We first met in 1989. Michelle was living with a friend in Tower at Acadia University (the men’s residence) because she hadn’t been assigned a proper room. On the day that returning students arrived she happened to be in Dennis House (my residence) chatting with Consuelo who was to be my new roommate. While outside, the two of them encountered a girl from the previous year who told them all about me: I was apparently a psycho biker bitch from hell, who loved metal, leather, and everything bad. Both spent the next hour in panicked discussion on how they were going to get Consuelo into a different dorm room.
When I finally arrived I looked rather comfortable in jeans, a t-shirt, and a pony tail whilst carrying a box full of classical literature and another full of sporty clothes. After a few moments of stunned silence, Michelle started to laugh as she looked down at herself, and proceeded to say in her very wry way, “If she’s the psycho motorcycle bitch from hell, then what the fuck am I?”
A few days later Michelle moved into Dennis House, Shannon entered the picture, and it was the beginning of many legendary stories involving the three waifs: the city waif (Michelle), the little waif in the woods (Shan), and the water waif (me). Five years later (and after I moved to Calgary to continue my university studies), was one of those life changing calls. Michelle had just returned to Nova Scotia after a year of living in France.
Me: “What are you doing right now? What are your plans?”
Michelle: “I don’t really have any plans.”
Me: “Then I have a present for you.”
Michelle: “Ooooooo. What is it?”
Me: “You have to come to Calgary to get it… it’s Pink Floyd tickets… for Vancouver, but you have to come to Calgary so we can drive to Vancouver for the concert.”
The very next day she was in a van with Chris and Peter making her way across Canada to new life in Calgary and more crazy adventures.
Skip a few more years, when I arrived unannounced in Calgary, dirty, battered and bruised after months of backpacking in India. Michelle met me at the airport (she was the only person I wanted to call from LA; she alone knew I was coming home). She took one long up and down look at me, put on her crazy smile, and simply said: You need a slurpee.
Michelle shared her life in letters, on cassette, on the phone, and in person. I loved hearing descriptions of the people with whom she wove her tapestry.
- Anja, her navigator and friend from her time in France. (“Go go go go. Stop stop stop. Go go go go.”)
- Claudia and the way she wears perfume.
- Philip and his impeccable taste.
- Barkley and Kado… the dogs that ate the house… and bars of fruit soap.
- Magnolia and her adventures… her trip to San Luis Obispo
- Shannon and the flower car. Ohhhhhh… the waif stories… Boot, Dick, Jeremy, Tim
- Mary Ann and her kids. How every year at Christmas they would go out and feed the homeless.
- The Jenns and their Halifax adventures.
- Leanne and her life as the undertaker’s daughter. Egypt and the secret passageway behind the bookcase.
- Dan and her trip to Bermuda
- Brian with his police uniform and search for old guns.
- The Mel and Creon Adventures
- Willa — the lovely Willa and their weekly phone calls.
- Erika, her life and the barking cat. Her eccentric father the university professor.
- Her students, her fellow teachers, and the struggle to become a teacher in NY…
- Oh, all the Joyce and Paul stories. There are so many.
- And of course, Greg. I find a lot of peace knowing that Michelle and Greg were finally together. There are a plethora of lovely stories from the 80s through 2010 that involve Greg. It makes me smile every time I think of the two of them.
These are all our stories… the stories that Michelle liked to tell about us. Her life was a rich tapestry of people and tales. Africa… France… New York… Halifax… Copenhagen… Bermuda… California… years later she packed up her life again and made her final journey to New York City to be with Greg. I’m particularly proud of this part of her life. She worked with some of the most difficult kids in the city and impacted a lot of people; she had a dream, and she chased that dream and made it happen — to the benefit of everyone who entered her life.
From that fateful day in 1989, I have never stopped thinking about Michelle. She had a huge and unending impact on my life. I’ve often found myself in places like France, London or India saying to myself, “Wow. This is the beginnings of a Michelle story,” or “I wish Michelle was here,” or “Michelle would really like those boots.” Even today I can hear her voice in my head. I can hear her challenging convention, her wisdom, and her laughter.
Michelle will always be with us. Yesterday, La Niña came to me out of the blue with a copy of the Chronicles of Narnia and said, “Mama, I really want you to read this book to me.” I was initially a little surprised that she found this one plain tome out of the thousands of colourful books we have around the house. But now I’m pretty sure she got a little nudge… it was Michelle’s favourite (and also her copy).
I will especially miss Michelle’s stories. They enriched my life and I’m sure my own crazy life adventures have been spread far and wide. I would encourage those of you who knew Michelle to find each other and share your stories… to spread her words and her love for each and every one of you.