She died of an infection that had developed after a tubal ligation. She left behind a husband and four children, including infant twins.
I met Didi junior year in my college sociology class. She was a hippie princess. She had long, thick red hair — not strawberry blonde, but almost purple red. It was natural.
She wore prairie skirts with a jean jacket. And boots. How I coveted her boots. They were those calf-high moccasin boots. They lace up the front and have fringe around the top. Hippie boots. She wore them with skirts and she wore them jeans.
She looked so cool.
There were many girls on campus prettier than Didi, but none more attractive. She had that "X factor," that inexplicable something that drew people to her, including me. I couldn’t look away from her.
I admit it — I had a girl crush.
When we finally made eye contact a few weeks into the semester, I was embarrassed. I was sure she’d noticed me staring. I was sure she could see my crush and assume, mistakenly, that it was sexual.
She simply smiled and walked over, saying hello and asking me what I thought of the class discussion that had just ended. We discovered we lived in the same quad, so we walked there together, talking all the way, and a few minutes later we ate lunch together. We were instant friends.
I introduced her to my first and best college friend, Chris. She adored Didi as much as I did. We became a threesome. We ate meals together. Cheered together at football and basketball games. Partied together at Wayside on Oldies Night. Watched countless movies together. Studied together and played cards together. Slept over in each others’ rooms — and yes, there was pillow-fighting.
But what I remember most when I remember Didi is the time she and I celebrated Un-Valentine’s Day.
Didi and I were both without boyfriends. It sucked to be without boyfriends on Valentine’s Day, but it sucked even harder because we lived in a girls-only dorm. All day long, delivery boys paraded the halls laden with bouquets of red roses and heart-shaped balloons. Happy shrieks pierced our ears, brand-new engagement rings strobed our eyes. Other girls walked away from their mailboxes with handfuls of pink and red envelopes.
Didi and I got valentines from our mothers.
Even Chris abandoned us, flaunting the lace merry widow she’d purchased the previous evening. She planned to surprise her boyfriend with it that night, then return it to the store the next day.
Because of her, the only lingerie I purchased for years wasn’t lingerie at all, but underwear, the kind sealed in cardboard boxes or plastic bags and sold at Kmart.
Didi declared an Un-Valentine’s Day celebration. We purchased some wine coolers and huddled in front of the TV in my room, watching MTV. We toasted our singlehood, tapped our bottles together, and cranked up the Def Leppard special. We howled along with Joe Elliot and the boys, using our wine coolers as microphones: “Love bites. Love bleeds. It’s bringin’ me to my knees.”
We agreed Joe Elliot was the hottest lead singer on MTV.
“I would so sleep with him,” said Didi.
“Me first,” I said. We laughed and tapped our bottles together again.
We started dancing around the room in our oversized T-shirts, gym shorts and socks. We slid across the floor, Tom Cruise-style. We shook our hair and swayed our hips.
We could be as loud as we wanted, because the dorm had emptied out at 5 p.m. For once there wasn’t some uptight girl banging on the pipes and shouting through the register, “Quiet down!”
Eventually, we ran out of wine coolers and energy. We flopped onto our beds and fell asleep, pleasantly buzzed. I dreamed of kissing Joe Elliot.
Un-Valentine’s Day was the best time I have ever had on Valentine’s Day. As trite as it sounds, it’s the truth.
I still miss Didi. Especially when I hear a Def Leppard song. And especially on Feb. 14.
— By Kelly O'Toole, Tribune community columnist