I met Donna when I was 18 and we were working together at Mars on Telegraph. I had just escape the confines of high school and my parents’ house, and I thought she was so cool. Like, ineffably cool. She was going to SF State studying film, and she lived close by me in West Oakland. She was three years older than me, so she could buy alcohol, and I remember thinking: she has so many friends. I wanted to be one of her friends.
We bonded over all the things we had in common: a mutual love for alcohol, a penchant for West Oakland warehouse parties, boy craziness and that unique mixture of punk rock and rap music that weird girls like us listened to in 2006. We would drive around West Oakland in her red pick up truck and listen to her original tape cassette of Mac Dre’s Too Hard For The Fucking Radio while talking about art films and feminism. She loaned me her Tom Robbins books and turned me on to astrology. She was so emotional, more emotional than any woman I had ever met in my life before. In fact, she was so emotional that in some ways it liberated me from my own prison of feeling out of touch with my own emotions. She wasn’t afraid to cry. She wasn’t afraid to yell. She wasn’t afraid to be mean to the customers who came into Mars and harassed us for being women. Like I said: so cool.
We started going to parties together. Her and me and a few other friends. She seemed to know everybody, which to me, at 18, was so impressive. She knew where to get coke, and she’d always buy me booze. She knew where the cool parties were and drove us all there. She liked going to the Lanesplitter’s in Temescal, and she’d buy a half pint of Ancient Age and dump it into our cokes so we could ripped before biking back to West Oakland. We had a penchant for drinking firecrackers, or Sparks (when it was basically proto-Four Loko) with a gin shooter. We spent all of summer 2006 hanging out at Dead Rat Beach (back when it was, um, a full blown meth lab). That Halloween, we got all dressed up to go to the party at Lobot but got so drunk outside that we never went in. (Even though apparently everyone was drinking mushroom tea. Whatever. I had more fun with Donna outside.)
Donna was the first friend I had who looked out for me when I was on my own. She was the first friend I looked up to. The summer of 2006 was wild, and eventually I quit Mars to go do better things. We were never as close after that as we were when we worked together. I have too many memories from those days to even write down here, mostly because I’m trying to finish writing this blog post without bursting into tears.
Even though we didn’t hang out as frequently as the years went on, we remained friends. I’d always see her at the random art parties I went to, at bars around town. She still played in bands and invited me to hang out with her. Sometimes we’d go to parties together, just like we had done all those years ago.
Two years ago, after I had gotten out of the hospital, she texted me to wish me well. I told her we would hang out when I was feeling better. She told me that she had just started culinary school and would love to see me.
But I didn’t get to see her. She died in the Ghost Ship fire. Which was, as we all know, it’s own special hell of emotions. There’s no point in reliving any of that, but there is a point in remembering Donna and the impact that she had on my life.
Ugh. I don’t know. I hate all the sadness inside me right now. Because that’s not Donna, and that’s not the memory that I have of her. That’s not who she was to me, but I guess on the two year anniversary of her death I can’t help but pay homage to that sadness. Maybe tomorrow or maybe some other day I’ll be in a better place to tell you about all the crazy shit we did all those years ago. She was so cool, and I don’t want the world to forget that about her. I definitely won’t.