour. This new version of Michele was captivating in her red bobbed curls, designer duds and extra accessories. She had the cool confidence of a Hollywood starlet who has no shame in taking herself out for a night on the town in her own Cadillac, outfitted with a pillow on the driver’s seat to enable her to see over the dash. Men offered her drinks while she shooed them off. Appearing more sophisticated and wiser than ever, she knew exactly the right thing to say at precisely the right time. She offered me sound the advice I was seeking. I was impressed and intrigued by this mysterious woman new to me.
Another couple of years had passed until I saw her again, her previous persona still intact. What was attention-getting, even eye-brow-raising was her new companion: a handsome young Moroccan. All base assumptions put to rest, she was not a sugar momma. Theirs was an honorable friendship based on business barter, symbiotic support and shared spiritual values. They proved that meaningful relationships exist beyond social constructs where they shared plenty of common ground outside of ethnicity, religion, age, or culture. Plus, they elevated each other in practical and professional ways. He launched her internet presence and she provided applicable mentorship. Some friendships really are forever; he manages her website even still. Michele had her pulse on things then, and her counsel was valuable to me as well. She was proving to be a worthy sage.
Sometime thereafter, I discovered she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I followed her story on Facebook to find hopeful reports toward gains in recovery. She posted her hospital shenanigans with optimism, handling doctors like she was the ringmaster conducting her own show. She appeared as radiant as always. I felt she was unbeatable. Then, in fall 2018, I ran into Michele at the memorial of a mutual friend she had known from her participation with the VFW. She had stage-four cancer. With a supplementary insurance benefit, she could employ home health aides of her choosing, and she asked if I would be willing.
She had another job in mind for me as well. She wanted me to help her write the book about her journey with cancer. I would be her scribe.