Michelina came into my life about three years ago. I was singing with the band, Mirage, the night I met her. We were performing at a dinner dance for the Cystinosis Foundation. I heard that Michelina was a young woman afflicted with Cystinosis. Cystinosis is a condition in which the body accumulates the amino acid cystine (a building block of proteins) within cells. Excess cystine forms crystals that can build up and damage cells. These crystals negatively affect many systems in the body, especially the kidneys and eyes. The life expectancy of someone afflicted with cystinosis is 15.
When I met Michelina, I for a moment I thought she was just a child. No taller than 4 feet or so, she possessed the voice of a child. But she was 32. When I was introduced to her, I bent down and saw her radiant smile and her already crystalized eyes - the disease caused her to go blind. Although it is a horrific and sad thing, whenever I saw her, I felt her eyes were beautiful blueish and white marbles. To me they were beautiful, because when she smiled the sparkle in her eyes fought through the blindness. I shook her hand. "Hello, Michelina!" She beamed, "Hi, Judy!" She motioned for me to come closer. I bent down and she whispered, "Judy Torres, you are my favorite singer in the whole world!" I laughed and feeling flattered, I said, "In the whole wide world? That's a BIG compliment!" "Yep!" She reaffirmed...Well I knew and Mirage knew we had to make this a special performance just for her. When we reached the freestyle set, I walked out into the middle of the dance floor, and asked her to come out. I sang Faithfully and Come Into My Arms, and dedicated it to her. She danced and laughed and you never would know that this young woman was living with so much pain, burden and sickness.
The following year we met yet again for another fundraiser for cystinosis, and I just felt this bond with her everytime we spoke. I felt a strange sense of responsibility to be sure that when we spoke I had to ensure it was of substance and full of love. She called me at KTU all the time. And each time she called, I always put our conversation on the air. It was a small act of kindness, but I wanted her to know she mattered to me; that she was important to many; and that she was quite special. Just a few months ago, they held an annual fundraiser for cystinosis but this time was different. I was not able to go because I had a show out of state. I felt so bad, even on the plane I felt a pang of guilt. I did send words of apologiy to her for being unable to come. I did indeed wonder how she was doing. Then about a month ago, I received a call from her:
"Hi, Judy...it's me, Mickey!" "We missed you!"
"Oh, Mickey, I am SO sorry."
"That's ok, Judy! I understand."
"You're not made at me, Mickey?"
"Of course not...don't be silly. I understand. You had to work."
"Thank you, Mickey, fur understanding. I really did want to be there."
"I know...how was your show?"
"It was really good...how are you feeling?"
"Well I have one more round of chemo and that's it.!"
"Well you sound great. I know you are a strong girl."
"Yeah, I feel great!"
"Well, I'm thinking about you. I love you."
"I love you too."
Then I put the call on the air, and as I listened to it, I thought it strange that she mentioned chemo. Hm, I wondered. Do they treat cystinosis patients with chemotherapy? Little did I know in addition to the cystinosis, she was also stricken with cancer. I got the call in the afternoon from Mirage's keyboard player. Mauro told me that Mickey passed away the day before. Oh, ugh, oh....the day stopped right there. I cried and cried, and felt so much guilt that the last fundraiser would have been my last chance to see her. She passed away peacefully, I understand, with famly surrounding her.
I went to the wake the day after I received the call. So many people there paying respect...I walked up to the coffin. I've been to many wakes, and there's always a slightly awkward moment when approaching tthe body in the coffin. I actually hate wake, because I feel that the person is not there at all...they never look the way you understood them to look. But this time, I was dreading walking to it..the last time I dreaded it, my first manager, George Vascones had passed, and I my knees literally gave way. It was the worst feeling. I said a prayer in front of the coffin...I thanked Mickey for being in my life, thanked God for carrying her in His arms now & for blessing us with her presence and mighty spirit. I expressed my sympathies to the family, and then I saw Michelina's mother. She took one look at me, and lost it. She cried, and hugged me. It's that type of hug that you have to hug them harder than normal because you need to silently let the person know that you feel their pain. That type of hug...wow.. it's like if you don't hold on to them, they will crumble in your midst. I had no problem and I held her tightly until she was ready to let go. But her pain flowed through my body. I felt it. It hurt. It was devastating. Her mother looked up at me and said, "Mickey loved you SO much. Do you have any idea how much she loved you?" I tried to be strong, and conveyed to her mother that I loved her too. I told her about the phone call at KTU and how she said I was her favorite singer. I told her, "You have my number...call me if you need anything."
As I walked a bit, Michelina's sister hugged me, and said, "Did you see the picture of you with Mickey?" No, I hadn't...I go over to the collage of pictures and there it is. The first picture I had taken with Mickey the day I'd met her. I can see the love in both our eyes, and I cried. I felt so honored. I felt so humbled. I felt so blessed. I felt so lucky to have known her. I went to accompany my friend to the bathroom and it was in that bathroom that I released the tears. I'm crying right now...so sad. I mean, I really cried...all I coudl think of is 'what did I do that I was so special to this person? All I did was talk to her a bit...damn, I am not even worthy.' But wow, to know that someone loved me that way was overwhelming, humbling and so reaffirming that whatever attmepts I made to let her know she was special, she did the very same for me.