A Note for Lisa

At Book Expo Canada, 2008. Back when I was 40 lbs heavier and dressed like a white guy.

She was one of the people I first talked to on a regular basis when I started my job. I was new to Toronto, didn’t know anyone, and I’d started working at a business where it seemed like most of the staff had a certain history, one I was entering but still outside of.

But she was one the one who spoke to me first.  She called me kid, even though I was clearly older than her. She demanded I tell her ‘stories’. That was her big thing, whether she hadn’t seen me in two days or, after she got sick, two months: she’d want me to tell her some story. So I’d tell her about a night out or what games I was playing on XBox and she would listen intently then reply in that weird cadence of hers, ‘Yeah. That’s cool.’ And then walk away.

Her voice is what I’ll remember.  When I tell my Lady stories about people from work sometimes I have to use nicknames as shorthand so she can distinguish who I’m talking about.  I somewhat regret referring to Lisa as ‘Tommy Chong,’ in reference to her laid -back, relaxed speech, so strange coming out of a tiny Chinese girl. She was so wonderfully awkward and strange.

I remember I would walk into the lunch room and she’d be stirring her freshly heated lunch, rice and chicken and Chinese greens, which I thought was amazing but to her was as pedestrian as a PBnJ.  She’d give me this exasperated ‘What are you talking about?!’ then offer to have her mom make me lunch the following week.

And of course, as anyone who worked with her will tell you, there was her appreciation for beautiful men.  When the Toronto firefighters, or some Harlequin cover models would do appearances at the store, she would get so bashful, but there was always a glint in her eye, a flash that told you she’d never be so forward as to ever make a first move, but god help the man who did. She’d tear him apart.

But the first story that popped into my head when I heard she was gone was some random day, must have been a Sunday since that was the only day she was working at that point.  I was posted up in Fiction like usual and Susan Boyle was playing on the stereo. She walked by, her kerchief and ponytail meticulously positioned to conceal the cysts on the side of her head.  She stopped where I was and did that little head nod of acknowledgment she would do.

“You like this music?”
“Oh, you know I do, L-Tran.”
“Yeah, I could tell. You love this. It’s your favourite. You go home and sing it every night,” a point she illustrated by launching into the most hysterically exaggerated performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ I will ever hear in my lifetime, in a voice I’d never heard her use before or since.  It was a brief glimpse into who she was outside of work, the woman her friends and family knew well.

They’ll bury her the day after my birthday this year.  I’ll wake up on that day like I woke up on this one, thanking life for the day ahead, because it’s already one more than she got.

Rest in Peace, Lisa Tran.



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