When I arrived to pick up Heather for our first date, I stopped and took a deep breath, then knocked on the door of the apartment she shared with Jackie and Bella. I immediately heard the three of them laughing on the other side. One of the laughs rose above the others (I would later realize it was Jackie’s inimitable laugh), and it was the kind of laugh that either meant:
“Uh-oh! That weirdo you’re stuck going out with is here!”
“He’s here! The guy you’ve been talking about all day is here!”
I knew then that this date was either going to go really well or really crappy. Luckily for me the date turned out great, and my life with Heather – and Jackie – began.
Back then Heather and Jackie were just twenty-three and living in Hermosa Beach – one of the most beautiful and fun beach towns in California – and had about ten of their sorority sisters from USC living on the same block. Suddenly, instead spending each weekend with my buddies debating the merits of the new Star Wars movies, I found myself hanging out in this incredible beach town with a dozen beautiful and vibrant young women. That, as you can imagine, was a pretty awesome situation for a twenty-something dude to find himself thrown into.
In those early days I spent a lot of time at Heather’s place, which meant that Jackie and Bella had an (almost) fourth roommate they didn’t sign up for, but they were both wonderful to me. Jackie was especially welcoming, and made me feel like I was part of the gang right away.
Looking back, that apartment was nothing short of a blast. Every day those three crazy girls were doing something entertaining, whether it was throwing water balloons off their balcony, breaking into impromptu dance sessions, singing N’ Sync songs at the top of their lungs, or rolling around on the carpet laughing until they cried. And Jackie was always there dancing the fastest, singing the loudest, and laughing the hardest.
Those youthful days of fun couldn’t last forever, unfortunately, and it wasn’t long before each of the girls went their own separate way. Jackie moved to San Francisco, a move which made sense for her because she was born and raised in the Bay Area. She actually grew up not even ten minutes away from where I did, but we didn’t meet until that night in Hermosa Beach (though we did know some of the same people and most of the same local hangouts).
Heather and I would often visit Jackie in San Francisco, and she also came to Los Angeles a lot. When she did she slept in our guest room, and we always had a tremendous time together. We were more mature then – which meant less water balloons and break dancing and more discussions of politics and current events – but we had just as much fun nonetheless.
One night the three of us were chatting when it occurred to me that Jackie never censored what she said in front of me like some of Heather’s other friends did. While those others girls saved their girl talk for when the boyfriends and husbands weren’t around, Jackie never did. I was an honorary girl in Jackie’s eyes… privy to the gossip and private conversations… and it meant a lot to be trusted like a close friend and not just the spouse of one. Those were wonderful times together.
Our days were to get darker though. First, Jackie was diagnosed with brain cancer, and then not long afterward, our Maddie passed away. When Maddie died, Jackie, despite everything she was dealing with, immediately came to Los Angeles to take care of Heather and me. I could write for hours about how much the support she gave us during that impossible time meant, but it would probably be less evocative than something Heather’s Aunt Lynn wrote to me today:
I knew in an instant how loving and caring Jackie was when I walked into your home and there she was holding and rocking you the day after Maddie passed away. It was a powerful introduction to a beautiful friend.
Jackie was just that… a beautiful friend. Only three months ago she joined us in marching for Maddie at the March For Dimes’ Walk. The fact that Jackie came to Los Angeles and walked the entire three miles despite everything she was going through should give you an idea of what kind of a fighter and true inspiration she was these last four years.
As incredible as she was since her diagnosis though, and she was incredible, carrying herself with such grace, strength, and love, it needs be said that she was incredible before her diagnosis too. The reason she was able to carry herself with such grace, strength, and love after her diagnosis was because that’s exactly how this wonderful woman carried herself before it.
I love you, Jackie. You made a difference in my life, and I will carry you in my heart forever.