I met Franchesca Brown in June of 2008. I remember her hand more than anything, five fingers pumping into the air like an invisible person kept slapping her high five. It was in response to a question I had asked not seconds before, a leading question where I knew I’d be looking out over a sea of hands only to discover one, one only, with all the enthusiasm of a team.
We were gathered in a boardroom, like an executive boardroom, the kind reserved for very important people who conduct very important university business. The only reason this program could use the room was that it was summer and most university personnel were away on vacations to Europe or something. I was an administrative assistant at the time, making close to 40k a year and feeling good about my healthcare package. It was my first job that had healthcare. Although not technically what I had planned after graduating with my master’s in English, I was soon to discover that working at a university came with perks and those perks increased the more degrees held.
I was approached by the coordinator of The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). It’s a program designed to help underserved populations transition from high school to college. It was a particularly strapped financial time for the university and EOP took the biggest hit. This meant that their transitional summer program was shorter than ever before, and they couldn’t afford to pay faculty to teach any classes. Therefore, as a staff member with an English degree, I was approached to teach a workshop in English. I was honored to be asked. As I prepped for the course, I never thought to learn more about the students or the program I intended to help.
I was thirty years old and pumped to make a difference. I believed writing could change lives, build confidence, be the key to these students’ successes. In a higher pitch than normal with knees knocking from my nerves, I looked out over the twenty students around the wooden, oval conference table and asked: “How many of you love writing and are so excited to use this time to express yourself?!”
I smiled in expectation of the pop-corn hands flying in the air, rubbing the sweat from my own palms into my black slacks.
“Raise your hand if you love writing?”
I said with the same enthusiasm, realizing my first question didn’t come with a directive. How could they know an appropriate way to answer as a group? Now the nervous sweat hit my forehead as I questioned my right to teach if I can’t even pose a group question accurately. I looked again eagerly expecting the hands, but this time lowered my eyes to see that most of the students weren’t looking at me and only one shot her hand up so fast the movement caused her end of the table to turn and look too.
“Okay, so one then? One of you?” I asked. The biggest smile with the fastest nod from Franchesca Brown’s head was my response. I ran to her side of the table for a high-five to keep the energy alive and because I felt at this point like I might puke if I didn’t move.
“Well, hopefully, we can convince more of you to love writing before the workshop is over,” I said as a way of transition into the workshop’s content.
That was it. Our introduction and our connection were empowered by our love of writing.
The story of us gets richer over the years as I worked my way into EOP. That workshop was my foot in the door of the EOP student population. It seems from that summer on, I’d have a student in my office for one reason or another, seeking directions to Malibu Hall or needing advice about their home life. My office became an informational haven. When I was offered the position of EOP counselor in 2010, the advancement was a no-brainer. My relationship with Franchesca was already well established at this point and if anything, we had to figure out our new roles with me as her designated counselor.
We had some standalone moments, during her years as a student from 2008 until she graduated in 2012. One of my absolute favorites and one I’m sure will be included in her version of our story, is the day we won first place in the Student Programming Board’s Dancing with the Staff—a spin-off of the popular TV show Dancing with the Stars. This victory along with the crystal ball trophy was priceless. We had practiced for weeks, or maybe it was just a couple times, creating moves neither of us had done before, using props I hadn’t seen in over twenty years (Cabbage Patch dolls from my childhood stored in a box in Mom’s garage). To win a competition without any experience in the skill being assessed—in this case dancing—was an epic feat. The choreography to Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” came from our hearts, but the energy we pumped into the auditorium, came from our positive personalities, thrashing to the beat together! To this day, it’s a victory I look back on with overwhelming pride.
After Franchesca graduated, she was immediately offered a staff position working with Orientation under my very own big sister, Kirsten. Now, Franchesca and I were colleagues and could drop the politically correct nuance of student/staff positions that exist—rightfully so—in an institution of higher learning. Now, we were comrades and could become even closer because we didn’t work in the same department.
