I always hated the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It’s one of those charities that is so patently inoffensive, while also being offensively treacly, I wanted to throttle people who supported it. Why not spend your time and money on Doctors Without Borders, or Planned Parenthood? Something that shows you are down with the revolution or somesuch bullshit. (Also, I can really be an asshole.)
Then I met my friend Nicole. She was 17 and she wrote to me at OC Weekly — on paper, in an envelope, with a stamp and through the US mail, that was how we did back then — saying she wanted to be a writer too, and also she had arm cancer, and would I maybe like to have lunch sometime?
So I picked her up, and we had lunch and coffee and a trip to Long Beach’s brilliant used bookstore — long since gone — and I gave her a wig that someone had stolen off a mannequin at the Broadway for me, that time I’d been 17 and shaved my head. She didn’t need my wig; she had a fetching one of her own. She was so smart and engaging and witty. She shined. It was a great day, and by the end, she was so so tired. Rhabdomyosarcoma really takes it out of a girl.
It wasn’t more than a few months later that the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted one for Nicole. She wasn’t going to make it till May, when her high school prom was being held, so Make-A-Wish threw one for her. The local Make-A-Wish president described it to me, soberly, as “a rush Wish — with all that implies.”
So they rented out some giant yacht, and a hundred or so of Nicole’s classmates and grown up friends of her parents dressed in prom finery and boarded the vessel. The parents fortified themselves from under-table flasks. The students were beautiful in their gowns and tuxes. Nobody stole anybody’s date, and nobody cried in a corner.
At one point, Nicole, who was pretty zonked from her meds (“I’m pretty zonked from my meds,” she slurred at us kindly) started to sort of slip to one side. She did not dance, or eat much, or drink. But even sliding in her seat she was poised and regal, an absolute queen among her subjects.
When Nicole’s wig came askew, a pretty classmate harvested bobby pins from another pretty classmate’s updo. Nicole’s black Cleopatra bob was soon where it should be.
I was in Chicago in June, on our Drinky Thing tour, and I saw a Steve Madden shoe store, across the street. I went inside. “My friend Nicole died when she was 17, and Make-A-Wish threw her a prom, and Steve Madden overnighted the only pair of Tori Amos shoes that were left across the country to her, personally,” I told the shopgirl. “I just wanted you to know.”
“Oh, okay,” the girl replied. It wasn’t really the reaction I was expecting, but she probably wasn’t expecting my story either.
A bit later, I mentioned it to Nicole’s mom, on Facebook. “He even dyed them to match her dress,” Nicole’s mom told me. “I still have them.”
Of course she does.
And I’ve never been an asshole about the Make-A-Wish Foundation since.