Janelle.

Janelle died this weekend.

This isn’t going to be an eulogy. I never knew her well enough for that. 

She was in my circle – my periphery – for almost seventeen years. She was a dedicated reader back in the days of blogging, and commented on every post. She supported every cause, came to every event, and listened to every episode of our long-dead radio show. Janelle may well have been my very first fan, and for a while, she was definitely number one.

I used to do stupid YouTube videos in my old office, which was painted Superman blue. Janelle was fascinated by the room and would comment that she couldn’t wait to visit “and see the Blue Room.” I suspect she was so engaged with the world of blogging for the same reason that many of us were – it gave us a window to whole new worlds we never knew existed. And for Janelle, married with children in a small conservative town, it showed worlds she wanted to be a part of. When she had the opportunity to visit other bloggers, come to parties, and attend events, she moved mountains to make it happen. I remember when she attended a Halloween party at my house, she treated it like a trip to Disney World, traveling somewhere more magical than home to escape reality for a few days. Her sense of awe and wonder was infectious and optimistic, which was a refreshing take I never appreciated fully.

Janelle (dressed as a Tropical Depression) and fellow blogger Michel (as Uncle Fester) at one of my Halloween parties

I took Janelle for granted. It’s only after her death, hearing from friends about how much she meant to them with her compassion and concern and love and support, that I realize that. To me (and to at least one other blogger), she was president of our fan club, but that’s where it ended for us. I would go read her blog when she asked me to and pat myself on the back for leaving a comment, like I was doing some type of fucking charity work, and I knew I could always count on her to be among the first to boost my ego with a comment of her own, but I didn’t know anything about her life. I didn’t know how many kids she had or what her background was or what her dreams were. I didn’t even know where she lived until about three years ago when I organized a meetup in the closest big town. To me, and I say this with absolute regret, Janelle didn’t cross my mind except when it was related to how it could benefit me or support my efforts or ego. Over the years, I got a vague sense of how she was a vocal ally for marginalized groups and a champion for progressive causes, but I never made the effort to treat her as an equal. It’s now clear that she was a much better person than I.

Janelle took her own life this weekend, and I can never take back how I devalued her as a person. I can never make amends for it. I’ve heard from so many friends about how supportive and wonderful she was. She was compassionate and considerate, an energetic cheerleader who championed her friends as they went through their own personal trials. Janelle celebrated your good news and held your hand through the bad news. She was a genuinely good person, and I never knew.

The last time I saw Janelle, in Nashville, with her husband, Paul, as well as fellow blogger Ginger, and my friend Mekennah.

Janelle, I’m sorry for taking your friendship, affection, support, and admiration for granted. It’s too little, too late, I know. I wish I could have been there for you like you were there for so many people, especially in your final hours when you made that terminal choice. There is a tremendous hole in our community now, but I hope you’re at peace, and I hope that each person who benefited from your optimism, support, and love will be able to find peace as well. 

In lieu of flowers, her family is asking for donations to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

Five Years.

I remember getting on stage the night after finding out that you’d killed yourself. 

“I can do this,” I thought. “I’m a professional.” I stood up there with the blinding lights turning the audience into a blurry amorphous creature that can universally love or hate you (and will happily let you know), holding the microphone in the casual way that I’d perfected over thousands of shows. I tried. I really did. But my set – the same set that is so ingrained in my muscle memory that I can do it in my sleep – unraveled. I don’t cry often, but I almost broke down into tears in front of dozens of audience members as I tried to talk about you instead. 

“My best friend killed herself last night,” I said. A few audience members gasped, but the rest held firm, aware that comedy can be dark, and there’s always a punchline. “I haven’t really processed it yet, so I thought why not share this deeply personal moment with a bunch of strangers who came out to be entertained.” There was an uneasy chuckle. “She was a rebel and very anti-establishment, though, so she waited until two days after National Suicide Prevention Week ended. I bet she laughed and said, ‘That’ll show them!’ when she wrote her note and took those pills, too.” 

