When I moved from Wisconsin to New York City by myself right after college, I learned quickly how expensive east coast living really was. My entry level graphic design paycheck hardly covered the rent, so I had to get a weekend job. Even though a 7-day workweek was going to be a difficult adjustment, I didn't have a choice. I applied for weekend shifts at a museum gift shop, which appealed to me for several note-worthy reasons:
1) It would (in theory) be less pressure-filled than my day job
2) I could actually put to use all the things I learned in Art History class
3) This job would be like getting paid to learn priceless information, and I knew it! An assemblage of famous artist fun facts makes a boring party better instantly. Nothing says icebreaker quite like sharing the knowledge that Andy Warhol's first attempt at film making was called Sleep, and featured 6 hours of a man--you guessed it-- sleeping; or the fact that the title of Marcel Duchamp's last painting was "You Bore Me"!
4) Since I wouldn't have time to socialize like a normal person, I'd need as many opportunities to make new friends as possible, and the people at work were going to be my best chance.
A few months into my back-breaking schedule, I met the latest addition to our museum shop crew. Like me, she worked full time somewhere else but needed a second income. We clicked immediately; both of us having braved The Big Move-- from the midwest to New York City-- around the same time, both supporting ourselves and feeling the stress of real world pressures, both interested in similar things. We decided to get together and do something fun, outside of work. The problem with a non-stop work week (a schedule that can start at 8a.m. on Monday and drag on through 10pm on Sunday night, only to start all over again at 8a.m. on Monday) is that it barely pauses long enough for you to eat & sleep, let alone socialize.
Finally, one Saturday night after closing, we hit a little bar nearby, fittingly called The Office. I figured the owners decided to name it as such in case their customers needed a good excuse for coming home with whiskey breath, and "I was at The Office!" might just do the trick. The Office is where we'd spend the most of what little off-the-clock time we had during those East Coast years; opting against dinner entrees in favor of budget-friendly (and delicious) salsa & chips just so we could afford margaritas. We'd sit at the bar and swap stories of our lives before The Big Move. We discussed all-things-art and reminisced on days when we didn't have to spend every waking moment working.
We were in our 20's; exhausted from the pace, constantly adjusting to the miles between ourselves and our loved ones, but were truly exhilarated by the city. On that very first night out together, we both said, "This place just FEELS like home" at the same time; which the bartender confused as a compliment to his place of employment. We meant that New York City felt like home, even with all of the challenges. Especially with all of the challenges. We understood every bit of what the other was going through in a way our friends & family back home couldn't. I said we should toast to being friends for a very long time, and that's exactly what we did.
Though our schedules never let up, she became my one of my closest friends. I would joke about her love for Lip Smackers™ (gloss of choice for the 10-year-old and under set) until she presented me with my own root beer flavored tube, and I was hooked (to this day I have 2 different flavors floating around in my bag at all times). In those rare instances when we took time off of work, she was the person I did most of my city adventuring with. We went to museums, window-shopped along Fifth Avenue, drank beer at Irish pubs, snuck into movies. We would laugh about our own life contradictions, like:
1) my steadfast belief that Van Gogh was overrated (my exact words were that I'd rather EAT paint than see his "Sunflowers" or "The Starry Night" ever again), yet I coveted his multi-canvas "Olive Grove" series; and
2) her apartment was filled with vintage furniture, yet her full time job as the manager for a fancy home furnishing store allowed for a deep discount on anything she wanted.
A handful of years later, I'd had enough of burning the candle at both ends. It was time to move to back to Chicago, near my family. Coincidentally, Nic got a huge job promotion and transfer to Chicago shortly thereafter. By then, I was freelancing and was looking for more work. The first thing she did upon reporting to her new job was to hire me as the display designer for the museum store windows, which meant that she could expense pricey dinners at nice restaurants to the company if we took the time to talk business. There were some very pressing business-y things that needed discussion, like what color polish would look best on her short nails and which of those multi-million dollar Olive Grove paintings would fit in with the furniture we'd circled in the IKEA catalog.
If all these things and more were the backbone of our friendship, the heart of it was laughter. There was never enough free time and there never was enough pocket change to scrape together back then, but there was always laughter.
There are so many memories that stand out in my mind, especially now. She was the kind of person who would finally, after months of badgering, rent a certain movie starring a certain actor and would then call to say, "Why didn't you TELL me he was in it? You did? Well, why didn't you tell me LOUDER?!". She was the kind of person who came up with the idea to stay on the phone with each other the entire 5 hours it took us to drive (very slowly) 40 miles in separate cars and opposite directions during a blizzard, just so one of us could get help for the other if we needed it. She was the kind of person who made a habit of sending her friends Wonder Woman™ cards, because she thought we were all Wonder Women.
Remarkable moments with my remarkable friend.
She was the kind of person who, while going through radiation treatments and chemotherapy and seizures and massive headaches and nausea, made me earrings with flat silver beads that simply say, "LAUGH" on them; during a time when she had every reason to feel like doing the opposite. The medical experts gave her 6 months to live, but she defied them all and battled it out longer than anyone thought possible. She worked through the intense challenges that come along with brain cancer, the treatments prescribed and every complication imaginable.
She kicked cancer's ass for two whole years from the exact day of her diagnosis, and she fought to the very end without the use of bulletproof bracelets, a golden lasso or the ability to get away in an invisible plane. She was a real life superhero, and I was lucky enough to be her sidekick for awhile.
She didn't want a funeral, it wasn't her style. This was her wish: an evening in a central location where Nic's husband Tim, various family members and friends from all different stages in her life get to finally meet each other, swap stories, look through photos, laugh together and help each other choke back the tears as we celebrate her life. In a few weeks, we're all descending upon Atlanta from every direction for what we've come to call Nikki Night. We'll all be able to toast to our sweet friend Nic, with her very favorite margaritas. It'll be just as she wanted it.
I'll be thinking about the first of many margaritas we had together at The Office.
I'll be talking about the time she overheard me say to someone in casual conversation that I'd always wanted to go to an opera.*
I'll be wearing my little silver "LAUGH" earrings, and I can't wait.
*A couple of weeks later, she handed me The Metropolitan Opera schedule. When I asked her why, she said, "Pick one, we'll save up the money and go!", and that's exactly what we did.