Danielle is colorful. She’s vibrant. She’s energetic, and she’s loud AF. You hear her long before you see her – or at least you used to.
Danielle is my only cousin on my dad’s side, daughter of my dad’s sister. Part Puerto Rican, half black, and a full New Yorker, she carries all of the “Don’t take shit from no one” characteristics of both her physical and geographical races (yes, NYer is a race – I’ve decided). She is a powerful and independent woman. You either love her, or you hate her – there isn’t much in between – and growing up, I adored her.
She was the older sister I always wanted. Connected at the hip from the day I was born, we did everything together – a cute little black girl and her scrawny white sidekick. Anything Danielle did, I did. Dance, summer camp, sleep overs, vacations. All of it – all the time. She had braids with the fun little beads on the end – I had to have the braids with the fun little beads on the end. It didn’t matter that I had white girl hair or was actually a scrawny little white girl who looked ridiculously out of place with braided hair with beads. I wanted to be like Danielle all the time – until I didn’t.
In our teenage years, Danielle started to party – hard. And in the beginning, actually well into our college years, I partied with her. But there were two major differences: I never got caught and I knew when to stop. Danielle found herself in a lot of trouble. I can’t tell you exactly when but I saw it coming and I started to pull away. Our relationship changed. She was no longer the older sister I always wanted. She wasn’t even a friend I wanted to be around. Danielle started lying, stealing, and getting herself into all sorts of trouble. Whenever Danielle came around, drama was sure to follow.
The last ten years or so of our relationship were complicated. She was an addict – drugs, mainly – and being around her was both painful and annoying. Because she was colorful. She was vibrant. She was energetic, and she was loud AF.
It wasn’t until the final months of her life that we started to reconnect. We went to the Dominican Republic for our annual family vacation in March 2018. She hadn’t always come on our family vacations. Most of the decision relied on her sobriety and more often than not, she was consumed by her addiction. But March 2018 was different. She’d celebrate 90 days sober while we were there. But I didn’t really see that. I was more concerned with how she would ruin my vacation, and man, was that vacation fucked.
My family fought incessantly. Every day ended with doors slamming and tears by someone at one point or another. It was a fucking disaster. It seemed that Danielle’s only ally on the trip was Tyler, who she only met upon arriving in the DR. He was kind and patient, empathetic and loving. When she ran out of data on her cell phone plan, he gave her his so she could call home to her sponser. He understands addiction at a level I can only dream of reaching, and he was able to see she was alone, scared, and in need of a friend.
After one particularly bad blow up, Danielle retreated to her room for a few hours. After we all calmed down, she came back out to the pool and asked her mom and me if she could read a poem she was working on. As she read it, a lump formed in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes. She was alive. She was colorful. She was vibrant. She was energetic, and she was loud AF.
It was the first time she read her poetry aloud – at least to the family. And fuck, did it hit you in the feels. It was powerful. It brought her story, her hurt, her fears – all of it – it brought it to life for the rest of us to see, to hear, to feel.
Upon returning home, she found writer’s groups, open mic nights, and a community to support her in her journey as a poet and performer. She was determined, focused, and wouldn’t stop until she got what she wanted.
Unfortunately, a bad night and a few dangerous wants ultimately stopped her. Danielle died of a heroin overdose on August 9, 2018. It fucking hurt – and still does.
I often recount the last four months of her life, and how she was so insistent upon getting her word out there. She networked, made connections, and wasn’t afraid to go for her dreams. Perhaps that’s the most important lesson for me: she wasn’t afraid to go for her dreams.
And she believed in me. In the countless phone conversations we’d have between the Dominican and her death, she’d ask what was holding me back, why I became complacent in a job I wasn’t loving, and what I could do to make changes. “One day at a time, T,” she’d say to me. She’d remind me of the fearless woman I used to be, and encouraged me to take the first step. “Just one thing. Start.” And my personal favorite: “Yo. Tell yourself. You’re a strong, independent woman. Don’t forget that.”
And so that is why today, July 17, on what would have been her 36th birthday, I am launching my blog. I’m taking the first step to have the life I want to live. In honor of her. In honor of myself. In honor of my daughter. And in honor of all the people out there trying to make changes, to live their best life. This is me, thanks to her.
I can hear her now – even though I can’t see her: “Yo, tell yourself …”
Because of her, I am determined to take charge of my life, to make the changes I need to make to live my best life. Because of her, I will be colorful. I will be vibrant. I will be energetic, and I will be loud AF.