Summer of ’79 had barely arrived,and I was back in my home city of Little Neck, New York for what would be the last time. We were at the start of my best friend’s bachelorette party. Back then women didn’t have male strippers, and the concept of bachelorette parties was still pretty new. Donna’s festivities were dinner at a favorite Chinese restaurant and then NYC nightclubbing to follow. There were about eight of us.
After we finished dinner, and as we walked down a sidestreet where our cars were parked, an argument developed. Our friend Maureen was getting tired and wanted to forego the disco scene. Donna was upset. This was her big party, and she wanted everyone included.
It might have seemed odd that a twenty-two year old was about to bail out on a fun-filled night of drinking and dancing. Maureen, however, had valid reason to be tired. She was born with Cystic Fibrosis. For all of her young life she’d battled this illness. Now, the mucus in her lungs was becoming ever harder to eradicate.
Maureen was about 5′ 1″ tall, with long, straight blond hair and friendly brown eyes. Her voice reminded me of the actress, Bernadette Peters’, and Maureen could sometimes laugh like Woody Woodpecker. She was attending college to become a nurse, having been inspired by all the nurses who attended to her in her struggles with CF.
I don’t want to make Donna out to be extreme in this argument about Maureen wanting to go home. I don’t remember the exact words given all the years gone by. But they tore into Maureen’s sweet heart, and she burst into tears. I immediately comforted her by enfolding her into my arms.
I cried too as I held Maureen. I felt her hurt at being reprimanded for wanting to go home, but also, I was so stricken by how frail she felt as I hugged her. I’m sure she couldn’t have weighed more than 95 pounds soaking wet. I’d always known her CF had no cure, but when you’re young, you deny it. Maureen was one of us. She wouldn’t die.
However, holding Maureen as I did, feeling her rib cage heaving with sobs, I knew resolutely for the first time that yes, she was going to die. I didn’t want to let her go, but I did. It was a sorry tiff between friends that had an extra hard bite in it because of Maureen’s illness. I wish Donna had just given her a free pass to go home, but we were young and all selfish in our own ways. I can understand on a certain level how imortant it was for Donna to have Maureen be part of her celebration.
Because Maureen was always a trooper, she managed to garner enough strength to go with us to the discos. Had I said we were all selfish to some degree? Maureen, who had a right to be selfish, was not. She put her fatigue behind her in order to make her dear friend’s night.
And she ended up making mine. Because out of all the memories of my month in NYC that June, one stands out the most. Maureen made the best of that night and didn’t complain. She wasn’t able to do a lot of dancing. However, Maureen was on the floor when I first heard Donna Summer’s new song – “Bad Girls” – I mostly remember the “toot toot, ah beep beep” part and the strobe lights, the disco ball, the whistles in the song, and the the flash of the light catching Maureen on that disco dance floor as she smiled exhuberantly and danced with all her heart.
About an hour ago I learned that Donna Summer passed away from cancer at age 63. My eyes welled with tears. Her songs framed my last year, 1978, in my childhood home when I was suddenly twenty-one, parentless and had to grow up quickly. I forever associate Donna Summer’s toot toot, ah, beep beep with the light in Maureen’s face and eyes as she danced like the kid she was.
Yesterday would have been Maureen’s 55th birthday. Sadly, she passed away in August of 1981, only two short years after I had felt her wilting away. Maureen’s loving boyfriend had married her two months earlier, giving her the dream of her short lifetime. It’s true that Maureen was lucky to have Russell to love her and committ to her despite the terminality of Maureen’s CF. Yet I truly believe Russell was far luckier to have had this effervescent, beautiful sprite and light in his life.
RIP Donna Summer and dear Maureen. Toot, toot, ah, beep beep!