Around 2002-2003 I worked for Starbucks in Andersonville, Chicago. One of my shift supervisors was a woman named Michelle. It was a tough time for me, as that I was in grad school, had trouble getting my hours, and was having trouble figuring out how to be the best Starbucks employee possible. Of the people above me, Michelle was one of the finest people to work with. She was funny, straight forward, warm and also sassy when she needed to be.
Shortly after I met her, she started her third battle with breast cancer. She was in her early thirties.
My birthday, in 2002, was another less-than-stellar one (my birthdays, generally, do not go well.) I had noticed previous Starbucks employees at my store get presents from the management, and thought for sure that they so loathed me because I didn’t close the store fast enough at the end of the night, that I would be overlooked. I was not overlooked. Michelle had selected a Picasso’s Nose eyeglass holder cup. Just for me. It was so odd and so wonderful at the same time. I couldn’t imagine using it! Something about it, though, made her think of me, and I think that was right on the money.
We had months of us working together, and her trying to help me get along better at the store, all while using all of her off-days for going to chemo. She answered the phone at the store after I had been arrested for not being clever enough to not be arrested for doing nothing at the March 20, 2003 Anti-war protest. When I needed a few days off after that, she was concerned and helpful. I called up and quitted a week later, after I accepted a job at Whole Foods. It was actually hard, because of Michelle. She was a genuinely good person to work with.
I saw her again a year later, picking up some breakfast when family was in town during the holiday. She was pale, and looked like she had dropped 50 lbs (she was a larger girl when I worked with her.)
A few months later I got a call from a family member who was going through her address book. She had passed away, and I had been out of touch with her for over a year. I was in her address book, and to this day, it kind of stuns me. I felt like a nobody when I worked at that location, like I wouldn’t have been missed if I jumped ship for another job. I don’t know why I was in her address book. I get choked up just remembering that, and wondering if we could have been friends if I had been less pessimistic, and more open.
Today, as I was rushing around, frustrated, cranky, anxious – I accidentally knocked my Picasso’s Nose off of my desk. I saw it teetering on the edge, and with my hands full, was helpless to save it. Despite my best efforts, running to get the superglue, and trying to put it back together – it still has a gaping, shattered hole.
Things are just things. I’m sad about this thing because there’s not another one like it (so I’m told), and this was the one Michelle picked out for me, on that lonely birthday. Nothing is permanent, and life is fragile.
I’m definitely bummed.