We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called “life”
“Let’s Go Crazy”– Prince
Like everyone, I listened to a lot of Prince music the days after he died. His albums Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day and Sign O’ The Times and the music he produced with Morris Day and Sheila E, Prince were our music growing up in Yazoo City. Those songs also hold memories of Melissa Bond, my best friend, who died in a car wreck on December 14, 1988, when we were 18.
The day Prince died, I should have been talking and grieving with Melissa, sharing memories, reliving moments and reminding each other of songs we had forgotten. Even if we had grown apart over 28 years, our love for Prince would have brought us back together that day. Instead, his passing opened the “Melissa door” I shut a long time ago.
Melissa’s family moved to Yazoo City from Holly Springs and she came to our school in 8th grade. She looked a little different, because she was a little different. I was getting close to 6-feet-tall with bad hair, bad skin and braces. In our small school, we found each other. Our group wasn’t pretty or popular, but we had music because Melissa loved music. At our first sleepover, she dressed as Michael Jackson and I dressed as Prince, with napkins for ruffles stuffed in the arms and neck of her dad’s overcoat, and we watched MTV all night. On Saturday nights at her house, we ate chicken strips and Famous Amos cookies and learned how to moonwalk and do the “Thriller” dance. We prank-called the radio station acting as the Jacksons, and taped “Soul Train” interviews on my tape recorder. I was the interviewer, Don Cornelius, and she was the musical guest.
Our group of friends were named after the Jackson brothers. Melissa was Mini Mike and I was Tito. She signed every note passed in class or the halls as Mini Mike with stars dotting the i’s and music notes coming out of the M’s.
At dances, we sat by the wall and talked about music because no one would ask us to dance. We snuck in to see Purple Rain at the Plaza Twin Theater and drove around playing Prince cassettes in a boombox because my green ’72 Lincoln Continental only had an 8-track player. Listening to Prince made us feel cool even if no one else thought we were.
We never saw Michael Jackson or Prince live, but our first concert was Rick Springfield with Corey Hart in 1984 at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. We snuck in a side door and watched the band’s sound check and they tossed a drumhead to us. We saw a lot of concerts together, and talked of going on the road with a band. She wanted to play guitar and produce the records and I wanted to be a roadie wearing all black and pushing around speakers and amps.
Many of my “firsts” are tied to Melissa. First phone: My parents wouldn’t let me have a phone, so we bought a purple phone at Kmart and hid it in my room so I could call her. First time to get in a car with strange boys and ride to the levee at the Yazoo River: We were caught by her dad and grounded. First time to get drunk: At the end of our senior year, we raided her dad’s liquor cabinet and made bourbon and Cokes. We lay on the back deck talking, drinking and watching stars until we passed out. First hangover the next day. First senior class not to have Senior Skip day, so Melissa and I organized our class to skip school and go on a picnic. First movie appearance in the Miss Firecracker Contest shot in Yazoo City.
Beyond our group of friends, it was hard for Melissa to fit in and find her place because some people were mean. She was never fat, but started losing weight our freshman year. She became bony, but wouldn’t go out to eat with us. She had migraines, but wouldn’t talk about it. We knew something was wrong, but we didn’t know what anorexia was. Food was the one thing Melissa could control and she got down to 87 pounds and eating 400 calories a day. Her parents quietly got her the help she needed and we just loved her through it. We didn’t know what else to do.
Melissa slowly healed and started finding herself. She was the poet of our class, with a poem published in American Poetry Anthology and a Golden Poet Award from the World of Poetry. She was editor of the school newspaper and reviewed albums and concerts. She was Scholastic All-American and the one with the scholarships.
She also learned how to play guitar and started Crippled Priests, a band with boys from other schools. She wrote songs and put out their cassette, “Head Cleaner,” on her Big Hug label “dedicated to the exposure of previously unknown musicians who would otherwise have no means of exposure.” She found her calling and didn’t care what anyone else thought, including us or her parents. After graduation, she got what she wanted–out of Yazoo City. She went to the University of North Alabama to major in music business because she wanted to run a music production company.
We drifted apart during the first few months of college, but she visited me at Mississippi State in November with her good friend Bill. I dated Bill and she dated a friend of mine, and soon we were back to talking every day. I talked with her for the last time as she was packing to go home for Christmas. We spoke about our friendship and plans for the break and hung up with “I love you.” Our last words to each other. The next day she was killed when her blue Honda with MB007 on the tag was struck by a Mac truck on her drive home. Witnesses say lost control of the car and it turned over in the highway. Bill said she was having migraines before she left.
Those were the worst days of my life. How do you lose your best friend when you are only 18? Six months after our high school baccalaureate sent our class out with a blessing for the future, we were back in the same sanctuary to bury Melissa. That day I hated my boyfriend, my brother and some of our closest friends for carrying her away in a casket. The next year I spent a lot of time talking to her gravestone.
You don’t get over losing someone you love that much; someone who shapes the person you grow into 28 years later. But time pushes you forward and you get married, work at jobs you love and jobs you hate, have kids, travel and make new memories that cover up the painful ones.
I knew the day would come to pull the tape off of boxes and unlock the trunks to find Melissa. To dig past baby albums and footprint art, push aside postcards and souvenirs from trips with my mom that she can no longer remember. Avoid pictures of Susan, another of my closest friends who died of a brain aneurysm when we were 30.
The album was at the bottom of the trunk. The one with the letters she wrote to me at camp, keeping me updated with All My Children or telling me about the For Sale sign in front of the house of the boy I secretly liked. The letter I wrote to her after she died that said, “I should be crying with you and not over you,” and the one I wrote to myself with the memories of our friendship, rolling bleachers with toilet paper and riding a camel at the zoo. The yearbook she signed, “You know you’ll always be my best friend, the one I tell everything to. Let the music move you. Mini Mike.”
The day I started writing about Melissa, I received this poem from Jimmy Abraham, my mentor in college.
Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days . . .
What will matter is not how many people you knew,
but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories
but the memories that live in those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered,
by whom and for what.
Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters.
“Living a Life That Matters” by Michael Josephon
Living a life that matters is what I learned from Melissa. She figured out early to know herself, to be different and do what she cared about, no matter what anyone else thought about her. I learned too soon to tell people I love them because we really don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.
Her memories will always live inside me, and for a few days the music we loved brought her back and she felt almost real. She was singing and playing air guitar to “Let’s Go Crazy” around Goose Egg Park and down Grand Avenue one more time.
We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ’cause
We’re all gonna die
And when we do (When we do)
What’s it all for (What’s it all for)
You better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door
Tell me, are we gonna let the elevator bring us down
Oh, no let’s go!
“Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince