Seven years ago, I was in a dark Irish pub in Phoenix with my then-boyfriend (now husband) and various friends. I'd been to O'Connor's a few times to see a now-defunct band called the Clarevoyants. This time was no exception. So, I'm sitting there at a table with Sean and this wild woman with a head of curly russet hair comes flying over and grabs me by the hands.
"It's Monto," she says. "You have to dance with us."
Um...okay. So I did.
And that is how I met a woman who would become like a sister to me, a dear friend, a partner - Nicki Canaga.
After Monto, we sat and talked a bit. We were dating a pair of brothers who we would both go on to marry, so we immediately had something in common there. We liked Irish music. That was another thing. We were both unrepentant band dorks, sci-fi geeks and writers. Our friendship snowballed from there.
Nicki was a buxom firebrand of a woman. To this day I'm amazed that though she stood a full head shorter than me, I rarely noticed it. That woman could have filled Albert Hall with her personality.
Nicki introduced me to a dance studio in Tempe where I learned how to spin poi. She would babysit my daughter so that I could learn, and she learned how to be my fire safety so that I could spin without immolating. Every time I lit my poi to spin, Nicki's keen eye watched over me. And though she was focused, she was always the first to give me a "yip" or "yeah!" In all things, Nicki supported her friends. She nurtured passions and coaxed people outside of their comfort zones.
Nicki was never anything less than supportive. I see that now. She was passionate about bellydance, crafting, knitting, sewing, costuming, make-up, photography and the people around her. Her grace always stunned me when I watched her dance. This mantle fell over her and she was in another world...a world of peace and a connection with something Other. Watching her dance made me happy and proud. Likewise, her photography floored me. She had a knack for finding humbling beauty and truth with her camera. She saw the best in people, the talents and passions and she wanted to share that. She wanted you to see your own potential the way she saw you shine.
Nicki was weird. One minute we're cackling at our girls night out (aka The Estrogen Pool) about how she moisturized. (Petal soft, I tell you!) The next, she'd be bellydancing to Gogol Bordello's gypsy punk. The next time you saw her she'd have her hair in anime buns and would be grooving to Bollywood or jamming out to Flogging Molly. She drank mead while smoking a hookah. She did tribal belly dance on a disco light-up dance floor. She was so perfectly chaotic, vibrant and her laughter shook continents.
I met Nicki 7 years ago in a dark pub. Along the way, I stood for her in her wedding and she in mine.
Our relationship had its valleys. I fucked up. I was stubborn, arrogant and stupid. I let petty shit cloud my mind and harden my heart against what was truly important: My friend. I know that now, and I am so fucking sorry. Seven years seems like so little in comparison to the mark she made on me. This week, I've been thinking, "It can't just be 7 years. It felt like longer." And it's not enough time. I thought there would be a chance to reconnect, to reconcile.
The last time I saw Nicki was last Saturday at my daughter's birthday party. We both wanted to try to do just that: reconnect and reconcile, to be family again. When she left Saturday, I hugged her and told her I loved her, that I was glad she was there with us. We made plans to see each other again... this week maybe. There was hope and promise.
The next day she was gone.
The world is a colder place without her warmth. Her light, though, goes on. I've said it before about another amazing soul, but it's just as true here. Nicki's light is being passed from candle to candle. Every memory of her that makes us gigglesnort or cackle just means that she's still here, too. We still dance, and so does she. Now more than ever.
Ohana means family. Our family will not leave anyone behind. And Nicki will never be forgotten.