I don’t know how to write this. To be honest, I don’t really want to write it. But I feel like it’s the one last thing that I can do to honor a friend that I lost. A friend that many people lost. It’s left a void greater than anyone could have imagined.
I still remember the night I met Miss Jodie Blondelle for the first time. I was sitting in the Lier Theatre’s dressing room and getting ready for a performance of “One Was Nude and One Wore Tails”. It was my very first show as a student and it was a time in my life that was going really well. I loved the show and I loved being on stage. I had just gotten accustomed to Pretoria and started making friends with my fellow students and performers. Life was good.
There was a knock on our door and the lecturer announced that the four (yes, four. It was early days.) students from the East Rand Campus of our college had come to watch our show. Honestly, I don’t really remember much about the moment because I was too busy stressing about what my make-up looked like and whether or not someone was going to screw up the show. Back in those days I was trying to be a “serious actor” and I worried about making mistakes. Now I just laugh, because I realize that I’m getting paid way too little for anyone to really care. I put on my best polite smile and shook hands with the four ladies. I don’t really remember the other girls in that moment, because, how do I put this… they looked normal. But there was one girl who stood out completely, and I had no way of knowing that in a way that only she could, she would make an impact on my life that I will never forget. (At this point I want you to know that I’m already tearing up, so I apologize if this post turns into something sappy.)
“Hi, my name is Jodie.” She said in a sweet, innocent voice. She was a small, thin girl with a huge, blonde beehive and perfectly applied make-up. She held out her tiny hand and I shook it, almost too scared to touch her. She looked so delicate that I was scared that I would break her. It was as if Dolly Parton, Duffy, and Amy Winehouse had a love child. I know that sounds weird, but I think that Jo would appreciate it.
Anyway, the moment passed and I went on with my usual stuff that I do before a show. In other words, I freak out and reconsider my life choices. After the show, I went home and I didn’t think much of what happened. But I did remember that girl. That girl with the beautiful eyes and beautiful hair. Who spoke with such a childlike sweetness that you couldn’t help but notice her. She had a ray of light that surrounded her, but I always felt like there was a deeper side, a sadder side, that I never got to see.
Some time passed and I got a Facebook invitation from Jodie Blondelle. I had never heard of a surname like Blondelle before (neither has Spell Check) and so my curiosity about this unique creature continued to grow. As the year went by, I only saw her a few other times. I saw her perform for the first time in a play called “Cell Block Tango” as Blondie, a man eating femme fatale who gets sent to death row for killing her lover. And of course the audience was on her side all the way. How could they not be? She was adorable.
In my time as a student I didn’t really get to work with Jodie that much, mostly because we were at different campuses. It wasn’t until we both finished college that I started working with her on children’s theatre productions. She was DJ Jodie, responsible for our lights and music, and because of the Afrikaans language barrier, things didn’t always go as planned, but it didn’t matter because you couldn’t really get mad at her.
I think that what I admired most about Jodie was that she was always rooting for everyone else. Whenever someone else won an award that she could’ve won, she was so happy for that person. She believed in her friends and family, and she believed that they could do anything. On the day of our graduation, I met her mother, who welcomed me with open arms, saying “Are you Jodie’s darling Wentzel who she talks about all the time?” It was then that I realized that unlike so many other people, she wasn’t pretending to like me. She was sincere. I still remember how angry she was that I hadn’t auditioned for the upcoming production of Cabaret in Cape Town. No matter how much I tried to tell her that I can’t sing or dance to save my life, she wouldn’t hear it. She was convinced that I would’ve beaten out the over 1000 other applicants who wanted to audition for the role of the Emcee. She believed that I could do it because she was my friend, and she supported me unconditionally. She was always cheering on the underdogs and the circus freaks, because their differences were what made them beautiful to her.
She also loved animals. Benji, her bunny, was as she put it, the love of her life. She also had a very regal looking Persian cat called Pumpkin. But greater than her love for animals or any other person, was her love for her mother.
