At the boxing gym, there was a thin blonde woman clad all in black from shades to shoes. I was thirteen when I remember meeting her, though in a college recommendation letter she'd write for me years later, she mentioned meeting me at a Christmas party when I was eleven. She was kind to me at a time in my life when I desperately needed kindness.
Adolescence was a time I kept my guard up. Our boxing coach, Chuck, taught me how to keep my guard up with my fists so I could loosen up emotionally. Once while Chuck was giving me a hard time about my weight, I looked past him to see Katherine without her shades on. Seeing her without sunglasses was a rare occurrence, but this memory stands out for another reason. When I looked at her, we connected, because I knew from the heartfelt look in her eyes that she understood what it was like to be me.
Once when she lost track, she asked me how old I was. "Fifteen," I said and she gave an outpouring of sympathy, relating how hard it was being fifteen. She joked with me, "The worst child abuse is when adults tell children, 'These are the best years of your life.'"
One year for Christmas, she gave me a mirror that read, "You Look Fabulous" around the border. She gave me a miniature porcelain sink with no discernible purpose and declared, "Every girl needs her own sink." This quirky gift and strange wisdom meant so much to me.
When she saw me reading a book, she'd ask to see the cover. I once held up a book of page-long biographies and photos of famous writers. "Whatever happened to Nancy Drew?" she asked.
On a night that turned suddenly cold, I borrowed a brown suede jacket to wear home. I brushed my hands down the suede material and said, "I feel like a real writer now." She smiled her warm smile. She seemed happy that she could inspire that confidence in me just by lending me a jacket. She was one of the most generous people I've ever met. She gave by existing.
These are some of my memories of Katherine Dunn.
I was lucky. I had a friend who championed my love of books and gave me feedback on my earliest writing, who cheered my nickname, "Yay, Hell Kitten!" when I succeeded in doing multiple pullups at the gym.
Thank you, Katherine, for your kindness and your wisdom. I'm a better teacher and mentor to my students because of the care and support you gave me when I was a teenager. I will always remember your kindness.