On August 25, 2012, I received a text message from a friend. It was one of those text messages that make your heart drop even before you know what the message is about. He said that he needed to talk to me. I called him immediately. He told me that Alex had died; she killed herself.
Alex was my best friend. I was supposed to see her that weekend, instead I went home. For a moment, I thought it was a joke to try to get me to come back sooner. I asked him. He said no. She is gone. I felt my arms go cold. I looked outside, the sun was shining, and I couldn’t cry. I was so numb. I told my mom that my best friend died; she killed herself. Her ex-boyfriend also did the same thing. We frequently talked about his death and how we didn’t believe it to be true. I had the same thoughts run through my mind. None of this is true.
I was angry. I wish I had spent the weekend in London. I wish I had let her know I would be back. I wish that I had done a lot of things differently. I remember saying goodbye to her before she got into the taxicab. She wasn’t working that night. We worked at the same club. We met each other at this same club, and we lived in the same dancer house for many weeks. Eventually, we moved out of the dancer house and we became neighbours in the same building. We did a lot of things together. She was my support when I first started working at the club. I will always remember when we first met.
She was like me, tall, slim with long brown hair. Her hair was curly. Mine was straight. The first night we worked together, she pointed to her locker and said, “This is my locker.” It read Alex, in permanent black marker. She said, “It’s not locked but nobody touches it because it’s mine.” She said we could share it. She was right. Nobody touched her locker. She had worked at the club for a significant amount of time, one of the girls that everyone knew or wanted to know.
We became best friends because we had been through a lot when we both worked at the club together. We were dancers. Sex workers.
When I received the news, this wasn’t the first time someone called me to talk to me about Alex. The other time was when she was pregnant. I travelled back to the club. I saw her and she told me the news. I was so excited for her. I went to the hospital when she was in labour. I played with her son many times when we visited each other. She was a wonderful mother; she was made for the mother-life.
I didn’t return to the city for her celebration of life. I had my own celebration. I feasted her spirit. My mom also said it was better I stayed with the family longer. I wouldn’t be alone. My mom was right, like always, I wasn’t alone, but I felt very much alone.
She was like a sister. Perhaps, she was more like a mother, sometimes cooking us soup in the dancer’s house. Her nickname for me was Lil Mama.
Before I moved to London, I was working a call centre. I ended up selling or getting rid of everything I owned. I wanted to work in the south as a sex worker. I picked a club that appeared first on a list of clubs throughout the province. I called them and asked if they required licenses. They said no but they require a photo and my identification. I sent both. They said I could be on schedule. I bought a bus ticket and I left town, on Father’s Day. My dad drove me to the bus station. It was a one-way ticket. My family didn’t know when I would be back. I didn’t know if I would be back.
When I went back to school while in London, Alex always said I better not drop out and she always encouraged me to study hard and to not miss class (despite me missing a few classes). I can always hear her voice telling me this too. I miss her laugh. I can’t remember her laugh. I remember her hair, her dancing.
We knew each other’s first legal name (not just our stage names). Sometimes she would scream out my real name in the club, a little drunk. I didn’t mind. Most people didn’t believe my legal name was Naomi. We just laugh together.
I specifically remember a day when the electricity went out at the club due to a storm. And, outside, it was pouring rain. She ran outside, in her dancer outfit, jumping, twirling, laughing. Her hair so wet and curly. She didn’t care. She was happy.
This past weekend, I returned home. Before leaving the city, I donated and sold the majority of my belongings, similar to when I left home. This past Sunday marked 7 years since her passing. I know she would be happy for me, from law clerking to lawyer. I know that wherever she is that she is happy too. When her death was exploited by anti-sex workers in London, Ontario, I spoke about it and a national magazine wrote about my story and her passing (you can read more here). When she used to say that people always talked shit about her, she meant it. Even in death.
Just as she is happy, she is probably dancing and smiling.