Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tracy taught me how to shoot tequila and I taught her how to wear lace

I met Tracy when I was about 23 years old. We were both working in a Texas style steak house where they served up big slabs of meat, huge baked potatoes, sweet potato fries and long neck beers. She was feisty, funny and shorter than me by maybe a 1/2". I liked her immediately. She had come from a small town in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where the nearest McDonald's was 60 miles away. She thought Atlanta was exciting. A big city. I was OVER Atlanta and ready to move to a bigger city. But, we connected.

A pattern soon formed to our relationship. We'd come off of a double shift at the restaurant after having served people all day and night and now we were ready to party. We soon found the cool places to hang, where all the other waiters would go after they got off of their shifts. A bar named Carlos McGee's was the usual destination after work. Bars in Atlanta were open until 2am and when we rolled in around midnight it was always packed. We never waited in line to get in, we'd weave through the crowd, and the bartenders had a beer in front of us within seconds of making our way up to the front. We were young and pretty. And a little crazy. We joked that Tracy taught me how to shoot tequila and I taught her how to wear lace. It was the 80's, y'all.

After we closed down Carlos McGee's we'd head over to a place called The Saint. Again no waiting in line or paying a cover. We knew the bouncer by name. Mostly a gay crowd and featuring a drag queen show every night, it was dimly lit and quite decadent after 3am. The pulsating music and bizarre conversations in the bathroom with other women (or were they?) were always a kick. I learned some of my best make-up tips from drag queens. After dancing for hours in darkness, it was always a bit odd walking outside to find the sun rising and birds chirping. Now it makes TOTAL sense to me why human beings are biologically designed to have babies in their 20's. All that energy! How we could work double shifts, go out and party all night and get up and do it again. The next day! We'd rent limos with other girls and get "decked out" and go visit the men we had ongoing flirtations with who worked at other restaurants. Lace, fishnets, low cut, strapless, backless, sheer, shimmery, almost trashy - but, MAN... it was mostly fun ...and sometimes not.

Our lives eventually took turns in different directions. She joined the Navy hoping to become a pilot. I took a job as a performer with Eastern Onion Singing Telegrams hoping to get over my phobia of singing in front of people. (It worked.) She came back to Atlanta to get married, I moved to New York City to go to acting school. We always stayed in touch, but sporadically. She was stationed in San Diego and I moved to Los Angeles. We saw each other a couple of times. Her marriage was foundering and I had changed. Maybe we both had. I no longer wanted to party. She needed to. We drifted apart and lost track of each other. I heard through friends that she had not reenlisted. She never became a pilot.

Two years ago I thought I would Google her name and see if I could track her down. I thought maybe enough time had passed, that we perhaps could reconnect, if only to laugh at those crazy Atlanta days. I found this:

January 9, 2004

I have known Tracy Lee (Hagwell) Grall,originally from South Range since May 1980, almost 24 years. Together we shared many happy moments, and supported each other through just as many rough times as sisters. I will forever miss her. She lost her fight with cancer today at her mother's home in Bay City, MI.

I had had doubts that I would be able to find her or even that she would want to be found, yet I had never imagined this. That she would be ...dead. And had been gone for 2 years! Shocked and stunned, I contacted her friend who had posted the above on a Michigan chat page.

Tracy had never wanted to believe that she had breast cancer. She was a waitress living alone in Seattle, dating a man who was married. She always chose the more difficult path in life. Never finding a man who was really available. She fought the cancer for a while and it returned. The man in her life chose not to be in her life. When things got really bad, and it was clear that the cancer had won, she moved back to her childhood home to be nursed by her mother. Dying with her mother by her side, yet alone. I grieve the loss of Tracy Hagwell Grall. And of course there is much more to her life than what I have detailed here. She was something. And I will never forget her. Go in peace.

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  1. Ohm what a shame. It's hard to find out after the fact look back and try to remember what you were doing that day..that day that you didn't know. I'm sorry.

  2. oh. i'm awfully sorry. what a shock that must have been.

  3. This bites. I gotta get some air.

  4. It's so hard to deal with the passing of your peers. Two of my high school classmates have died (and there were only 26 in the class). I didn't find out about either of them until well after the fact.
    You described my 20s almost perfectly, except I was in Nashville and not Atlanta. I have chosen not to google anyone from those days, for fear that I would find exactly what you did. I'm truly sorry.

  5. What a tragedy. I do think it is wonderful that your memory bank is filled with lovely remembrances of her when she was alive and lively-drinking tequila is a crucial skill!

    Sad to hear this.

  6. oh, that is heartrending. i have a friend who was a big part of my life in a similar way. i lost her. maybe the world lost her. i know she's still around, but it smarts.

    wishing you well, and your friend's family peace.

  7. I did not expect this story to take this turn. I think that she would be happy to know that you remember her as the carefree, fun loving spirit she was. And now, I have to go find some tissue.


  8. This post caught me off guard, too. I was practically reliving my twenties reading the first part of it, and then I was reaching for the tissues. What a nice tribute to your friend. I'm sorry you lost her in all those ways.

  9. I'm so very sorry for the loss of your friend, the first time and now again. This is just a reminder to always appreciate those in our lives and try our best not to drift from those who have meaning in our lives and who have shaped us in so many ways.

  10. I love that you paid such a beautiful tribute to your friend and I am so sorry to hear that she lost her battle with cancer and died so lonely. It's strange the turns that life takes - isn't it? Thank you for sharing your special friend with us.

    Thank you to for being my friend - it has been such a honor getting to know you and I hope you know that I am always here for you. Take care. Kellan

  11. I'm so sorry...that must have been such a shock:-(

  12. Oh man, I am so sorry. That is incredibly tragic.

    On a side note. You were a performer with Eastern Onion Singing Telegram? Just when I thought I couldn't puffy heart you ANY more.

  13. I can't believe I missed this one when you first posted it. How awful yet how wonderful to have such fond memories.

    People do change. I'm learning that.


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