Saturday, August 23, 2014

A One-Man Egg

Some tragedies crystallize our collective fears more than others.  Celebrity deaths, in particular, are great candidates for this, a human synecdoche for all of our societal woes.  A year or so ago, Cory Monteith died of drug addiction, and I watched my daughter process that loss--someone she hadn't met, sure, but an individual who also represented something concrete and positive for her.  We talked about addiction, and decision-making, and the conjoined emotions of grief and anger.

Now my daughters are watching me react to Robin William's suicide.  It is similar, I suppose.  I never met the man.  But there are oh so many layers to my grief and anger over his death, because there were oh so many layers to what he represented to me.  It starts with the happy mania of Mork, a show I watched with my parents.  In a family dynamic that was often strained by alcohol and anger, those nights watching Williams and Dawber were happy, silly times.  Also instructive, because who hasn't felt like an newly hatched alien, marooned in a world full of indecipherable customs and uncomfortable seating?

Robin Williams' struggles--particularly with alcoholism and depression--have been leitmotifs in my own life, so seeing his larger-than-life on-screen persona reassured me.  See?  There's someone wrestling with the darkness, too!  But he is winning--Robin Williams was TOO MUCH TO CONQUER--too bright, too funny, too sensitive, too talented.

People sometimes tell me they think something similar of me--on a smaller scale, of course, I mean it's not like THE ACADEMY has weighed in on my performance--that I'm smart or funny or strong or really have it together (though clearly, that illusion is Oscar-caliber).

And while I'd love to bat my eyes and graciously accept the accolades, I think it does everyone more good if I'm honest, and say: I once went for years without owning a vacuum.  I have had library fines in the double digits.  I've been divorced not once, but twice.  I was in an abusive relationship, I had debilitating panic attacks for years, I still hate my body, I have made enough bad decisions to have my own mini-series...And when I was younger, I thought about killing myself.

I cataloged the ways, trying to find one that would leave the minimum amount of mess for everyone else and the least likelihood of failure for me.  I sat next to my bed, on the floor, a pocket knife at my wrist, wondering if I was "brave enough" to cut far and fast enough to bleed to death before someone found me.

I climbed up onto the kitchen counter, fumbling around in the depths of the cabinet until my hand closed on my dad's revolver.  I found the half-pint Mason jar with bullets.  I opened the cylinder, loaded, clicked, spun...and ultimately decided a .22 was more likely to leave me incapacitated and institutionalized than dead.

I knew people who killed themselves when I was in high school, then college.  My childhood best friend attempted suicide after she had been sexually assaulted (or, as my parents so pointedly put it, after "she claimed she was raped").  As an adult, my uncle and then my cousin committed suicide within a year of each other, and my grandfather, after decades of suffering, begged me to help him die.  You can imagine where my mind went as soon as I read that Williams had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, the same illness that is currently robbing me of my father.

As if all of this gives me some gruesome expertise on the matter.

But here's all I'm really an expert at: Getting up.  Walking away from the edge.  Turning on the light.  Reaching out.

It was his classmate and friend from Julliard, Christopher Reeves, who later went on to play Superman, but Robin Williams was my superhero.  And he remains so--not because he committed suicide, but because whatever drove him to the depths he ultimately reached must have been awful, and he fought for so long, and cracked open the egg for so many of us along the way .    


  1. <3

    My mom attempted suicide, and it was awful for all involved. My heart bleeds for him, his family, and for everyone who has ever felt pushed to that edge. However bad it is, I have to believe that nothing is worth taking one's own life, that there must be something out there that could help. The hopelessness that suicidal people must feel is awful to contemplate.

  2. Alicia, my heart goes out to you and your family. I remember when that happened, and I hope things have gotten better for everyone in your family. <3

    1. Thank you, they have improved immensely. 'This too shall pass' turns out to be kinda true!

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