When I look back at our short friendship, I realize that although she wasn’t a constant feature in my life, she was still a big part of it. Each time I failed my license, she would encourage me to try again. When a woman called me a faggot in a mall, Jodie got so angry that I was scared that she would track her down and kill her. She was one of the main reasons why I went to go see The Rocky Horror Show, because she couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful and talented her friend Brendan van Rhyn is. And she was right.
The last time Jodie was on stage was in July of 2014. She starred in “Blondelle: Jew Girl #2” at the Krêkvars festival. The play (which co-starred her best friend and my friend and mentor, Tristan McConnell) told the story of how Jodie had grown up and found her way in this world realizing that she was different from the crowd and destined for greater things. It also explained that her surname was actually Furman, but she decided to change it to Blondelle because it suited her better. The show was hilarious, but in hindsight it is very sad to me, because she was telling us her life story up to this point. Without any of us knowing, it was her swan song.
The last time I saw Jodie was at the Oakfields production of “Carrie: The Musical”. While I was my cynical self, she was delighted and in awe of the entire production. I wanted to speak to her, but both of us were speaking to other people and in the end we hugged and she left.
Nine days before her passing, she sent me a meme saying “Screw diamonds. Gay men are a girl’s best friend” and congratulated me on finally getting my license. I was really touched that she sent me a personal message instead of simply liking a post on Facebook, but it was late and the conversation was short. And it was our last conversation.
On Friday, 17 October 2014, I got a message from a friend telling me that Jodie had passed away. I thought it was a mistake. I sent her a message on WhatsApp. The message didn’t go through. I started feeling sick. I gathered the courage to ask another friend and she confirmed it. Jodie Blondelle was gone and I would never see her again.
I have attended many funerals, but never in my life have I felt so much pain. Most of the people were dressed in pink, Jodie’s signature color. Each time I saw a blonde girl in a pink dress, I wanted to walk up to her and say “Hi Jodie!” I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I would never talk to her again.
When I think about it, I realize that the total amount of times that I saw Jodie in my life were probably only around 20 or so. And normally those times didn’t last for much longer than a few hours. But my heart is in shreds. Only now that she is gone do I realize what a good friend she was to me. I hope that she knows that. For the first two days I after her death, I didn’t cry. I couldn’t cry, because I felt numb. But now I cry all the time. I think about her all the time with tears in my eyes. Because I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how someone like me, who often dabbles in depression and darkness, and hardly ever does anything good for anyone else continues to survive year after year, but someone so bright and full of life, so much life, can be taken away in such an unexpected and tragic way. It is a loss that has shaken many people to their core and it will haunt us for the rest of our lives. In a way it is also ironic, because although Jodie wasn’t always on time when she needed to be somewhere, she was early, much too early for her own funeral.
After Jodie’s funeral, I decided to drive to a sign that she once took a picture of. She found it funny because of her Jewish background. I got out of the car and sprinkled some pink glitter under it. When I got back in my car, a policeman stopped two guys next to the road and searched their car for drugs in front of the sign. I smiled. Jodie always did have a love for drama. I drove away knowing that one day, although I’m not sure when, it won’t hurt so bad anymore. But that day is still far away. I find it hard to allow myself to grieve for her, because I feel like I don’t deserve it. I didn’t even know her that well. On the other hand I’m also scared that if I allow myself to really feel the pain it might crush me.
Jodie’s last Facebook post was quote from “Defying Gravity”, the iconic song from one of her favorite musicals, “Wicked”. It feels so fitting, because like Elphaba, the main protagonist of the story, Jodie swam against the current. She rose above all the nay sayers and obstacles in her life and she lived with every heartbeat.
“So, if you care to find me, look to the Western sky. As someone told me lately, everyone deserves a chance to FLY! And if I’m flying solo, at least I’m flying free. To those who’d ground me, take a message back from me: tell them how I am defying gravity. I’m flying high defying gravity, and soon I’ll match them in renown… And NOBODY in all of Oz, no Wizard that there is or was, IS EVER GONNA BRING MEEEEEEEEEE DOOOOOOOOOOOWWWN!!!”
Fly well, sweet angel. I can only hope that God gave you a halo big enough for your hair.