In the years since Jacquese Smith packed up his things and moved out of the "Real World: San Diego" house, he had heard tons of rumors suggesting his old housemate, Frankie Abernathy, had passed away. And without fail, the rumors always ended up being false. But on Monday, when he was told once again that Frankie had died, he knew that this time it had really happened.
"My heart started beating real fast and my stomach dropped — I just felt it, that it was serious this time, because it came from such a credible source," he explained. "This person wouldn't have texted me if he thought it was just another rumor. When you share something with somebody, and you have a common bond with someone, when something happens, you can kind of feel it. And I just knew, but I wasn't didn't want to accept it.
"I was just in shock," Smith continued. "It really didn't hit me until I finally said the words out loud. I had called my mom and told her that it was true, and it wasn't until I started to talk about it that I got really upset about it."
Abernathy was the heavily pierced housemate who adored Hello Kitty and punk rock and whose struggle with cystic fibrosis helped to further raise national awareness about the chronic lung disease. She died Saturday night at age 25 in her mother Abbie Hunter's home in Shorewood, Wisconsin (see " 'Real World: San Diego' Alum Frankie Abernathy Dead At 25"). An official cause of death has yet to be determined.
Smith — who, out of all of "The Real World: San Diego" housemates, was perhaps the closest to Frankie — said it wasn't long before the initial shock and pain of her sudden death gave way to anger. Smith, who first walked into "The Real World" house with Abernathy at his side, said he became infuriated with himself for not maintaining contact with Frankie after "The Real World."
"I've been beating myself up over this, because I hadn't spoken with her in so long," he explained. "We haven't really talked to one another in so long, so it's kind of like we lost her and now we're re-establishing our friendships and appreciating what we have with one another and taking full advantage of it. We're kind of doing what she would want us to do. It's just sad that this was the reason why we've gotten back in touch. At the end of the day, I know she knows I loved her."
Jamie Chung was still in a state of shock Thursday afternoon (June 14) and regrets not being able to see Frankie before she passed.
"I'm thinking about her a lot," she said. "It's really sad, and it's really weird. Someone you lived with and experienced a show with, I mean, there's a certain bond there, and that person's gone. It's crazy how young she was."
Chung also feels horrible that she lost touch with Abernathy but wants people to remember the good things about her friend.
"She loved her family, and the one person that I am sure is just devastated is her little sister, Mamie," she said. "She idolized Frankie and was so proud of her. It's just crazy. She was sort of like Sid Vicious — she just lived every day to the fullest, because she knew she had to. That was her motto. She lived every day as if it were her last.
"It's been a reality check for all of us that we need to keep in touch, because you never know what's going to happen," she continued. "We're all going to miss her and are shaken up by this. It just came out of nowhere. I feel like a bad friend. The one person I should have kept in touch with, I didn't."
When "The Real World: San Diego" began airing in 2004, Chung said Abernathy came off as a much different person than she would grow to love.
"She came off as too cool for school, but really, she kind of played off this attitude that she didn't care about any of us, but she was the most caring person in the house," she said. "She was the most outgoing. She stood out, and she loved that, and she didn't care what anyone thought. And I thought that was so cool. She just didn't give a f--- what people thought about her. She just did what she wanted to do, and she did what was fun and always wanted to go try different things. I don't think they showed that [on 'The Real World'] much. They showed all of the house drama and her personal issues. But she was a really fun person."
Smith says he's grateful for the time he had with Abernathy and the things she taught him during their time in San Diego.
"She let me know what kind of person she was right off the bat, and I accepted it," he said. "She opened my eyes to a lot of things that I'd never even thought about before. Like cystic fibrosis — you always hear about it, but don't know what it is. Frankie took me to my first punk-rock show. I had my first mosh-pit experience with Frankie.
"She would do any and everything if you asked her to," Smith continued. "She was never scared to go anywhere with me. She was willing to learn from me. We had totally different life experiences [up to that point], and we still got so close. If I learned anything from anyone on that show, I learned the most from Frankie. And I now have a greater appreciation for my life and my castmates."
The most admirable trait Frankie possessed, Smith said, was her determination to be her own person.
"Frankie was Frankie," he said with a chuckle. "You either accepted her as she was or you didn't. And I chose to. I'm just so upset that I didn't really get a chance to talk to her, that I never got a chance to tell her the effect she had on my life. I will never get a chance to tell her about some of the things she taught me, and how important her friendship was to me, and how special she was — how strong she was."
While Cameran Eubanks — who'd been in touch with Frankie as recently as six months ago (the two mulled the idea, via e-mail, of organizing a reunion of the San Diego cast) — called her friend's death "a complete shock," she's glad Frankie was able to come to terms with her fate.
"The way Frankie dealt with her disease, it was always something where she was prepared," she explained. "She was never the kind of girl who was scared of the fact that she knew she was going to die early. She knew it. She told us. She said, 'You guys can look ahead to the rest of your lives, but I can't. I have to have my fun, I have to be young, and I have to live every day as if it's my last.' She had that kind of mentality. It was never like, 'Poor me, I'm going to die.' She was never that kind of girl. And I think that's what's made it easier for me to handle, I guess.
"It was something I knew was going to happen," Eubanks continued. "We all knew. But when something like that finally does happen, it takes a while to grasp, that that person's no longer here."
Like Smith, Eubanks admired Frankie's outgoing spirit, her lust for life and her fearlessness.
"She had about the most free will of any person I've ever met in my life," she said. "When I came to San Diego, she was probably the first person of her type that I had ever met. She shattered a lot of barriers that I had put up around certain types of people, and I will always remember her for that. She was uninhibited. There was nothing she wouldn't do. She had her little quirks, but when it came down to it, she loved life. She'd wake up every day, without fear and without any reservations. She did what she wanted to do, and she said what she wanted to say. She was herself. She was a rare person because she was genuine.
"Your average person, when they would meet Frankie, they would totally write her off as some crazed, in-your-face, ridiculous girl who has this disease and doesn't take care of herself," she added. "That's how I felt when I first met her. Then I got to know her, and realized that was all a show, and that's how she coped with it. I want everyone to know what a good person she was, what a rare person she was. She loved life, and we'll all miss her."
Services will be held Saturday in Blue Springs, Missouri. A scholarship fund has been established in Frankie's name at Blue Springs High School, and fans can contribute donations to the Frankie Abernathy Scholarship Fund, c/o Jackie Langston, 1205 NW Roanoke Drive, Blue Springs, MO, 64015.
[This story was originally published at 5:37 pm E.T. on 06.14.2007]