My beautiful friend Codie Leone died last week, on my birthday, October 23, 2013, of a heart attack.
This is a (somewhat blurry) photo of her the last time she was in my apartment. I made her a vegetable juice in a glass we both felt was appropriate for the occasion.
Codie had many, many friends and fans. She is considered an underground icon, a transgender pioneer and mother to all LGBT children in her vicinity. Codie left three sons behind. If you don’t know who she is or was, this video reel, a reality show teaser, will give you a good idea. I can’t embed the video here but the link should work:
The day after she died my blog got more hits than ever before. People were clearly googling the hell out of her and found something I’d written a while back (Pronounity). Everyone loved her. You can’t find anyone who has a bad story about her, and this is because Codie, unlike most of us, genuinely loved and enjoyed people. It didn’t matter who or what you were, she accepted you and wanted to hear your thoughts. Gay, straight, yuppie or freak. And she loved to laugh above all else; she could take the worst circumstance and turn it into the most hilarious story you’ve ever heard, so she was always fun to be around.
Codie had been sick many years past, and we almost lost her then. But that was miles behind in the rear view mirror. She was healthy now, vibrant, and excited about numerous projects. The fear of losing her was not in anyone’s consciousness; Codie was going to outlive us all.
I had a big birthday party on the day she died, which she was supposed to attend. When she didn’t answer texts we all assumed she had bailed to stay home with her two dogs, although it did seem weird that she didn’t answer anyone. I didn’t mind, I’d see her soon enough, her apartment is only a few blocks away and she often popped her head into Dream Baby, the bar I work in on Saturdays, when she was out walking the dogs. She would leave them with someone at the door, run in, push through the crowd, shout “I love you!” and run back out again. That’s the way she was, always taking an extra moment to make sure you knew you were loved, that you were still connected.
Funny thing is, for someone I consider family, I can’t quite remember when I met Codie. It feels like she’s always been there. I know it was the 80’s, probably at Boy Bar, maybe over a line of coke at Save the Robots. I can’t pin the exact moment. She was just an integral thread in the fabric of my new New York life.
Codie around the time I met her, this is a famous photo by Nan Goldin.
Codie and Gina Vetro as MTV”s Art School Girls of Doom:
As the decades passed we saw each other sometimes less, sometimes more. No matter how long, it was as if no time had passed. You have that with people you’ve known from lifetime to lifetime. You might not talk for years and then you see each other and it’s all “Hey girl! Where’d you get that nail color?”
Drew and I joke that we are “the Last Responders” because we are both selfish and step up reluctantly in a crisis. Codie, on the other hand, was always willing to be there if you had so much as a cold. “What do you need, Doll? Do you want soup? I’ll come over with supplies.”
Over the last decade we worked together at Patricia Field and it was always entertaining. We shouted insults and gave beauty advice. She, Joey Pauline and I called ourselves the Stygian witches. Who’s got the eye? We walked home together a lot of nights, Codie tossing her hair and enjoying the attention of men who whispered sexual innuendo as she walked past them in her heels and low cut top, cracking wise while they gaped. Sometimes she wore flip flops, but they were always very expensive flip flops, because Codie was well-known for her love of designer shoes. Often things got so ridiculous that Joey would have to stop, doubled over from laughing so hard.
Me, Codie, Joey…
Codie was was constantly glamorous even while occasionally covered in dog hair. Codie’s apartment could be messy sometimes, but her makeup remained flawless. She had a ridiculously deep trannie voice with a Queens accent. She called me ‘Relph” sometimes. She shouted off-color jokes at the most inappropriate moments. She could stand in the most evil 5″ stilettos for hours. Codie couldn’t spell for shit, but she was smart as a whip and remembered everyone’s name. Codie was vain, she drove me nuts making the same damn face over and over again for photos because she knew it worked for her. I’d shout, “Stop making that dumb ‘Ooh’ face!” And she’d reply, “Stop being an asshole, Asshole!”
Codie always liked to be beautiful, which she was. But she would be happy to whip out a boob in public or put a wig on backwards if it could make you laugh. She went out of her way to make sure everyone in the room felt comfortable, not just the famous or fabulous. She would work to draw the mousiest person in the corner into conversation because she didn’t want anyone to feel alone or unseen. She prized her Louboutins, but if you wanted to borrow a pair, she would let you.
