October 18, 2008

Old Friends Are Gold

I first came to know Jimmie Jackson when I was at the end of my high school career. I know I am using "career" a little foot loose and fancy free, as the bulk of my time was spent acing six-packs as opposed to sixth hour. But, that's neither here or nor there now, although my crafty beer drinking skills definitely served as a firm foundation for my friendship with Jimmie.
He went to work for my mother and her business partner Sherisse at their former hair saloon, The Creme of the Crop. Stop laughing, it was the 90s. Jimmie was unlike anyone I had ever met before. He was a large man, both in his size and in his vibrant personality. He was silly in ways that I still struggle to explain. His smile was that of a child, devious and ornery and, in so many ways, quite innocent. He was tender, he let his heart by seen by anyone who cared to see it and I loved him for that. And, he was gay, which put a human face on homosexuality for me. Although a few of my childhood friends have since come out of the closet, Jimmie was the first gay person to openly share his struggles and his triumphs with me.
Now, to understand Jimmie you need to know that he was a queen with a flair for drama that ran deep in his . spirit. And that, by the way, is just how he talked me into allowing him to color my hair a week before prom. The outcome was suppose to be deep red highlights. It was not. Instead, my hair was streaked with thick bands of a dark shade of purple that was almost magenta. Naturally, I cussed for a few moments while Jimmie poured me drinks, but it eventually faded and even grew on me a bit. That's the story of how I went to prom my senior year with purple hair. Mind you, this was before the funky-colored hair craze kicked off, so I now inadvertently look kinda like a fashion trailblazer, a farce I am willing to continue.
In keeping with Jimmie's love for the dramatic, he aspired to someday star as a Cher impersonator at a drag show. He loved Cher almost as much as he loved his mother, which was a lot. Seeking out research for his future show, sometime during that same time period, Jimmie and Sherisse talked my square peg mother not only into driving to the city to rock out at a gay bar, but even managed to talk her into letting me come along as well. Jimmie found an ID for me to use, so off we went. For about the first minute in the gay bar, I suffered a bit of culture shock. But then Jimmie introduced me to the owners and a few of his drag queen friends and I was in total heaven. These girls showed me their fabulous collection of evening gowns and metallic lipstick while I slammed keg beer in their dressing rooms. For an 18-year-old girl from Western Oklahoma, this was an epic adventure. We danced late into the night, hopping from gay bar to gay bar. Even as I type this now, a decade later, ABBA plays in my head as I recall shaking my booty with a multi-colored feather boa streaming behind me.
Although Jimmie was a solid 15 years older than I was, we became fast and furious girlfriends. We would stay up late into the twilight, sobbing over my latest teenage crisis while Jimmie consoled me and guided me toward much-needed giggles. He was full of love, ready on demand to dispense affection to those in need. I always marveled at how he freely put himself out there for new friendships, even though he had been burned in the past. He was a sweet spirit and, in so many ways, an innocent soul.
Then I grew up and our adventures took Jimmie and I in separate directions. After a few years, I had almost lost track of my friend. But then, through their miracles of myspace, he found me. Right off the bat, he told me of the death of his mother. Through our emails, his pain in that loss was profoundly seen. As I said before, Jimmie was incapable of loving only a little and his relationship with his parents was paramount in that. After a few emails, he just asked for my number. I sent it to him and within minutes my phone rang. We talked and reminisced for hours. I told him of the love of my life, Rowdy, and our two children and he told me of his, Ken. Jimmie laughed out loud at the prospect of me living on a ranch, running around in the mud chasing cattle. I laughed with him, knowing that image is that of fine comedy.
Our communication continued for months and I had planned to photograph his wedding to Ken. But then, out of the blue, it just stopped. I emailed him a few times, but got no response. After awhile, I was lost once again in my daily existence and forgot to keep trying. Little did I know, my friend had gotten ill.
So, you can imagine my surprise and my guilt when my mother called me on October 8 to tell me Jimmie had died. Truthfully, I still don't fully know what killed him. I just know that he had been sick for most of this year. I also know that he was one of the finest people I've ever had the good fortune to call my friend. I am comforted in knowing that in the last few years he found the love of his life. He was true to himself in ways few people have the courage to be. He was full of love and full of life and he ushered in acceptance for all people. Above all, he was a friend.
Jimmie's memorial is in Enid tomorrow. Sadly, I won't be able to attend. I've been meaning to write this ever since I learned of his tragic passing, but each time I sat down to it, the pain choked my words. It's hard even still.
We loved you for all that you are. I hope we meet again somehow in the great scheme of things. You were the best example I know of honesty in the face of great scrutiny. May peace find you, old friend.
I love you,

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Lorrie Veasey said...

What a beautiful tribute.
So sorry for the loss of this friend; but you have done an amazing job of sharing your memories of him here.

phonelady said...

oh shonda i am very sorry for your loss and I know how shocked you must have been . I got shocked earlier this year too when my college roommate died out of the blue from a blood clot to the heart. Oh well I hope god eases your pain .

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