In August 2008, 9 months after my sister killed herself, I walked into a tiny home in Huntington Woods, Michigan with a bag of clothes, my computer, my handmade journal, and my cat Koh in hand.
Linda’s home, what we called “The Yellow House”, was a 30-minute drive from my parents’. Just far enough away to feel like I could catch my breath and hide for the time being. Linda was like a second mother to me. With two grown kids of her own, both living in California, I think she enjoyed having someone else to watch over. And I needed watching over. I was incredibly lost, unhappy, and angry, trying to make sense of my sister’s death and everything a 22-year-old recent college grad shouldn’t be worrying about: Was my sister actually murdered? Should I just kill myself?
Linda wasn’t far behind. She had just ended a messy divorce and was financially ruined, her home on a path toward foreclosure. But here, in The Yellow House, we created a safe space, somewhere we could just be. I’d sit for hours in the extra upstairs bedroom and write with Koh at my feet. When the sun was out and hot, I’d sunbathe nude in her backyard to feel a sense of freedom, the same freedom I felt a year before sunbathing topless in Central Park while living in New York City. I had little about which to worry then, and I wanted to return to that sense of ease for even just a few moments.
Instead of chastising me for my ridiculousness and being out in public naked, Linda would return home, giggle at my nudity, and join me in the backyard, telling me about the guy she was newly dating. This 60-something woman was also trying to make sense of the same messed up world.
Often, she was my voice of reason. She’d give it to me straight, like most of my parents’ other best friends. She’d kick my ass into high gear with a tone of kindness mixed with tough love.
For one month that summer she opened her home to me as a haven. It was a time during which she was struggling immensely and never once made me feel unwelcome.
I vividly remember the morning I woke to Linda blow drying her hair at 7am, announcing proudly from the other end of the creaky wooden hallway, “I have the most brilliant idea!” I could just feel her exuberant energy. She believed it inside herself, awaking from a dream to write down the name of a company she’d grow into a multi-million dollar empire: Skinnytees.
When I recently read an article published on Corp! Magazine about Linda’s journey and success, pride and joy brought me to tears. I felt like a mother proud of her child. As if the roles were reversed. I had seen this woman wrecked, crying to me at night, just waiting for the world to fall to pieces, and then one day decide she was going to fix it and make it. And she did.
Taking an idea and growing it into a reality is tough. It takes an impenetrable belief in yourself.
The kindness of others, like that which Linda showed to me, is much of the reason she has been so successful with Skinnytees. Her simple act of kindness, despite being so down herself, giving to me in a moment when she truly had nothing to give, is something for which I am forever grateful. We seem to often forget to reflect on that which made us who we are today, to recognize those who had insurmountable effect on us and were cheerleaders even when things didn’t look so pretty. It’s easy to forget and yet incredibly important to recognize.
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