When I firstmet Maureen she was a red head with an edgy pixie haircut, and supershort precision bangs. I can’t remember how long it took me to trot off her to stylist for a copycat look. She didn’t mind. (Probably because she wore it better than I.) Somewhere I have the picture that was taken of us the night I got the hair cut. I’d gone from an unflattering blond to a dark brunette. (I may have thought the style would look better in a more saturated color?) She was still red. We were both smiling. I’m guessing she was flattered that I’d copied her look for never did I sense otherwise. It was a fun cut but in the end, I couldn’t carry it off the way Maureen did. I let mine grow while she maintained some form of a geometric cut that I so coveted but finally accepted was not my signature.
I think I met Maureen at her college graduation party. We must have been invited there by the guy she was dating. Her parents asked guests to sign a guest book of sorts, to pass on some wisdom to their new graduate. The only wisdom I could think of to tell someone I didn’t know was, “Never leave your makeup bag in the car on a hot summer day.” It was one of those kind-of-funny half truths that I somehow felt she would understand. She loved it. It made us fast friends.
Later she married my husband’s friend, had a stylish wedding and then bought an older home in a borderline historical neighborhood in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan. It was gotten for a good price from the original owner who hadn’t done a thing to it since the 1920s (or some such) and soon the sledgehammers were flailing. Its ancient kitchen was replaced with an ‘oh my god’ kind of unique creation straight from the pages of…well, no magazine I’d been familiar with thus far in my life (I only had a plain suburban home and wasn’t yet into my own home re-design phase). Back in the ’90s there were no HGTV-type redesign shows (not that I was ever aware of) so watching Maureen mastermind this renovation (at her young age, too) was quite…astonishing. For sure my own design urges started when I saw what she did with this house. The brand new kitchen was amazing with its unique elements there, and in every other room. Maureen had an innate sense of style and design and a sense for the unexpected, combining disparate elements into a beautiful and cohesive space that was unique and completely her own. No detail in a room was left was left to chance, every piece and fixture seemed to have a story. I loved that. I watched her transform room after room with envy of her skill and her budget. My own suburban home seemed plain and unremarkable by comparison. Hers was a house of good bones, character. It’s because of Maureen that I only want to buy quality paint today. She was an artist and loved her Pratt and Lambert fan deck. Whether it’s worth it, or not, I don’t know. It’s just one of those things I remember of her.
Naturally her mostly completed home was worthy of the Tour of Homes held in her neighborhood the following holiday season. But for her, I think, art and design was inherent in who she was and so probably her home and spaces were always evolving, part of her journey.
While waiting for our son to come I finally got to create a nursery. I shopped and shopped for just the right bedding (very important you know), unmoved by all the typical juvenile images. I wanted something different, edgier. I was probably channelling Maureen but I did manage to find something completely delightful that I would choose again, today (so that’s gotta tell you something). I asked Maureen to do some creative painting in his room, based on the designs of harlequin diamonds, fleur-de-lis, and non baby-like graphic imagines lifted from the comforter and bedding fabric. I knew I wanted something different, and I trusted that Maureen would have the vision.
She spent two days in that bedroom and when it was over we had the coolest painted nursery I had ever seen yet. She did an enormous harlequin diamond on the ceiling: four individual diamonds in colors from the bedding, painted together to create one, very huge diamond shape that our son could gaze it from his crib. She then did a freestyle border painting of the curliques, fleur-de-lis, the harlequins and other shapes in the bedding, all around the room, halfway up the wall. I was entirely thrilled with the outcome. She had the amazing ability to pick up a paintbrush and with equanimity brush and dab on just the right things to pull the design together. No practicing. No mistakes. No worries. She just did it. I watched it come together just like that. It had taken me two tries just to get the wall color right! (And it was only yellow.) But Maureen came in, used red, black, purple and green (Pratt and Lambert of course) and left me with a room I could not have imagined. Naturally exceeded my expectations, and was certainly nothing I’d ever have envisioned left to my own imaginings.
Later she taught me to paint designs on the walls of our guest bathroom. I remember being in there with her, following her lead as she intuitively placed a design here, then over here, and then right there, until together we completed that small room. It all came so naturally to her. Spending times like this with her certainly helped me to think about design for my own life, given my own architectural elements and all that stuff. She had the gift for sure.
We were good friends in the sense of context. Married to two college buddies, she was someone I could connect with on some level of personal compatibility. We shared similar superficial interests that made conversation fun and interesting. It’s not always like that when you’re thrown together with people due to circumstances. I’d met and liked Maureen’s mother and her style, had met her sister, and also her good friend, Spring. I’m remembering all this as I write. Did we know each other as in really know each other? I don’t think so. I don’t believe either of us were fully formed as adults just yet, me being such a late bloomer and her being so young, still. So our opinions and values were still nascent, I think. We shared many times together, but then we moved away, and they divorced after a short marriage. I knew she’d stayed in touch with one of her former husband’s friends. We reconnected via e mail a few years later, but it wasn’t regular.
I knew she’d married again, to a guy with kids, and that she was wanting a baby (she told me) and got a puppy. Not that she didn’t love the dog, she did, she sent me a picture of it. But now I’d grown up some and had gained some wisdom and I remember wondering to myself, hoping for her sake, that the puppy didn’t represent the child she really wanted. I got the sense that her husband was done with all that: he’d had his children already and they were teens. It seemed he had an interesting career as a developer of new loft properties in an older suburban Detroit community, and I remember thinking that that would suit her. But I don’t really know. We weren’t in the same circle anymore: divorce, suburban Detroit and Atlantic beachlife. But I was glad to hear from her occasionally. Still, it had been a few years since our last contact, when I heard she had cancer.
It was my husband who told me, and he isn’t a man of much detail in conversation. I’m sure that when he was told of Maureen’s cancer diagnosis he didn’t ask for any further information as I would have. Still, I was left with the impression that it “wasn’t serious”, somehow. It was something you hear about someone you used to know. I wouldn’t have contacted her about it, anyway, as our relationship had just faded away into natural closure.
Maureen died last Friday. This news came to us yesterday via her former spouse who called my husband. It was then that I learned she’d had ovarian cancer. She was just 40. I am left to my own memories of this girl and I feel shocked and so sad. I want to write to her husband but there’s no information available via the internet. Apparently there isn’t a funeral planned, “just something in two weeks,” reports my husband, leaving me unsettled. I urged him to call another friend, a man we knew had maintained contact with Maureen all these years, someone who was her friend. Not to pry, no, but to connect on a visceral level. We know that her death has affected her former husband, we suspect that it will move her friend deeply too. We’re all getting older, things happen. Cancer, accidents, divorce, addiction, struggles with children. Family, friends and relationships with others are really all that matter when comes down to it. We must reach out and try to connect in a meaningful way when someone is hurting, ill, dying or suffering in some other way.
Maureen, our paths crossed for a few short years, and I enjoyed you. I was envious of your talent, and admired your confidence. You had such style, so effortless. Did you have a happy life? I hope you didn’t suffer too much, and I do pray that your journey in life and even in your illness brought you meaning and blessings that held you. I know you are now transformed. I wish you peace.
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Jeannie Greenwald is a blogger, neighborhoods / 'go local' evangelist, hobbyist photographer, and degreed psychologist.