Codie was a downtown legend, a freak to some, a hero to others, a friend to many. She was so deliciously human. She was a gift. Gina Vetro said, “Codie thought with her heart and felt with her mind.” Meaning it was all heart to her. She didn’t stop to break it down. Love came before all else. Her very minor imperfections only served to make her more wonderful, and her depth of spirit and kindness, a deep, abiding kindness to any and all, are what make her sudden departure such a devastating loss to everyone in her orbit.
Codie, me, Joey, and Zoe after doing the Rew and Who show at Otto’s.
Recently Codie had been asked to speak on what it means to be transgender:
The reality show about her day to day life looked as if it was very close to happening.
On the Friday before she died she came to my happy hour shift for a moment with a friend she had had a major break with, and who she had since forgiven. He was so grateful to be with her and and we talked about how real friends can weather all storms if everyone is honest and loving, which Codie always was. I am so happy for him that he was able to make that happen in time.
The next day, Saturday, she did her usual run into the bar to say “I love you.” It would have been just as easy for her to walk by and assume she’d see me soon.
On Sunday I was supposed to go to a brunch that she was hosting but my feet hurt so badly from working the two nights before that I sent her a text that I wouldn’t make it.
She texted back, “Eeeuww.” I thought, “Wow, she spelled something right for a change.” I wish I’d gotten off my ass and hobbled over there. I said to our friend Douglas Hovey, “If I’d known she was gonna DIE, I would have gone to her goddamn brunch!”
When Joey broke the news to me over the phone, weeping inconsolably, I thought, “What’s going on, did his cat die?” When he finally got to the words, “Codie’s dead.”, I thought, “Nope. That can’t be right. That’s a mistake.”
Codie survived major illness. She survived pneumonia and a coma and weighing 90 pounds. She survived a father who wanted to crush the very essence of her, her otherness. She survived teen parenting. She survived being transgender. She survived losing her own friends. She survived working at Patricia Field, fer chrissake. What do you mean she’s gone? Nope. Sorry, we all need her. There are sons who missed her during much of their childhood and are now owed more time. So nope, sorry.
Codie was out on the street when it happened. She called her boyfriend Eugene and told him she didn’t feel well, and he came out to get her. She complained that her arm, neck, and chin hurt, he took her shopping bags, and she collapsed in his arms. And then she left her body shortly after that. And there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. At the cemetary Eugene told me the story in a rush of words that he could barely contain, whispering feverishly. It was too much, it had to be expelled. Anguish. Anguish.
A friend sent me a text that said, “Codie is your angel now, she watches over you from the other side.” I think, Yes, I can feel her around me. My mother, a psychic and channeler, checked in and Codie came through right away to say she’s fine and to apologize to everyone for leaving so quickly. My mother says her energy is very clear and strong. None of that is really a surprise and I’m glad. I know her dear friend Ruby, who died very recently, was there when she crossed over, and that makes me glad.
But I’d still rather have her in person. Who is going to make us laugh so hard that we can’t breathe?
We all went to a wake and a funeral this weekend and saw people we hadn’t seen in years and hugged each other tight and joked and cried. The wake was open casket and a girlfriend did her makeup rather than the funeral home because it was imperative to get her eyebrows right. Codie was dressed beautifully in a vintage Mugler suit and rhinestone Louboutins. It was hard to take in for extended stretches of time and we took frequent breaks. At one point I found myself n the lobby grilling Debbie Harry about her recent guest star on Project Runway, and she looked down at her phone and said, “Oh my God. Lou Reed died!”
I thought, how does life get so surreal? So wonderful and so terrible all jumbled together?
At the cemetery Joey put a big plastic eyeball on the casket. She’s got the eye now.
On my way home from work, walking up my stairs tired and heart-aching, I heard the sounds of yet another frat party raging in the courtyard next door. I thought, “Shit. This is just too much right now. I don’t know if I can handle it.”
And then I heard Codie’s voice in my head, clear as a bell.
She said, “I got you girl. You’re good. I always got you; you should know that by now.”