Friday, April 25, 2014

Bitch Coffee & Fast Car

Today is my sister Kelly’s birthday. She would have been 54 years old. Kelly committed suicide in 1995, three days after her 35th birthday. Her daughter Jessica was 15 years old. Her son, Christopher (who actually found her that morning in bed) was only 11.

Today there are Facebook posts about Kelly and photos too. Even her first husband Rick (the father of Jessica and Christopher) each year posts a tribute to Kelly. I like that about him a lot.

Jessica posted a sweet photo of her four-year-old self holding her brand new baby brother Christopher, with her mom sitting next to them. While I do complain about some sad stuff that is posted on Facebook, I always appreciate the remembrances. For some reason the Louvraks don’t talk about Kelly in person to each other, but we do on Facebook. I’m just glad we take the time to show we don’t forget her, because sometimes it seems like we have.

Even though Jessica is now the same age as her mom when she died I still call her Jessie-Belle, which was my pet name since she was a little girl.  She still calls me Aunt Joo which is how she pronounced my name when she first started talking. I love that. Jessica has an 11 year old daughter now and Christopher has an 8 month baby girl. 

I don’t feel sad anymore on Kelly's birthday as I used to. But I do feel sad every time I see Kelly's granddaughters, who are so sweet and beautiful.  

Sometimes I get mad at Kelly for missing this. But I try to remember what our brother Troy said when I asked him if he ever got mad. He replied, “How can you be mad at someone who was so sad?” (He knows something about sadness, since his own son committed suicide in 2009 at the age of 24.)

I am not wallowing when I tell you that I am playing Tracy Chapman on the Pandora radio right now as I write. Tracy Chapman, no matter what lyric she is singing, always reminds me of happier times with Kelly. (And many of her lyrics do speak to Kelly’s life.)

We discovered Tracy Chapman during the first summer of our two summer trips to San Diego.  The year was 1989 and Tracy was just getting to be hot stuff with those funky short dreadlocks. A bartender in Old Town introduced her to us. 

I still remember how hot that bartender was. What a beautiful face, with that rare combination of almost translucent blue eyes and very dark hair, which I loved because it was in contrast to all of the blonde surfer looking guys.

Kelly, who was single, had a crush on him (I did too, but I was married to the second ex-husband at the time).

The bar was only a walk away from our hotel so we stayed a long time. It was a slow night so the bartender spent time talking to us as we always chose to sit at the bar instead of a table whenever we went out.

At one point he asked what kind of music we liked and at the time I was really into Joan Armatrading. I forget if Kelly even mentioned an artist. While she liked music, she was never into it like the rest of the Louvraks, so maybe that’s why I forget. (Though I have to admit, it’s more likely I was dominating the conversation because I can be such an ass when asked for an opinion. She probably never got the chance to talk about her favorite.)

So responding to me, that blue eyed bartender told us to check out Tracy Chapman because she was similar to my pick of Joan Armatrading.

The next day we bought the cassette tape with "Fast Car" and never turned on the radio again for the rest of that trip. We just kept playing that tape of Tracy over and over and after a few days we knew almost all of the words to "Fast Car", our favorite song. We would sing along as loud as we could with the air conditioner on and windows rolled down as we drove the strand to Hotel del Coronado beach. 

(Months later when Tracy won the Grammy for Best New Artist I called Kelly on the phone and together we both watched on our TVs. I was almost in tears watching Tracy shyly accept her award. I was so proud, as if she were our friend.)

It was this same trip that Kelly bought the 4-cup Krups coffee maker in Horton Plaza and I bought the Osterizer blender for our drinks. After suffering through the weak-ass hotel coffee for two days it was Kelly, oddly enough, who insisted we needed to fix the problem. Normally she is extremely tolerant about these things. 

For the rest of that holiday each morning we made what came to be called “Bitch Coffee”. 

Kelly named it Bitch Coffee and said it in honor of me - she made a point of saying it was because it was boss, hard core and strong, and when I poured in my half and half, (she drank it black) the color perfectly matched our California tans.

When my second ex-husband picked us up at the airport he laughed at us when he saw our stuff from baggage claim. We had checked in the blender, the coffee pot and a beach umbrella along with our two suitcases. (I wonder can you still check that kind of baggage today?)

Six years later when Kelly died the family had to clean out her house, which looked like a hoarder lived there, just how you might expect someone who was so depressed might live. We divided up some of her belongings, those that were salvageable. The only item of hers that I chose for myself was that Krups coffee maker which was sitting on her kitchen counter.

I suppose I might have chosen a more personal item of Kelly’s to keep. But I wanted something to remember the good times. 

That vacation, was a couple of years away from the time she met her own second ex-husband. Kelly had always been fragile and struggled with depression since she was a young child. (Her first suicide attempt had been at the age of 8.) But during those two summer trips she was healthy, more focused on her children, and happier than I ever remembered. 

Two years later she met Kenny, who while not to blame for her sliding back into self-abuse, certainly made a few deposits into what I tagged as her ‘Bank of Angst’. He did that by keeping her away from the family.

For years I drank my 'Bitch Coffee' and every morning would think about Kelly.  Coffee was such a staple in her life. She drank it by the gallon, and as a career waitress, poured it for a living. That Krups pot was as sentimental to me as any valued heirloom. It’s been broken for quite a few years. I had a hard time throwing it out and kept it for a few years before doing so, even entertaining the idea of trying to find someone who might fix it. Damn that Krups pot, it made really good coffee.

I often think about how Kelly coined 'Bitch Coffee'. And every time I think about it I so wish it would have occurred to us both to have named that coffee in honor of Kelly instead.

Maybe she would be alive today. 

Jessie-Belle and daughter Mariana 2013

Christopher with his daughter Kendall (2 months old Oct. 2013)

Kendall. She has SO much hair. She was born with it. 

Mariana 2013. She is such a darling girl. 
That's me on the left  and Kelly on the right. 1989. We flagged down one of the lifeguard jeeps at the beach at Hotel del Coronado so we could take a photo . 


jojo cucina cucina said...

I will change this blog soon. I just wanted to get this on record here.

Damn, that Pandora radio had to ruin my Tracy Chapman station by playing that Sarah Maclachlan song from that sad animal commercial. I hate that song now!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Aunt Joo. I really appreciate stories like this, I only have my own memories and unfortunately a lot of them are not happy. There was so much we didn't know about her (me and chris) obviously a lot was kept from us because of our age. It would have been great to know her as an adult. I can't help but compare the two of us and how different we are. I just wish she had been stronger, but I understand that what she had she wasn't able to beat. I stopped being mad at her a long time ago, I just feel sorry at what she gave up, what she is and has missed. But I'm so happy with the choices I have made, the family I have, the friends I have allowed to be a part of my life. This makes me feel and be strong. I wish she had that feeling... maybe she would still be here.

jojo cucina cucina said...

Hey Jessie-Belle. thank you for posting this. You should be very proud of the woman you have turned out to be. You learned how to be a good mother in spite of everything and on your own raised a wonderful and confident daughter who cherishes family. And she reminds me of you. You are very wise Jessica, maybe because of how you grew up. I guess we all learn something from our childhood. Even if it wasn't Leave it To Beaver.

Amanda said...

This is so beautiful, Jo.

jojo cucina cucina said...

Thank you Amanda. And thank you for reading it.

Anonymous said...

Just seeing this now. Hugs to all who loved her. Wish I'd had the chance to meet Kelly.


jojo cucina cucina said...

thank you Barbara. You would both have liked each other!