My dear friend, Erica Kennedy is dead. I wish I had more sugar for it but they’ve melted with my tears. Erica Kennedy is dead.
I “met” Erica about 5 years ago via Facebook. She sent me a friend request one day out of the sheer blue and having known her name and that beautiful face of hers in this small online writing word, I was immediately starstruck. She was everything I hoped to be; she was funny and intelligent and snarky and sarcastic and talented and aloof and beautiful and well liked. She reminded me of the older sister I’d always wanted but was also scared to death of not measuring up to.
Over the first few tentative exchanges, I would come to learn that Erica and I had far more in common that I would have liked. I’m not here to tell her story because she was fiercely guarded and private. I will honor that forever. But in sharing with me her story and her journey, I was encouraged to face mine.
Erica Kennedy is the reason that my work and my writing and my life with bipolar II disorder was taken off my little blog and put on The Root and My Brown Baby and Ebony and Huffington Post and all the other places you’ve seen it in writing. Her ability to tap into your fear and then allow you no excuses to shy from doing “it” (whatever “it” was) was a gift. She was a visionary. She was revolutionary in the way she approached life and work and friendships and networking.
Erica and I would have long conversations about everything under the sun. We would laugh until our sides hurt and then with one word she would have my heart aching so furiously that I wouldn’t be able to see the sun if it asked for me. Then out of nowhere -- just a quick turn of phrase -- and I’d be back to laughter. She knew how to motivate and encourage and challenge. She asked the tough questions and dared you to avoid answering them.
She was abrasive. She was distant. She had a way of appearing and changing everything you knew to be true about how you liked to live your life and then disappear without a word. But she’d be watching. And every once in awhile, you would get a message of encouragement or pride or a suggestion that made that thing you were working on sit up just a bit higher. And she always knew someone to connect you with.
I remember a conversation that started with just a G-chat message, “Bass. You’re so fucking funny. Why are you wasting it on Facebook. You need to be on TV.” And then she was gone. Until the next time she’d hit me up in some other forum.
She encouraged me to write about illness. She shared with me alternatives to the medication that was taxing my pockets and my spirit. She was the first to make writing a book something that could actually happen. I protested and all I got from Erica was, “I don’t get it. Why not? You’re a writer. Write.”
She had no room for excuses or reasons why not. “Just do that shit.” And can we talk about the network of fly and talented women she looped me into? She created a secret group and invited these dynamic women who on the surface had very little in common with each other. All she knew is that she thought they were amazing and wanted to know what would happen if she let us loose with each other. And boy did we happen. I won’t get into that because we be on some bitchy YaYa SiSTARhood math, but all I say is that, “Erica be knowing”.
When I finally met her face to face in Miami, I was struck by how incredibly beautiful she was. We sat on the beach for hours one day talking about life and love and everything we could. She was trying to figure some things out. When we went to her tiny apartment near the beach, she reached into her closet and handed me a dress. “Here. This would look nice on you.” I’ve never worn that dress. It was far too long for my 5’3 frame but at this point, I might never take it off.
I’ve been vacillating between disbelief and tears and rage and tears all day. I watched as the news started to trickle out slowly over the social networks. I saw how far her reach was and the impact she had on so many people. The girl was loved. We might not have known her as intimately as we would have liked, she was like a butterfly or hummingbird that way but her importance to this world is undeniable. I’m sorry she couldn’t feel that when she was here.
I have stories of her sadness and her quiet moments, but that’s her story. What I will say is that I hate this thing. I hate it with everything I own. And I will fight it until there is no air left. Fuck shame. Fuck stigma. Fuck you for judging anyone who lives with this terrible thing. You have no idea. None. I’ve said it before, anyone who judges anyone for treating or dealing with illness has never done a brave thing.
As for me, one thing I will take from this and remember is that I will tell my story while I’m here. My silence serves no one. I started The Siwe Project because of Siwe Monsanto. I continue it for women like Erica Kennedy. For Phyllis Hyman. These are my inspirations. For the nameless and the faceless. For everyone who suffers in silence. For those who are often accused of strength. For you. For me.
The full version of this post first appeared on Bassey Ikpi's blog, Bassey's World.