On Chosen Family- Dear Marque

**Editor’s Note: First and foremost, fk corona. With that said, as gatherings are banned many of us have no place to collectively grieve. I have my little corner here, so I am gong to honor my friend.**

It is a privilege in this life, to have family you choose.

I met him on a rainy day. A terrible day for a woman without chemically-straightened hair to meet a stylist, but an extremely enthused flyer-pusher grabbed my attention and ushered me towards a salon I’d never have seen if it wasn’t pointed out. As I entered the space after climbing the stairs I was greeted by a big voice. Actually, “big’ probably doesn’t do it justice. The audaciousness of his voice was only bested by his cape as he floated in my direction like some grand superhero of hair. This was Marque.

Against my better judgement (and wallet, as the reason I was on that street was to buy food from Jack’s Discount Store) I used the coupon on that flyer the same day and begged him to fix the mess that was my hair. He cut out the last few years of damage, color stained with grief as they held the death of love, family and way of life. I’d just moved back to NY to try to put the pieces of my family back together as my mother was too ill to tend to the seams. Attending to my own grief on the matter would have to wait, as rent needed to be paid and dinner to be prepared. Hair was a thing I could control, the results of tending to it gave me a thing I could count on in a sea of uncertainty. I’d decided then and there coupon or not, Marque was now a line item in my budget. My “one nice thing”.

A five-time Emmy winning stylist (did you know there were Emmy’s for hair and makeup? That’s how I found out), Marque was not cheap. I’d bet of all his well-known, downright famous and otherwise well-to-do clientele that understood the value of his service I was in the lower-tier. But he always found a way to keep me in the chair, whether by alerting me of deals and discounts or sneaking in an extra snip. Because as we grew to know each other through hot combs and scissors, we found common ground in our search for home.

His life story is not mine to tell. But his life took him from his native DC to NY, and his talent and curiosity meant every time I saw him he was trying something new. From his editorial hair art to events, his abilities easily transitioned to new art forms. He inspired and encouraged me to do the same. It was Marque who dressed me for my first pageant, calling in a favor to a designer when all I could afford was the competition fee.

But forgive me if I make him seem like he was a fairy godmuva. While yes, he has had a large part in what I have grown to become, he was much, much more. He was inspiring, he was always-evolving, he was an active participant in his life and never the victim of it. He was my friend. He cheered for my life and I was honored to do the same.

When he embarked on this latest chapter- enrolling in college in the hopes of laying a foundation for life beyond the chair- I cheered even knowing it meant I would eventually have to entrust a new person with my tresses. But seeing how unafraid he was to start over led me to try as well, and one of my joys was following right behind him in graduating from my program with honors. His journey led him to discover a whole new path in creating art on canvas, and his talent took him across oceans as he painted here and abroad on various study programs.

The last time we saw each other physically was right after his art installation at his alma mater, Boricua College, where he’d graduated as valedictorian. A nasty bout of “flu-like symptoms” made me miss the exhibition the first weeks it was on display. I remember leaving work early to try to catch the last days of it, rushing over to the college before they closed for the day. Unfortunately, construction made them close it down early. I called and sent a picture from outside the building. He laughed off my dramatic attempts to show I went, but after school and life had caused me to retreat in the last year I told him my aim this year was to show up. I wanted him to know he was my friend and I was going to show up, even if it was just with a toast after I skidded in broadside five minutes after close. And in our last texts as the city shut down, I hope he knew I checked in not as a client, but as a friend.

I wish I had better words at this time. I wish I’d checked in daily instead of every few days. I wish this time would be more generous, to allow him to be mourned fully instead of being lost in a sea of statistics. I wish there wasn’t so much left undone. He’d just sold his first painting. He’d just begun dreaming up artist retreats. He’d just restarted the application process to a prestigious graduate degree program in fine art. He’d just found my words, and told me to not leave my own art behind. He’d just started again. We had new chapters to write.

It is a privilege in this life, to have family you choose. The last fifteen years have been an honor, friend. I know whatever new beginnings lie ahead, I will be a little less afraid because I knew you.  Wherever you are, I know you and your cape are outshining them all.

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