My vibrant, infinitely kind, brutally honest, confident, smart, best friend from high school and, especially, early college passed away over the weekend.
She was on vacation in Jamaica and, if the pics and videos posted on Facebook are any indication, she was having the time of her life. I am so grateful for that.
Dawna was the person that shouldered everyone’s pain. We all asked it of her at times, and I’m just now realizing how unfair that was.
She earned an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling, and she helped countless people through the various jobs she had and roles she played.
Dawna was not warm and fuzzy in the traditional sense. She didn’t pull punches, and she would offer her opinion–if asked–of how stupid a certain course of action would be … but she would be there to pick up the pieces with you, no matter how sharp their edges were.
If you went shopping with Dawna and tried on a dress, she’d say, “It makes your ass look huge” or “You trying to advertise the fact that you have big boobs?” or whatever. When you tried on the right dress, though, and Dawna said, “Daaaaaaaamn!”, you knew you looked good. She would not lie to make someone feel better, but you knew her compliments were gospel truth.
Dawna deplored my ex-husband on sight. I’d experienced some turmoil in my life and was trying to get myself together, and this seemingly nice, quiet, smart man seemed to make sense. Only Dawna saw him for what he was, and only Dawna was unsurprised when he became a violent and abusive alcoholic and addict.
“How’s Philip?” she would ask. He hated to be called Philip, but Dawna called him Philip anyway.
“Oh, he’s great! We just had a baby, and he is so great with her. Everything’s great!”
“Don’t trust him too much, Kate.”
“Dawna, he’s perfect for me! He is like a vacation after all the chaos. Everything’s great. Why don’t you see that?”
“He calls you Katherine, like he thinks he’s your father or something. He’s super controlling, and there is just something off about him. Be careful.”
A few years later, when her instincts once again proved impeccable, we were getting a drink.
“You were totally right about him,” I cried. “Why didn’t I listen?”
“Because you thought he was nice, you thought you deserved nice. Happens all the time.” She paused. “And you do deserve nice.”
“Why didn’t you try harder to make me see?”
She gave me the patented Dawna “Why would I waste my breath if I know you’re not going to listen” look. I’d seen it many times before. I’m sure everyone that knew Dawna well knows the look I mean.
She said nothing.
“Okay, fair enough.”
“Look, you got Ari out of the marriage. That’s more than worth it. She’s the best thing he’ll ever do, and he has no freaking idea, the moron.”
It is human nature to connect our feelings with others based on our relationships with them. I can share stories of Dawna for days, stories of conversations that lasted for nights on end, parties, spilling red Boone’s Farm all over the white carpet in her bedroom, working at Chuck E. Cheese’s together for years with a crew of people that were like family, the fact that we both had stepfathers we were extremely close to and mine was called “Gordo” and hers “Booby” and neither deserved such rough nicknames but they kind of liked them, too.
However, it is not my intent to share “Kate and Dawna stories”, although I think that’s what we as people do when we grieve. It makes those of us left behind feel better to remember those special memories unique only to you.
My purpose in writing this is to express how special, how remarkable, how one-of-a-kind Dawna was, and for me this boils down to one theme.
I was seventeen when I had my first daughter, Emily. I graduated from high school in June, spent the summer working 60 hour workweeks at Chuck E. Cheese’s with Dawna and many other dear friends (and my coworkers gave me the most amazing baby shower, let me just say), and Emily was born in September.
A year later, I began attending Plymouth State College (I know it calls itself a university now, but it will always be Plymouth State College to me), and Dawna and one of our other friends, Kara, went at the same time.
I lived in the non-traditional student housing because I had Emily, which meant I had an apartment on campus, while Dawna and Kara lived in a dorm. Which means they were at my apartment all the time.
I was going through the typical challenges of being a teen mother, and I was working multiple jobs. My friends picked up the slack with Emily, and one of my favorite memories is coming home from work to see Dawna blasting Tupac’s “California Love” and holding Emily’s hands as she danced on the table. They were both dancing in … well, let’s just say a way that Tupac would have approved of. Kara was in the kitchen, making this delectable creation called “Meal in a Loaf”, and after Emily’s bath, story, and bedtime, “Friends” would be on.
Those were not easy days, for any of us. I was too caught up in my own drama at first to realize that Dawna and Kara had both experienced very dark things recently, but soon we were working as an incredible support system for each other–Kara cooking and getting us to give “Days of Our Lives” a chance, me trying to raise my baby and do well in school and work, and Dawna the self-described “Man of the House”–she took the trash out and railed on me for being a slob. (I was a slob)
I would give anything to go back and have one of those days with you again, Dawna. Lots of memories before that year, and lots afterwards, but for that one year, Dawna kept me going. She kept me believing in myself. She told me I was doing stupid things when I did stupid things. She took care of my baby when I couldn’t. She loved me unconditionally, something she was especially gifted at.
I have never had a friend like Dawna before. She was wise beyond her years, yet she was the life of every party. She’d tell you stuff you didn’t want to hear because it needed to be said, but she was never mean-spirited.
I am thinking of her parents, her beloved brother and sister, her boyfriend and the battalions of friends she had. I am one of many that had the privilege and fortune to know and love Dawna.
If you knew Dawna personally, please share a memory below.
If you didn’t, think of someone you’ve loved and lost and share a memory in their honor.
Fly high, Dawna … and God will understand.