So. A blog post, maybe the first of many on this topic, and maybe not.
On Monday, July 25, the world lost a light. I'm not screwing around with this designation... Charisse was a LIGHT. When she walked in the room, she brought a sense of presence with her... this person was Fully Here, in the room, and was excited to be there, and was excited to see you there. It didn't matter if she'd had a crappy day, or she felt bad, or she'd had her heart broken, or maybe she hadn't been going out very much recently because she was struggling. When Charisse showed up, she SHOWED UP.
And when Charisse showed up, she was always introducing people to people: "Here, this is ______. She's an incredible writer, and you're an incredible writer, so I thought you two should meet." Any time she invited me to an event, afterwards she'd send everybody's email addresses and blog addresses to each other in the hopes that we'd see in each other what she saw in us, that we'd network and spark something creative in each other... that new life would come from her connecting the people she loved. She was lavish and generous in her praise of my work, reposting links to some of my poems on her Facebook wall, tweeting about my poetry. Everyone I've been in touch with since her passing on Monday already knew who I was. That's not because I was a great friend, that's because Charisse talked me up. She showed me love by praising me to her friends.
The first time I ever met Charisse, she was doing me a favor. We had a SPARK reading that was being held in Annandale, and I had put out a general call for a ride. She wrote back quickly that she'd be happy to give me a ride if I could meet her at Huntington station. She took the Longest Way I Could Possibly Conceive Of from Alexandria to Annandale, I think just because she was so excited and talking about poetry and asking me questions about myself and telling me about herself that she wasn't paying any attention to where she was going. I remember getting out of the car at Beanetics and just having this enormous sense of privilege that I'd had all that time with this girl. There was so much about her that was lively and generous and good... I felt something healing about that time...
But I figured that would be it, you know? She'd done me a favor, she'd drop me back at the Metro, that'd be nice and lovely and we'd probably never speak again. But no, she invited me to dinner afterwards with her and her friend Aleisha, and later she invited me to brunch with other friends, and to her birthday celebration, and to a tour of the MLK Memorial that's being built in DC. She faithfully checked in on me, and after a time, I stopped being shy and weird and started contacting her back and checking in with her. She kept up with me until I knew she was serious about being my friend. She knew it would take that, and she was willing to keep trying. I don't know how she knew that, and I'm still not sure why a woman with so much life and so many friends decided to chase after this friendship...
except that when I read her writing, I connect with it. I feel like she and I had a similar heart in some ways. I honestly feel she is/was a more generous person than I am... but we both struggled with depression, struggled with being single, struggled with being women who felt things very deeply and didn't let go of things very easily, struggled with the after-effects of growing up broke, struggled with continuing to be broke because we took jobs that enriched our hearts but not our pockets. We both found solace and hope in writing (which, after all, doesn't take much money to do, and had helped us growing up for that very reason), in relationships, in faith. We both had had to fight to find joy at so many times in life that when we found it, we grabbed it hard with both arms and sometimes a leg and we both held on for dear life.
When I got dumped in January by my out-of-town boyfriend, I woke up the next morning and thought, "thank God I don't have to move to New York" and I thought of three reasons I was so grateful for that: Church of the Common Table, my beautiful friend Heidi, and my beautiful friend Charisse. I thought she'd be around. I thought we'd probably both stay single (because we'd both always be a little too much for any guy to handle) and write poetry and stay connected on that soul level for the rest of our lives. That was my heart. That was my plan.
I never told her that. I didn't want to freak her out. And now I can only hope that she somehow knows how much she meant to me. That she knows I love her and appreciate her friendship deeply, deeply. That she understands that I was afraid to screw up that connection and so I kept my distance for a while, but that I was in for the long haul. That she taught me stuff in those intense conversations we had... that I will never, ever forget her.
Sweet, beautiful girl, rest in peace. I don't know how much you know of what's still going on here, but if you know anything, know that you left a mark on me and so many other people. Know that your life ministered to others. Know that you were loved.