I met Delphine the summer before I started at Hill Junior High School, the second middle school I attended in Novato. I fell in love with her instantly. Now don’t get all worked up that a gay boy (which I very much was) could fall in love with a girl. This was in a phase in our lives that was almost pre-sexual, if such a thing exists. I know children are sexual beings, but that doesn’t mean they have the urges to explore it constantly. I just didn’t think in those terms with Delphine. I knew what I was, but really didn’t quite know what I wanted. And I genuinely liked girls, so I don’t think puppy love is right, I’d say instant best friend.
I don’t remember how we met. She lived with her grandparents in the same apartment complex that my mother, her boyfriend Willie, my sister Yvonne, and I lived. Her mother was absent, and strange, I only met her once. Delphine and I became friends very quickly. I remember her grandparents hated me, well, more accurately, they hated what I represented. I don’t remember saying as much as hello in the few moments I met them. I never heard anything about a father, which might account for their stifling over-protectiveness. They wouldn’t allow her to see me, and she could never let them know we hung out together. It was like forbidden love! High drama.
We often played word games, practiced dancing (the peak of the disco era!), or just hung out and played stupid teenage flirty games. When school started we were practically inseparable. And then one day, I honestly can’t remember when it happened, she stopped talking to me. I think now that our relationship scared her, I think she was scared by what she thought was my desire for something she couldn’t reciprocate, the cruel irony!
It seemed that literally overnight she changed. She dressed like a completely different person, the catholic school girl was gone (yes she had been), and the tom boy rock chick emerged! She went from playing bass clarinet, and Cello, to playing bass guitar, and not only would she not hang out with me any longer, she shunned me completely. I remember being desolate for days. My mother, in desperation I assume, gave me a small dish garden of hers to give to Delphine as a peace-offering. I honestly just wanted to be her friend. I had no desire for more, and I had sensed for some time that she didn’t either. Not because she wasn’t attracted to me, but because she wasn’t attracted to men. But I think I scared her away. Trying to get her to talk didn’t help. I took the small token to her apartment, and, not wanting to be seen by her grandparents, I knocked, and hurried around the corner to listen.
They answered, I heard somebody swear, and shut the door. Damn it all, they hadn’t seen it. I knocked again, and scurried again. Ditto. They completely missed the damn planter sitting right in front of the freakin’ door, cursed loudly, and slammed it. I was terrified. Somehow I had ended up in some weird game of Ring And Run. In desperation I went to the door, picked up the dish, and knocked. I didn’t run. A split second later the door was flung open! As I jumped back a little old man jumped out and yelled “What do you want!?!”
Scared the living shit out of me! It wasn’t until this very moment that I actually clued in to the fact that I was in fact playing Ring And Run! And with the grandparents who hated me for Christ’s sake. I quickly told him who I was, who the gift was for, and no, I hadn’t seen anyone running away when I arrived. No lie involved! He didn’t call her to the door, and I was too scared to ask. I barely had a chance to speak to her ever again..
She changed dramatically in almost every way, going from straight A’s , to practically failing. Delphine confessed to me at one point that she wouldn’t answer in class anymore because people thought she was weirdly smart, which of course she was. It was obvious to me that drugs were involved, but she never seemed so bad that it was obvious to anybody else. We hung out for part of a day right before my mother and I left Novato for Vallejo. She obviously didn’t really want to be there. It was so uncomfortable. I never spoke to her again.
I tried to find her over the years. I wanted to come out to her, and hoped it would allow me back into her life. I tried early social connection sites like classmates.com. I tried googling her often. I even contemplated joining a “people search” site to see if I could find a number for her. Nothing. When Facebook came into heavy use I knew eventually she would join. Delphine is a rare enough name that I figured eventually I’d find her. And eventually I did! She was listed (very cryptically) as the base-guitar player for a band named The Nuns under a pseudonym, Delphine Volino (Neid). It didn’t list very much info, but on later research I’ve learned that The Nuns were one of the very first punk bands originating in San Francisco and Marin. They were extremely important in introducing the punk music scene, and were highly regarded, though not immensely successful.
Delphine replaced their former guitarist in 1986, and was described as young and gifted. Delphine would have been 21, and she was most assuredly gifted, she made me love classical music after I heard her play the cello and bass clarinet, bass guitar would be fabulous as well I’m sure. Unfortunately, in what feels like a stupid cliché, she died of a drug overdose shortly after The Nuns finished recording their final album.
I was shocked, but thought that, though extremely unlikely (young bass player, drugs, named Delphine, in Marin county), the odds were ridiculous. it seemed it must be her, but still, there’s always hope. I contacted the only person I could find info on, the lead singer Jennifer Miro. I sent an email asking if she remembered Delphine? Did she know of her history? Was this Delphine the same girl who went to middle school in Novato?
After sending it I forgot. Moved on, wondered occasionally, but only briefly. So, many months later, when I got a reply, I was in shock. And her answer didn’t settle my nerves. Yes, she was sure it was her. She knew her very well, in fact she was looking at a picture of her as she wrote the email, and how she and the whole band missed her every day. I have no proof, but I think she confirmed not only her identity, but other questions I had as well. But I still wasn’t really convinced. You can’t think of a friend as dead on circumstantial evidence. Denial and hope are too strong. And then while researching The Nuns again, I found a video. The only scrap of video showing Delphine Volino (Neid). After all those years and months, I was now positive it was her. Though the picture was grainy, I recognized her body language instantly. I cried, finally. In all the years I searched, I always knew I would connect with her again. I grieve for her life and tragic ending, and for the lost chance to tell her how much she meant to me.
It turns out Jennifer Miro’s (Anderson) email would reach me just 7 months before she too would pass away. She died quietly of liver and breast cancer in January of 2012. I don’t know anyone else that would have known Delphine. Still…I can’t think of our story as finished.
Warning: I neither endorse, nor promote, this video. The quality is pretty bad, and I personally watch it with the sound off (though I’m sure there are many people who would enjoy it). If you watch for the bass player you can see Delphine, and I must say she really rocks that bass guitar!