Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
~~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
On the first day my 365 Days of Silver I was grateful for friends. Plural.
But what about specific friends? I know now that I will be talking about them because I am just so miraculously lucky to have so many wonderful friends.
One friend who changed my life, in many ways, was my friend Joanne, or Jo as she was known by many.
I could write a book about Joanne. Maybe two. She was sweet, she was talented, she was loving and thoughtful. She was there with an open ear and open heart. She loved animals (most especially cats) and that right there is a huge plus in my book. She was amazing.
She was also a deeply trouble individual. Somehow, someway, she just…missed the mark. An entire blog of essays could be written on that alone. I don’t know what happened, but she got going down the “wrong” path and never seemed to be able to get off of it and onto a road to happiness. It wasn’t drugs or crime or anything like that. It was just bad decisions.
But she was always there for me! She was my Voice in the Dark. If I was upset or troubled, if I woke in the middle of the night from a nightmare, or was unable to sleep because my mind couldn’t rest…I could call Jo.
Joanne rarely got up before noon, so two in the morning was the afternoon for her. She always answered the phone. She would listen, never broke in to offer advise, never said, “I know just how you feel.” She listened.
Jo got me though some horrible times. The long years that I lived with a very emotionally and spititually abusive man (who was also a sex addict) she was there for me. She never got tired of listening (or at least never told me so). She never shouted, “Leave the m*ther f*cker you dumb ass!” She never got frustrated (at least she never let me know) or said, “You know Ben, I just can’t do this any more. You and I both know you need to leave him and I’m tired of you saying ‘he’s a good man, maybe he’ll change’ when you and I both know he won’t. When you leave him, then call me. In the meantime, I don’t want to hear about XXXX anymore!”
A lot of people would. A few did. She bore it and bore it—and when I finally did leave XXXX, she was there again. She also was intelligent enough not to say, “Well, it’s about time!” She was just encouraging and loving and supportive.
Joanne was never in a relationship—not one with a lover or spouse at least. I could never quite figure out why. For some reason she couldn’t…let go. Couldn’t trust. I guess…. As far as I know she never even went on a date. It makes me sad.
She certainly had deep and powerful friendships. But several times—they ended. I never kenw both sides of the stories on what happened. Only hers. Again, it made me sad.
Jo and I even had a fight and didn’t talk for a couple years. But when I chose to call her one night, it was as if the fight had never happened. It were as if the last time we talked had only been a week or two before.
Our friendship really started one weekend before I was even twenty-one. I was living in the suburbs of Chicago and I had made a date (of sorts) with a man who lived in Kalamazoo. This older gentleman told me he would teach me…ah…gay love making. Well I took the train and got there, and he ditched me! There I was, hours from home, and the people I was staying with worked nights. I was alone.
A dear friend of mine who lived in the same city had guests she was entertaining, but she still came and got me so I wouldn’t be alone. I didn’t want to disturb her and I went upstairs and there was her roommate, Joanne. Jo and I had met at a convention and hadn’t gotten along at all. But that night? That night was something completely different.
I talked a lot that night and she introduced me to…her. She listened and listened. She was one of the first people I ever told that I “might be gay.” It didn’t matter to her in the least. I cried. It was good tears. She read my cards. She introduced me the art of Alphonse Maria Mucha. I fell in love!
– with the artist and not Jo –
Jo was a brilliant storyteller! OMGosh! Jo should have been on of the fantasy greats. She easily could have been a Mercedes Lackey or Tanith Lee or Katherine Kurtz. The problem was she just didn’t believe in herself. She never leapt. There was no way the net could appear for her.
It makes me sad.
Jo slipped into a long period of ill heath fighting catastrophic allergies that almost took her life at least twice and cancer at least once.
I used to visit Jo about once a year—my parents lived in the Chicago suburbs and Jo had moved back to Chicago. But when my mother and father retired to Arkansas, I just stopped making it to the Windy City. Years passed where I never actually saw Joanne, just talked to her on dark and lonely nights. But a writing event took me to the city where I spent my teens and I got to see her again!
It was a shock when she answered the door. I thought it was her mother. Jo looked at least ten years older than she actually was, if not twenty. She worried me deeply. We had a few hours and I loved every minute of it.
Then a few months later I got a call from a friend of hers.
Joanne was dead. It was very sudden. She was having episodes where she would collapse. Her mother (and the EMTs) finally insisted she go to the hospital. The next day during this exploratory procedure to find out what was wrong with her—she very suddenly died.
And here I am over a year later and still can’t believe it.
She and I were supposed to write a series of New York Time bestsellers togehter! We were going to write a gay version of The XiFIles for Dreamspinner Press!
She was to be my Voice in the Dark for the rest of my life. I still cannot believe she is gone. I am writing this and the tears are flowing again.
I miss her. I miss her so very much….
I want to end this by giving you a glorious example of why I loved her so much and why our friendship outlasted so many others.
A year or two after Jo and I became friends, I got very, well, interested in a male friend of hers. He and I were flirting a lot. I was getting a very big crush on him. One night, right before I went on a vacation with my family, he and I started making out! I was very excited. I couldn’t wait to get back…. Was I finally going to have my first boyfriend?
Only to find him distant. He started avoiding me. A few mutual friends told me that he wasn’t quite ready to admit he was gay and what he and I had done had freaked him out. Then he quite suddenly he started seeing this guy! And there I was, being very young and immature, got jealous. I poured my heart out to several of his friends.
Word got back to him. He flipped out. Mainly screaming that he wasn’t gay. He made all these people choose between him and me….
Now most of these people I barely knew. It was no big deal.
One of them was Joanne. She called me and told me what had happened.
It broke my heart, but I told her that she should choose him. It seemed to offend her.
“Jo,” I said. “You and XXXX have been friends since grade school. You’ve been friends all your life. You and I? A year maybe? I don’t want you to give up a friend like that.”
And with those words, Jo chose me. She told me it was because I was putting her first instead of myself, and because I wasn’t telling her what to do or holding my friendship over her head.
I will never forget her. I miss her deeply. I grieve still and will for years.
But I am also so very very blessed to have had her in my life.
She inspired me. She was proud of my success.
She was a good friend.
Most people will never be so lucky as to have had a Joanne Papin in their lives.
Today would have been Joanne’s birthday. I am celebrating it anyway.
Joanne–I grieve for thee, and I honor you.
Thank you Jo for being my friend. I will love you forever.
And I often think of you on dark and troubled nights.
Do you hear me, I wonder? I think that sometimes, maybe, you do….
I dedicate today to you Jo, and to your memory.
Joanne “Jo” Papin
Jan 27, 1958 – July 10, 2013