I have never enjoyed the privilege of a spiritual mentor, but I was fortunate to have one in my journey into my modeling career. This unique individual was my fashion photographer, Michael Wray.
I can easily say that he was the most interesting, complicated, and probably the strangest person I have ever known. He was an amazingly creative and talented photographer. You will never see his best work, because he kept it safely guarded. I counted myself highly privileged that he showed it to me.
When I walked into my first photo modeling class with Michael, I had no idea what was ahead of me. When he picked up his camera and we headed out of the studio to the top level of the parking garage, I was at a loss to understand what could possibly be the point of shooting anything up there.
I had a lot to learn. Case in point:
Photo Credit: ©2007 Michael WrayMichael's vision for me on the top of the parking deck--the power business shot
Make me want to click the shutter, he would say. And if I didn't, he wouldn't, and he would walk right on by. Ouch.
I loved his class. He made me uncomfortable. He pushed me. And we became close friends.
Photo Credit: ©2007 Leland Holder
He didn't just push me out of the studio nest, he told me to call him with every detail of my agency encounters in Miami, every casting call, every callback, every booking. He would call to make sure I was okay if we hadn't spoken in a while.
I owed him.
After I returned from Miami in 2009, for reasons unknown to me, Michael had chosen to put our friendship on the back burner. No matter how often I called and left a voice message or emailed him, he chose not to respond; even to the news of my marriage to Leland.
A year went by. I wondered if any of our mutual friends had heard from him. I was hurt and confused. Then, I wondered if he was okay.
Suddenly, one day, my phone rang and Michael's number and name showed up on the screen. Shocked, I answered the phone. He asked me to join him for dinner at one of our hangouts on Highland Ave. I was so happy to hear from him, I said I would meet him outside the studio in the parking garage and we would drive to the restaurant together.
At the appointed day and time, I parked my car, got out, and as I moved toward his car, he got out and stood up. What I saw terrified me. My round faced friend was thin, gaunt, and scary looking. I hugged his bony frame, looked him in the eyes and asked, Are you alright?
Suddenly, all those questions about why he ignored me for a year didn't matter anymore.
My friend and mentor was dying.
On this day one year ago, after 2 weeks of hospice visits, watching him fade and miraculously come back for a while, I sat beside his bed, my hand on his chest, while he took his last breath.
I remember Michael and I having so many conversations about life, and inevitably, we would laugh and say, Can we go home now?
Thank you, Michael. For everything.