Oh, the conversations we had together stick out to this day! I could count on Franchesca Brown for the truth, no matter how much it stunk. Literally. After the Associated Students Inc. or ASI as everybody refers to this student organization, held its groundbreaking ceremony, they gave all attendees a vial of manure with their logo wrapped around the airtight vessel. Two days after the groundbreaking ceremony, on a Friday, I noticed my office plant was wilting. I busted open my vial, fed and watered “Queso,” my Marble Queen Pathos (house vine), and headed into the weekend. The following Monday, I returned to work and couldn’t figure out why my office smelled funny. I opened all my windows and continued about my day, immersed in the stench, I forgot about it. I’d be talking with somebody, and they’d wrinkle their nose, but remain silent. A couple students paused by my door, seemed to start to say something, but decided to wave instead and carry on. Then, Franchesca stopped by and she no sooner crossed the threshold when she blurted what had to be on everybody’s mind.
“Whoa, girl! Why does it smell like crap in here?”
“Wait, what? I thought I aired it out. I opened the windows. I can’t smell it.”
“That’s cause you’re sittin’ in it!”
Conversations rolled easily. We didn’t worry about misinterpreting our words, because when we did that just gave us new material for laughter. For example, during another bubbly morning conversation, I was sharing a story about the funny thing my niece had done. Franchesca started to tell me a story too that I thought was about her sister, Avanice. When she finished the story, I said: “Avanice. That’s a pretty name.” “No, no, Kari. I have a niece.”
We cramped from laughing so hard.
“I’m sorry. I mumble,” she said when we both caught our breaths.
“No, I’m sorry. I have bad ears,” I replied, and we burst out laughing all over again.
Franchesca quit her staff position and left California to forge a life in Texas. Years passed. I emailed a couple times only to wonder if I had the wrong email address. We text a few times in the very beginning, but then, that too dissipated for reasons neither of us could figure. Then, out of the clear blue my sister asked me if I’d heard from Franchesca Brown. I had not. Not yet. Soon after the initial connection with my sister, Franchesca and I began email correspondence where we discovered death was bringing us back together. My mom passed away at the end of 2019 and her youngest brother passed away in the beginning of 2020. We were forging completely new lives as a result of our losses, our grief. The new lives we were finding for ourselves brought us onto the same path. Like a magic only the universe can produce, we are walking together again, writing together again, sharing stories and laughter and realizing an even stronger connection. Love should be the consistent backbone that strengthens connections. Love should be this simple.
When Franchesca and I saw each other again on her birthday, October 13, 2021, we hadn’t seen each other in nearly eight years, but neither of us changed much. I thought she got taller, but she swore she’s always been a couple inches taller than me. We were on the phone with each other when she drove into the parking lot; I was standing on the grass near the sidewalk. We were meeting at a park in Arcadia that neither of us had been to before. It was a good location halfway between Simi Valley and San Bernardino. I reached her white Nissan just as she was stepping out and nearly hugged the braids right off her head. We walked down to the golf course, without realizing where the park ended. As we caught up on our new lives while chatting like old times, we walked the perimeter of the park and discovered empty tennis courts.
“Wanna play?” Franchesca asked and I thought she was kidding, so I laughed. “No, seriously, I have two rackets and some balls in my trunk. We could play.”
“Okay,” I said smiling so wide my cheeks hurt.
“I mean, I don’t have a sports bra and you’re not really dressed for it, but it could still be fun.”
“Right, I don’t have a sports bra either,” I said, knowing she meant the fact that I was wearing jeans. We both broke out laughing. I hardly need a bra at all, so the idea of double protection is comical.
Here we were, totally in synch the way kindred spirits work. We rallied the ball back and forth while talking about Texas, marriage, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Looking back, it was like we made that park our own private country club. Twice I noticed couples had stopped outside the green mesh wall to spectate Serena Williams and Steffi Graph, but we never paused for autographs. After tennis, we enjoyed the yogurt parfaits I made for her birthday. I had texted earlier.
I’m bringing us lunch for your birthday. Are you allergic to any berries or nuts?
The only thing I’m allergic to is BS.
Three hours at the park felt like twenty minutes. This reconnection was the beginning of Love Should Be.
Our story is bound with a love for putting positive energy into the world through connection and writing. Sharing our story along with the blog/pod Love Should Be is part of our agenda to spread seeds that grow more love and compassion. Love should be an overall sense that we are sewn together, belong together, right here, on Earth.