We were cyber friends first.
Well, if I want to tell the story right, I have to say that we were cyber fans first. I loved her work on Instagram, she loved my work on Instagram. Literally, it was a hashtag that brought us together.
And so for weeks into months we were online friends, sharing photos, ‘liking’ each other’s posts, making each other laugh. She was a true artist, she saw the world through an artist’s eye and she recorded what she saw with her iPhone and on Instagram. I wrote a story about her on Stonington Patch, a simple Q&A, in early May 2013.
And then, on my birthday, May 31, at the crack of dawn, I was out walking the dog and there she was, across the street, sitting at the Yellow House with a coffee and her phone. It was Valerie Randall in the flesh.
We hugged and laughed and talked as if we had always known each other. My 50th birthday bash was that night. “You should come!” I said, and of course she did, because that’s what Valerie did. If there was a party invite, there was a party to be attended.
She became my friend. She became a part of my life in a way that not many are, partly because of our mutual love of social media and partly because we discovered that we could have very deep conversations about important things, and we could also laugh ourselves silly over the dumbest pun ever. Like-minded individuals, we were.
Even at 6 in the morning, she always had her hair perfect and her make-up on. “Why?” I asked, since I always looked like something had dragged me down the street at that hour. “You just never know,” she would say.
She always wore black. Head to toe. Winter, summer, spring, fall. I was melting last July in the heat wave, in a tank top and shorts. “Aren’t you hot?” I’d say. “I cool from within,” she would say.
Valerie was courageous in a way I never will be. 16 months ago she left all she had in California and came to Stonington, where she had never lived and knew no one, because she thought it was what she needed to do to start the next chapter of her life. We had long conversations about the motives behind that move, and the bravery I thought it took. Clearly, it was meant to be, and she was meant to be here, because she so quickly became an integral part of the village life.
And now she’s gone. As quickly as she popped up, she disappeared. Valerie died, maybe last Friday night, maybe last Saturday morning, alone in her village apartment. I was with her all last Friday afternoon, we were hanging her new show at the Nature Center. I had invited her to be my first Artist on Display there and of course she said yes, and of course she was so excited to do it, and of course she insisted that before we could do anything she had to meet Mr. Acorn the Nature Center Office Bunny.
We were giggling, hanging the photos, because another snow storm was coming and she and I are the only two left in Connecticut still excited about snow. Valerie greeted every snow storm this winter as if she had never seen a flake before in her life. She’d take 200 photos on a snowy day.
That snow never materialized. And Valerie is gone. There is a new hole in my heart that won’t ever close up. She made me a better person, a better photographer, helped me think that even a little bit I could be an artist, was my friend, my confidant, my role model.
In the interview I did with her, before I really even knew her, I asked her what was her ambition. “To live life joyfully, completely, with great reverence for all that is,” she said.
She did that.