michele gallery 2

Me & Michele in front of the painting of her at Avenue 50 Studios. Nov. 10, 2012

We’ve all had our share of death-in-the-time of Facebook now. I’ve had my own… publicly grieving my father in the form of raw and embarrassing status updates, clicking around and discovering a former student’s suicide, watching my husband’s beloved cousin’s page disappear after a sudden illness took him away.

 

Most recently I lost dear friend and fellow author Michele Serros to cancer after she fought the good fight for a year and a half. The memorial drawings and posts filled my feed, constantly reminding me of the great loss her husband and closest family know all too well.

 

We met years ago when I wrote to her as a fan and we quickly became friends. We were penpals for a while and she often addressed the envelopes to: ‘LA Shawna,’ which I thought was funny. Was this because I had moved to LA? Or was she using the Spanish article, meaning “the Shawna” or was she just re-naming me? As an English professor, I often taught her story, “The Gift” to my freshmen lit classes. To an east coast kid like me, she was the quintessential California Girl but her stories reflected a working class experience similar to mine growing up .

 

Once when I shared I had an upcoming reading in New York but no place to stay, she arranged for me to get the keys from a neighbor and stay in her empty Chelsea apartment. I was honored to be invited to her Acne & Agnst book club, where she often swooned over Dave Mustaine’s lovely locks. When she first met Antonio, she called to tell me she’d met “the one” and he was “Mexican and vegan!” When Flacos did a pop-up restaurant in Oxnard, my husband and I roadtripped up to see her and meet this mystery man. Michele convinced us to get the pozole, a dish we’d never tried (and now I am forever hooked… do you know how hard it is to find vegan pozole?)

 

Now, with her LA memorial celebration approaching, I find myself thinking back to the last time I saw her—at the Latina Women’s Short Film Festival in Ventura last year (which she joking called the “short Latina women’s fest” on a photo caption.) My husband and I brought a teenager we’re mentoring, and despite her fading vocal chords and throngs of fans, Michele took time out to chat with us and signed a copy of Honey Blonde Chica to our mentee. I always admired her graciousness. When my father died four years ago, hers was the first card to arrive in the mail and the only one I saved. Her words comforted me in a way none others did. “He must have been a good papa to have raised you.” Michele understood grief.

 

Today I found myself searching through my Facebook messages, wondering about the last time we’d corresponded.

 

My messages show that in August of last year I contacted her about booking her on the Writ Large Press #90for90 reading series at Union Station. I knew she was sick but I hoped things were getting better. She looked into whether it would coordinate with another appearance she was doing in Ventura, but the dates didn’t work out. The last response she sent was with typical Michele manners: “Oh… I’m afraid I can’t make it. I hope you think of me for other events. Thank you.”

 

My messages show that on Christmas day of last year, I sent her one line: “Love you and thinking of you, today and everyday.” The only thing that comforts me now is Facebook’s trademark check-mark and little time-stamp below:

 

Seen Jan. 3

 

She died on Jan. 4th. I was not there with her at the end, but I’m glad she knows she was loved, not just by me but by untold numbers of people for whom she was the world. I will always think of you, Mucha Michele… forever the Chicana Role Model. Thank you.

michele gallery

Our totally “candid” conversation at Avenue 50 Studio.