I remember that nobody was really laughing. The host of the show was at the edge of the stairs, gently offering assurance that he was ready if I wanted to get off stage. I shook my head and continued. “Suicide is a little like comedy, I guess. You don’t really know how well you’re going to do until you’re done, and even then, you’re not the one who gets to decide if you did a good job or a bad one. I don’t even know if I’m sad right now. I’m mostly numb. And angry. Like, if she was alive right now, I’d kill her myself.” I laughed, and it was a little too maniacal and alcohol-fueled for the audience. The host came up on stage and took the microphone and cracked a joke, trying to recover from the destruction that had just occurred.

Nobody clapped when I walked off stage, but more remarkable was what they did do. Random strangers who had just witnessed a breakdown on stage came up to me and wrapped me in hugs. A new comedian who I’d never said three words to took me under her wing. I experienced warmth, understanding and deep compassion in the last place you’d ever expect it – a comedy club. (Well, a shitty venue that occasionally does comedy, but let’s not mince words.)

It’s been five years since you left. The world has changed, but I think your perspective would be inspiring, filled with equal parts sarcasm, dark humor, and empathy. Would we have moved away and built our commune of creatives? I’d like to think so. Would you have joined TikTok and gotten millions of followers with your biting commentary on pop culture and elite meme skills? It seems likely. Would I love to be able to pick up the phone and call you, just to talk for hours about obscure facts about bats, scandalous sex stories, and a bar in Indonesia that serves drinks out of an elephant’s skull that we absolutely must visit? Without a doubt.

I miss you, Anastacia, and I love you. Always and forever.

Persistence of Magic

Lexington will always be imbued with magic for me. (I refer, reader, to the one in Kentucky, not the one in Virginia where I went to college, although that has a magic of its own for an entirely different reason.)

Coming here changed my life. It was in Lexington that I met the artist, fiery-haired with a storm cloud for a soul. We spent hours in conversation so deep that we never dug our way out. In the end, I hurt her significantly, but she forgave me. And after that end, she hurt me significantly. I would still forgive her.

I came here for the parties, hosted by a husband and wife who started off as friends but fell in love. I remember championing their love when they were attacked by others, the anonymous and not-so-anonymous trolls of the world, ugly with their jealousy and lack of compassion, and defending what I knew to be real. It was real, and a beacon to the rest of us, although our friendship has since crumbled, much like their memories of how important they were to me.

It was in Kentucky when I stepped away, giving myself a break from someone who had my heart firmly in her tiny hand. She noticed, and what she said still echoes over a decade later. “I knew you’d always be there, or I thought you would. For the first time, I realized you could leave me, and I finally understood that I’m in love with you.”

Those raspy words, spat between puffs of a cigarette, changed everything. My marriage took a backseat to the new potential of true love with this soul-linked connection, resulting in divorce and upheaval and loss and the monumental destruction of every foundation in my life. Losing her a short time later only helped me to build my identity from scratch. Who was I? Who did I want to be? Who else gets this freedom to decide such questions so late in life? This was a blessing in a heart-wrenchingly painful disguise, leaving me sobbing on the floor in the fetal position for hours before I recognized the gift in front of me.

Here I am, eleven years later, and the magic persists. I remember basement karaoke with people I loved, conversations for hours as we drank and smoked and celebrated each other. I remember the cross-eyed crank who always drank too much. The drama queen who lied to make everything about her (including my life). The tiny bartender with all of her walls. The one who relied on me and said she’d always be there until she wasn’t. The unhappy ones who lived vicariously through the rest of us. The angel. The silver fox. The Dutch queen. For the most part, those people aren’t in my life anymore, for better or worse, but I’m here. The sum of my experiences with them and so many lessons and journeys and crises and triumphs as well.

I couldn’t have accomplished what I have and become who I am without them. And maybe, I couldn’t have continued to grow with them either. There’s no way to tell. There’s only forward. Out of Lexington, probably forever.