6 Years – Smile even though it’s breaking…

The “Hurricane Party” is a well-known event in South Florida. I was evacuated nearly every year on my birthday (9/1) growing up. When I got old enough (-ish) to drink, I partied during every hurricane. We got word Hurricane Matthew would likely be the first organized storm to hit Jacksonville in more than half a century, so naturally we stocked up on whiskey.
I received a gabillion texts and phone calls leading up to Matthew’s big punch, all very much concerned that we weren’t evacuating. I got one text from a dear friend who moved to Jax from Ohio about 5 years ago. “Should we be evacuating? I mean, we’ve never done this before.”
“No,” I texted back. “We’re inland. There’s nothing much you can do. It’s why we have hurricane parties. We don’t know if the storm will strengthen and hit us dead on or if it will turn at the last second and sweep out to sea. Instead of worrying and guessing, we just enjoy ourselves.”
And even the most prepared of our friends, complete with an in-ground generator ready to power the house for more than a week, found themselves the only ones on the block without power two days after the storm and…you guessed it…a broken generator.

You can’t predict it and you can’t control it.

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Noel having a fancy moment.

Today is six years since Noel died. I write about him every year because his death teaches me a new lesson every year. This year, it started off as a reminder to enjoy the ride. If we’re going down in a hurricane, we might us well bring the Fireball with us (or the Goldschlagger, as he used to have me believing was “good for shots”). He wouldn’t have done a damn thing differently in his life, or in this hurricane, and I don’t recall him ever panicking or worrying about much.
Then, just as I prepared to write his annual blog, I got word about another friend from college…

When she walked into the green room at our theatre for the first time, she looked like a little pink bubble. Petite, blonde, gorgeous smile, infectious joy…I hated her. She was the cuter, kinder, prettier version of me.
I gave up a role for the first time in college to her. I’d literally landed every other role I went out for, but the little pink bubble walked into her audition for 1940’s Radio Hour with a little soft-shoe number she’d choreographed and memorized and her hair curled in a way that I couldn’t dream of replicating. And not only that, she was a better singer. Ace in the hole.
Quite an ego-check for a senior.
Of course, I couldn’t resist her darling charm and nurturing attitude and we became friends. She knew more about makeup than me and helped me a dozen times to do something about my hair. I’m pretty sure we didn’t have a big dramatic goodbye when I graduated, mostly because we weren’t dramatically close friends. But we kept in touch via Facebook when it became popular. She never gave up the performance dream (or the perfect makeup and amazing hair). It was fun to watch her rise.

There was never once a chance we thought she wouldn’t beat cancer when we found out she’d been diagnosed. Never once. “We”, the collective vision of everyone who knows her, just assumed she would fight like a sparkly little warrior and show us all how it’s done in the most adorable way possible. Never a chemo or a surgery without pink lipstick.
She did that. She did fight fucking hard and she wore pink lipstick. And fabulous wigs.

Of course, no one thought we’d lose to Noel to cancer either. If you were going to choose two people from our theatre department at Rollins College who you thought might die from cancer, they wouldn’t be the two.
She’s taken a turn these past few days, and they don’t expect she’ll share our physical planet with us for much longer. Which means Noel is waiting with a shot glass and a bear hug as soon as she decides to fly, and that gives me so much peace.

You can’t predict it and you can’t control it.

You can’t be well-enough prepared for a hurricane, you can’t predict the cancer, you can’t control life. But you can pass out Goldschlagger shots, you can sparkle around every corner, you can have a party in the face of a storm. My tears continue to fall and my chest will ache for a while thinking about how unpredictable life is. And I’ll probably try on some pink lipstick, just to see what it feels like.

Noel, thank you for the annual reminder that we don’t know when or how it’s going to happen so it’s TOTALLY worth two more shots before the cast party starts.
Alanna, you are joy manifested into physical form. When the traffic backs up or the friend cancels dinner plans or the electricity goes out, I’m going to giggle loud like sunshine. For you.

Smile, though your heart is aching.
Smile, even though it’s breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by.
If you smile through your fear and sorrow,
Smile and maybe tomorrow,
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you.

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