I awoke this morning like any other day. The hurried chaos of rousing a household into motion and the scurrying to get breakfast ready. The air was cold, so I put on the oven to heat the kitchen. In Michigan, we wait til the last of fall to turn on the furnaces. The altar boxes seemed like shadows were unusually soft around them, his and mine, but I paid no special heed to what that might mean.
In truth, I had paid no heed to my dreams this weekend, even though they were messengers, since I was going to analyze them later….always later. This October has been full of dreams, as is customary with the season of the last of the death harvests. Those who have passed away are nearer to us, and seek to reach out to let us know they are there. It is also is a time of goodbyes.
Then, on the drive into work, it came. That inevitable “it” that comes in these sort of stories. In this case, “it” was a message request from an unknown person on Facebook. Now, this is not so unusual. I write a lot of things that can cause some interesting reactions from strangers. But for some reason, today I accepted.
In my inbox, there was the image of my friend. Not a friend I see everyday, mind you. In fact, we probably have not directly spoken to each other in over 10 years. We just had not run in the same circles, especially after I moved away from the city proper. But there was her photograph in my electronic mailbox, the image of DeAnna Gray.
DeAnna Gray, the name itself is so small on the page, but evokes so much. She was so much more than those collections of syllables and letters. She was the very first person who accepted me as I am. Accepted me as someone different, and said it was okay.
DeAnna Gray and I met in first grade, after having been tested and placed in classes together. All through school, we were in advanced studies and music and even shared time in the “package lunch room” at Elizabeth Courville Elementary School in Detroit. She was one of the girls who would crochet with the crafty girls with the fuzzy yarn and the fuzzy ribbon in her hair. She was also the one who dried my tears when the boys put a lizard tail on my cornet case because I said I was a witch.
DeAnna was the one in Mr. Peterson’s class who would help me with my art. Our teacher was a hippy with a VW bus, and we had great fun together. She was there the day I tried to draw my first witchy painting and simultaneously look at the scandalizing pictures of Prince in a black G-string behind the clay buckets.
She said that it was okay to be different. She said it was okay. She knew what it was like to be different because she was tall. And boys did not like tall girls, so it was the same. She stood there in corduroy pants and a sweater with little characters marching across in horizontal lines and said it was okay. And she held my hand.
DeAnna Gray’s signature on her folder with the happy little apple face on her name card on a string is in my mind now. She was so neat and her desk was never messy like mine. She wrote well, and we sometimes would smile at each other. She was not a cool kid, but she was in the respectable groups. I was always an outcast, but that was to be expected. In social studies we even had a project together where we laughed as we shut down the boys, especially Steven Walker, when he asked if I could turn him into a frog. She had her cross and I had one too, but mine was enchanted with something other. And that was okay.
In the playgrounds of middle school, DeAnna had taken to being more to herself. We all experimented with makeup in the classroom of the only African-American Catholic woman I had ever seen. Lolita Curtis gave me my first book on magick, and I was outed again. The class bully tried to come at me, and quiet DeAnna stood up, all tall and straight, and stood with me as I stood my ground. We did not fight that day, words are better than animals. Dogs use tooth and claw, and we were ladies. And when Mrs. Linton and the lunch ladies encircled me to exorcise me and pray at me because they said I was full of demons for my beliefs, she gave me her mystery meat and a cookie afterwards (vanilla crème).
We were not best friends. We were friends, though. In high school, she and I had classes together again. In Detroit Public Schools, back then at least, you stayed with you pack. Honors kids with honors kids, vocational students with vocational students, etc. I grew up watching her refine that “D” in her signature from a large letter block print to an eloquent signature. A presence that seemed to always be around with a shoulder, a smile, or even the answer to where I dropped my cornet valve oil – again.
On days nearing the end of our high school year, I got used to seeing her in the neighborhood on 7 Mile Rd. We would sometimes see each other, usually when I was walking home by her mother’s work, M&M Shrimp Shack. Her mom was really nice as well. Her mother knew about the little foster girl with the belief in magick. She was a Christian, but she always treated me sweetly. Blood will tell, and though her mom could sometimes be a bit hard, she never treated me with unkindness in the way that many others did in this city of churches. Especially since I lived right on church row, that meant a lot to me.
Many days, she saw me and would be one of the only ones nice to me, DeAnna had a great big heart. In the winter, she would sometimes offer me a glove or burgundy mitten. Of course I would not take it, but it was good of her. She would get annoyed by me wearing my band gloves as hand protection. I would joke that I was just really committed and she would shake her head and smile in that lip gloss way she had. But I remember her kindness as she stood in the slush and rain those days.
Her eyes were the kindest eyes I have ever seen. That is not to say she never got mad. Oh boy, could she ever. But they were always the sweetest I have ever seen. They are not gray, but I will be adding a gray candle in memory of them to my altar this week, my ancestral one. Because she is precious to me and I seek to honor the understanding that she had. The understanding was that everyone does not have to believe the same thing to be right. She touched my life in shades that were not lies of black and white, but full of kind grays … like DeAnna Gray.
GoFundMe Information for her Burial.
I do not do gofundme stories as a general rule. This is my exception. Because I loved her, and still do. I do this because she me my world safer and kept me sane and strong when others would have torn me down. So I share this here, and if you are so moved, please help her family to send her off as befitting one of such kindness.
The campaign is
I ask that if you are moved by the memory of Deanna, and it is in your practice, that you light a gray candle with some pink roses on your altar this weekend. Let us send her family some loving energy. Let us send some love to DeAnna as she takes her journey home.
Hail the Beloved Dead.