Jennifer played a simple and huge role in my life. She was my best friend. She entered my life, or rather I hers, when I joined the Joffrey School of Ballet in 1980. Jennifer was 13 then, a gifted dancer, and the darling of the school. I was 16, and had managed to get a partial scholarship there, even though I had a body that was imperfect for ballet. We met and became friends, despite our very different personalities.
The day I knew I had found a friend for life, though, was at the end of that same summer when I lost my scholarship. We were in the dressing room, changing after class, when someone announced that the scholarship list had been posted. I stood frozen in the dressing room while Jennifer ran out to check it, although her fate was not in question. The fact that she took too long to return meant only one thing. When Jennifer did finally appear, there were tears streaming down her face. It was the first time I realized that she loved me, for I saw how deeply she shared my pain.
The rest is history, and the fact that I now mean this in the most literal sense, is too daunting for me to possibly comprehend at this time. Jen and I have been there for each other through nearly every important adolescent-to-adult milestone. The thought that she will no longer be there in the physical sense to continue to share in my joys and pains, and I in hers, is truly too much to bear.
To try and sum up who Jennifer is and what she has meant to me is also impossible. The best I can do is offer for public reading parts of a letter that I sent to her just before she died:
Jen read that letter the day before she died.
The second gift for Jen, was the deepening of her relationship with her parents. Jen longed to be able to communicate to her parents the depth of her love for them. She also longed to be able to be weak and vulnerable sometimes, instead of always sure and strong, and to know that they could handle it. Through Jen's terrible illness, she and her parents were able to do these things for one another, and their relationship soared to new heights because of it. This may be a small consolation, but it is one that I know Jen cherished because she told me so. She would want to know that her parents, as well as others who love her, will be able to continue to be strong, endure and find joy in their lives, even with this unfathomable loss.
The final thing has been Jen's ability to discover, in no uncertain terms and to her own surprise (but not to mine), how loved she was and by how many. All growing up, my biggest frustration and sadness, when it came to Jen, was the fact that, on some basic level, she didn't seem to have faith in her own inherent likeability. She knew that she was bright and eloquent, and she mistakenly thought that that, above all, was what made her interesting and appealing. With friends, she feared that if she didn't call a million times a day, they might forget about her. And, with strangers, if she didn't have some kind of outrageous tale to tell, they might find her dull, which Jennifer could never be even if she tried.
I, like all those who loved Jen, knew that her best qualities were entirely different from those she thought them to be. They had to do with the beautiful and quiet essence of her -- no more, no less. Jen started to realize this when Karl fell in love with her, but her full awakening came only with her illness, which, so ironically, struck her in her mouth--the place where she lived. Jen loved good talk and good food, and she knew no moderation when it came to either. They were the things that, up until this point, had both defined her and limited her. After Jen's radical surgery, it took no more than a couple of days before she had learned how to cover her trachea hole with her hand in order to communicate, nearly bowling over doctors, as well as her friends.
But Jen was so much more than wise words and a big vocabulary, and, with help, she finally saw this. Throughout her ordeal, she was surrounded and buoyed by the love of her friends and family who wanted nothing more than to simply be near her. Jen especially savored and reveled in the attention, adoration, and respect that she received from Robert, her brother whom she had always idolized -- and who was able to so generously give back to her in this time of need. In the end, Jen died knowing exactly who she was and how greatly she was loved for it. She had no questions or doubts, and, as we all know, had left nothing unsaid. She herself told me she was profoundly thankful for these truths.
And now, Jen, once again knows more than the rest of us -- the greatest mystery of them all. I have a feeling that, considering how controlling and smart Jen is, God better watch out. In no time at all, she'll be running things up there, and, my guess is she'll be doing a much better job.
During her grad school years, Jen used to go to retreats where she would spend a weekend in group meditation. At one of these retreats, she had an amazing visualization. Jen saw what she considered to be the true essence of herself: a joyous, dancing, pink lady. Totally free, totally secure, and totally in charge. After the experience, Jen went and bought herself a ring with a pink stone in it, so that she could remember what she was meant to be. Who she was all along. And what, I believe, she still is today.
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