I've never been one of those people who have a lot of friends. People are always surprised by this. I suppose the perception is that within certain circles I'm popular and popular people, conventional wisdom says, seldom have a moment to themselves. But having many acquaintances is something completely different from having many friends, of course. And while I'm not exactly a loner, I've always been selective about who I let into my confidence and my personal physical space.
Today, I'm thinking of one such person: Desiree Kelly-Tucker.
Desi died five years ago, but she would have celebrated her birthday today, the 25th. And this was one of the areas around which we bonded. We were two November girls - my birthday being the 8th. We believed that we belonged to a special fraternity because November people are the best people, hands down, to ever walk the Earth. That's real, too, so don't even bother to contest it.
But seriously, I called her a November girl but she was no girl. Truth is, she was really my parents' peer, and so quite older than I. That didn't matter, though. It never does with me. I'm all about connections; age actually doesn't matter in my personal relationships. I met her at church. My sister Tanya and I, adolescents at the time, had admired her from afar for a long time because she seemed so unconventional. What was it about her that conveyed this opinion? Looking back through the hazy fog of time, it's hard to remember, since this would have been in the late-1980s. But I have the distinct impression that our opinion of her was coloured by the fact that she was always surrounded by an entourage of young people. An older person who was so obviously adored by young people - cute guys included! - was all right by us and we took to calling her "Mother Hen" in our oblique references to her. Also, it was pretty obvious that if our meagre social lives had any chance of improving, especially as it related to the opposite sex, we'd have to get in on the ground floor with her.
Eventually, though, Desi and I became close friends. Ironically, our friendship had nothing to do with her ability to hook me up with any of the fellows who were under her tutelage. Indeed, she went to great pains to gently discourage my crushes on those she felt would be unworthy of me. She was a wonderfully supportive, kind, direct, trustworthy person who became, as I grew older, a substitute parent and confidante I was in dire need of to get through a time of challenge, the challenge being how to reconcile two sides of myself: the spiritual and the secular. Unlike my parents, who had very limited exposure to the "world" before their wholesale involvement with the church, Desi had been around the block a time or two before her conversion. Which, weirdly, was not to say she was hard and cynical. She wasn't. There was a sweet tenderness and optimism about her although she'd lived through a lot of unpleasantness.
Having been raised in a Christian home all my life, I was suddenly not simply a young woman with an earnest devotion to God, but now I was also one who did not know how to deal with her emerging sexuality and how it would affect that other side of me. Who would I become? Somebody committed to the Lord and the Church? Or somebody committed to pursuing other secular interests? Did I do what my parents expected? Or did I follow my own path? For all Desi's religious fervour, there was still no better person a young woman at a crossroads could want to have in her corner. She never, ever judged me, even though she must have had serious concerns about me. But when tensions between my parents and me reached to boiling and spilled over and the relationship had deteriorated almost irrevocably, she selflessly opened her own home to me - putting considerable strain on her relationship between her and my parents - where I lived for about a year. That was one of the best years of my life because it was absolutely critical in helping to shape the person I am today.
I don't know that I ever truly thanked her.
We drifted apart after a while - you know how these things are. I grew up and suddenly she seemed slightly provincial. Still, the love was always there: after all, it had survived, in the mid-1990s or so, her relocating to another continent for a while. Then my mother died and I sought her out, once again, for refuge. Again, she comforted me and helped me through what was one of the most painful times of my life. But I was so self-absorbed I did not realise that she was going through her own medical crisis then. Or maybe she went to lengths to downplay how sick she was. I don't know. Her generosity of spirit was that great. She died a couple of hours before I could reach to her hospital bed at the University hospital.
If she'd survived she would have been 77 today. But she didn't. I wonder what she'd think about these changes. I wonder what she'd think about me. Everything has changed. The world is a different place today. I'm a different person.
And yet, and yet...
Love never changes. When I'm tempted to think it does, that old Beatles song Desi and I once crooned together comes back to me and reminds me it's all we need.