Hello and thanks for being here.
My name is Kaika, but some of you remember me as Lu. I met Niki about 15 years ago, while we were in our early 20s. It was a memorable time. It’s no secret, Niki was a party animal. It was the Pride festival, Freezone, GirlBar, and Nine Fine Irishmen, especially Nine Fine. We made any excuse to get drunk and hypomanic on the dance floor. She was like my cheerleader when it came to tearing it up.
She was the responsible one, though. I don’t know how many times she refused to let me drive, made me sleep in her guest room, not caring how jealous or controlling any of my girlfriends may have been, or whether or not I’d get broken up with the next day. She likely saved my life.
Look, I’m not here to paint Niki as some perfect angel. She wasn’t perfect. At times she could be overly judgmental, over sensitive, and controlling. I remember the time she basically told me that I didn’t meet her friendship standards. Or the time she refused to meet one of my girlfriends because she didn’t approve.
Given what we know today about human nature, if this is the worst you can say about a human, I’d say that Niki was a pretty damn good person.
What I loved most about Niki was her passion. I can’t recall how many times she started a sentence with, “I want you to know that I care…”
I remember how much she loved her students. Throughout the years she shared letters written by her children, drawings, reports. When there was a child who needed help, she shouldered their burdens and needed to talk about them. Although none of us minded, she would often say, “Okay this is the last thing I’m going to say about work. Okay, okay, I know I said that was the last thing, but this is really the last thing I’m going to say about work.”
I remember telling her how important she was to the children of this world. I told her that not all, but many of her students would grow up, look back and tell stories about Ms. Franklin, the teacher who believed in me, the teacher who stood up to my parents for me, the teacher who encouraged my obsession with Percy Jackson and Greek Mythology.
I remember thinking, man, I wish I had a teacher like that. Just one teacher like that would have changed my life.
Then I realized that Niki was my teacher.
Earlier this year, I deleted all my social media accounts because I realized that I didn’t know how to be a good friend. I confused likes and follows for love and loyalty. This is me at 38 years old. I wanted to know who my friends really were. I wanted to know who would take the time to text and FaceTime me, who would pour their love into me. I wanted to know who those true friends were and I wanted to learn to love them back.
Niki showed me what it means to be a good friend. She genuinely cared about how I was doing. She carved out time to text and talk. FaceTime was important. She gave thoughtful little gifts, cards, photos. She made it a point to express support of my transition. For a trans person, that support could be the difference between life and death. And she knew that. I know that I’m not a special one.
Niki made such efforts to accommodate all her friends, and I marveled at how how she was able to consistently put her love into practice for so many people, for so many years.
This past summer, her, Logan and I reconnected in a way we hadn’t in a long time. The last time I saw her face, just a few weeks ago. I was at a bar, FaceTiming with Niki and Logan, virtual happy hour, and we took a stroll down memory lane. I got to tell her how much I appreciated her friendship and why. We celebrated my wedding. I got to feel like I reciprocated her love. For the first time, I felt like I was on the path to being a good friend.
Now, class is over, I seem to have graduated, and it’s time for me to go out into the world and become the friend I want to be. Here is where I cherish the memory of my friend, teacher, and role model.
If you’re reading this, it’s most likely because Niki has touched you somehow. You loved her, didn’t you?
When you go home tonight, whether you find yourself numb, drowning in tears, or trying to assign some sort of meaning to the fact that when the world needs people like Niki the most, she’s gone, or whether you’re desperately trying to make yourself personally responsible for her death, as I know I have, I want you to know that Niki cares about you.
And you’re not alone.
We may not be friends. We may not know each other. You may never hear from me again. Yet, through our love for Niki, we are connected. And anytime you grieve for her, we are here with you in this emotional space. I want you to know that Niki cares about you, and you are not alone.
Thank you, Niki, for sharing your life with us, your light, your love, and all your gifts. I pray that we learn to celebrate life with gratitude for our every breath. I pray for the peaceful journey of your beautiful soul. Please forgive us for our selfishness, for wanting you here in this crazy, chaotic world, when we know deep down that you’re in a much better place.
Amén, a’ho, blessed be.
Thank you for your time.