A friend of mine has died.
When I got the news yesterday, I was getting ready for The Black Keys/Kings of Leon concert, running a little behind because I was looking up Black Keys’ videos on YouTube. Right as I found the ideal one to post on my Facebook profile, my friend Natalie messaged me on Facebook, asking if I’d heard the news about Nicole.
I had not. Of course, this now meant she was forced to tell me the news, whatever it was, via Facebook chat.
All I could do was stare at my computer screen and think how absurd the whole thing was. Here I was, about to post a video and some stupid comment about wearing a Goonies shirt and going to the show, and this girl, Nikki, my friend, my former co-worker, was dead.
I couldn’t believe it.
I had to leave for Indianapolis. I had to fix my hair. What was there to do? Believe it or not, I couldn’t cry. So I walked away from my MacBook and tried to get ready, but I couldn’t do that, either. I wrapped a scarf around my head, and that made me feel better for a second. I texted my friend Lauren. I talked to my friend Rachel. Suddenly it all seemed real.
On the drive to Indianapolis, I blared The Black Keys and wondered why I didn’t feel like crying. But my arms were covered in goose bumps and I kept alternating between sweating and having cold chills. I rolled the windows down. I rolled the windows up. I turned up the volume.
I thought about Nikki. I hadn’t seen her in months, not since before I moved back home. We weren’t close friends. We weren’t even the kind of friends who texted or met up for coffee or anything like that. The last time I had actually hung out with her was months and months ago, when a group of girls from work all went out together.
I remember that night, a few of us stayed out later and went to another bar. We’d had too much to drink, but it was one of those nights when you don’t want the fun to end. So you stay out, even when you probably shouldn’t.
Nikki sat next to me at the bar. Out of nowhere, she kind of spilled her guts to me about something. I remember feeling a little shocked that she was telling me all this—these things, these feelings that were clearly weighing heavy on her at the time. Because, like I said, we weren’t particularly close. Mostly, we just chatted while at work together, and when I’d get off of work and ask for a beer, she’d always wink at me and say, “Stella, right?”
Today, I’m glad we had that little bit of drunken bonding. I hope I was a good listener. I hope she felt better after talking about all of it.
I called my brother on the way over to Indy to explain why I was running late. Once I got to his house, no one said anything about it, and I was glad. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to be upset.
The concert was fun, and I’d be lying if I said I thought about Nikki the whole time. But at certain parts of the show, with the wind whipping my stupid scarf around my head and giving me goose bumps again on my arms, I thought about Nikki, a lovely brunette whose legs went on for days; who wore boots with short shorts and actually pulled it off; who always slowly and carefully ate a falafel wrap at work; who every week had a bar packed with regulars; who always said, “Of course, honey!” when I asked her for change; and whose heart must have been heavier than I could have possibly imagined.
Last summer I worked at a beer tent at Lollapalooza. Nikki had told me at work she had a three-day pass, and she’d come by the beer tent to say hi. And she did. When she came up to the stand, laughing and holding a beer that looked like it weighed more than she did, I envied her skinny legs and long hair.
The following week at work, we talked about Lollapalooza, and she told me how much she liked Band of Horses. I guess I’m pretty judgemental, because I’d pegged her as one of those festival-goers who mostly just went to party. I had no idea what a music fan she really was. I still really don’t know, and I never will. All I remember is her talking about Band of Horses.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about Nikki’s family and wondering what I could do. There’s really nothing I can do. One time when I was back in Chicago this summer I went to another bar where Nikki worked, but she wasn’t there. I wish she had been, but she wasn’t. I wish I had known her better, but I didn’t.
So, here’s a song for Nikki. As Natalie told me yesterday, life is precious.
“We were really too late to call/ so we wait for morning to wake you/ it’s all we got/ to know me as hardly golden is to know me all wrong”:
Nikki, wherever you are, I hope you’re wearing teeny tiny jean shorts, kick-ass boots, and listening to Band of Horses. And I hope someone cute is pouring you a beer and winking at you across a bar packed with people you love.