After a Fashion
Stephen remembers his friend and mentor Joanie Whitebird.
We took exotic drugs (opium, peyote, mescaline), and smoked pot like fiends (didn't we all?), marveling at the insights the drugs brought to us. Then, one night, tripping our brains out on mushrooms, it all seemed to fall apart. When I went home early in the morning and went to bed, my sleep was shattered by a phone call telling me my dad had committed suicide. Numb and uncomprehending, Joanie was the first person I called. She was magnificent, selflessly putting aside her own shock and grief and racing to my rescue and taking me into her home. Joanie gathered my dad's grieving friends around me, and we shared in the sadness and confusion that suicide causes. She drove me to the funeral in Port Arthur, and kept watch over me throughout the proceedings. I was devastated by the loss of my father, and barely made it through the rain-drenched affair. As soon as the service was over she rushed over to me, pressing something into my hand. When I looked to see what it was, the pale yellow Valium slipped between my fingers and into the grass and mud. I dove for it, desperately wanting some relief from my emotional agony, and popped the wet, muddy pill into my mouth, causing an unintentionally funny moment that was seen by many people. At the reception afterward, aunts and uncles were asking each other what would happen to me, and without a second thought, Joanie piped up and said, "He's coming to live with me." And so I did. Suddenly she was a 23-year-old woman with a 16-year-old son -- a son who needed a great deal of discipline and guidance. She was a mother to me when my own mother didn't want me, and I immediately became known as "Kid," or "the Child," and was Joanie's constant companion. I met an amazing assortment of people through her: Joseph Lomax, Michael Ventura, Judson Crews, and Vassar Miller, among others. She wrote fiction as well as poetry, she was the former owner of Wings Press, former curator of words for the Contemporary Arts Museum, founder of Southern Seed, and became known as the original Riot Grrrl of Texas poetry. But those were her professional achievements. Most importantly to me, she not only took me to see Diana Ross in Mahogany, but bought me my first sewing machine, sending me off on a tangent that has led me directly to where I am now. Though our lives veered away from each other and we grew distant, the things that Joanie did for me when I was such a mess were astonishingly selfless, and many of the qualities she encouraged have become part and parcel of my character. What an amazing gift -- one of many gifts that she gave to so many people. Rest in peace, dear Joanie.
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Joanie Whitebird, Texas poetry, publishing, Houston Poets' Guild, Joseph Lomax, Michael Ventura, Judson Crews, Vassar Miller, Wings Press, Contemporary Arts Museum, Southern Seed, Riot Grrrl of Texas poetry, Diana Ross, Mahogany, MOMOKO FASHION SHOWFIRST THURSDAY