MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

To Absent Friends

Today I’m thinking a lot about 1984 — the year, not the Orwell novel. September 8, 1984 was a life-altering day that altered the course of my life; on September 8, 1984, my best friend, Monica, committed suicide at the age of 16. I can still recall, with achingly perfect clarity, where I was when my mom came to find me to tell me what had happened; what I was wearing; how I felt on the endless drive to the hospital; how I collapsed to the floor in tears when the doctor came into the “family room” to tell us she was gone.

The guilt of not being there for her on that day, not realizing what was to come, has haunted me for 25 long years, and probably always will. If you’ve ever lost a loved one to suicide, you know exactly what I’m talking about and if not, well, you might think you get it on an intellectual level, but you can never really know the pain of that particular type of loss. But today, I’ve been thinking a lot Monica’s life, not her death, and what she meant to me as a friend, and also about the things she’s missed that I think, or hope, we might have shared together over the last quarter-century.

Our friendship was forged out of a mutual love of the weird. We both had wild streaks a mile wide, and together we explored many things that our parents never knew about, and probably don’t want to think about even now. Not surprisingly, as with many important times of my life, movies are a part of my memories of her. It was through Monica that I first learned to appreciate the joys of EraserheadAttack of the Killer Tomatoes, and all the Monty Python films. Her taste in films, music and poetry was eclectic, from Queen to DEVO,Missing Persons to The Sugarhill Gang; it was through Monica that I learned to love both the written poetry of Shelley and the lyrical poetry of David Bowie.

One of the most important parts of my friendship with Monica in the last couple years of her life was our mutual love of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We were two of the younger members of the Oklahoma City cast in those years; Monica played Magenta and I played Janet, and because of our fascination for transvestites and this heady idea of sexual freedom (oh, we felt so rebellious, going to Rocky Horror in prim and proper, staunchly Southern Baptist Oklahoma City!), I ended up meeting a guy who called himself Slash Havoc (his real name was the much more mundane Jeff, and his sister laughed out loud the first time I called his house asking for “Slash”), who ended up being the father of my oldest daughter, Meg.

These days, Meg is 24, and Jeff still enjoys regaling new friends with tales of how he met me when I was running around the theater at Rocky Horror, a vision of teenage loveliness in a white bra and slip and prim Mary Janes.

Because I tend at times to be absurdly philosophical and brooding, I’ve pondered a lot over the past 25 years how every event in my life, including my friendship with Monica, affected all that was to come. As I’ve said before in this column, I’m something of a fatalist; I believe that things unfold as they are supposed to, and the things that happen to us, for good or ill, happen to set or change the course of our life direction in that moment and send us down the path we are meant to take.

Without my friendship with Monica, I would never have gone to Rocky Horror for the first time, nor would I have gone through the rocky emotional path following her death that, ultimately, forged my relationship with Jeff that led to our daughter. Without Meg, what course would my life have taken? Would I have continued to explore that “wild child” streak Monica and I shared until I ended up in an early grave myself? That’s actually pretty likely, given some of the decisions I was making then that, from the retrospectove viewpoint of a 41-year-old mother, were incredibly stupid.

Instead, because of Meg I had to grow up quickly and refocus on school. I had to graduate high school early so I could enter college early, and push myself to get my degree in three years instead of four so I coud be independent of my family’s support and provide for her. Because of that, I ended up meeting the man I was married to for five years, and because of that relationship, and the way it came to a close, I ended up in New York City where I met and fell in love with the man to whom I’ve been married for 14 years, with whom I had the four wonderful younger children who challenge and enhance my life every day. Their presence in my life has been the focal point of every decision I’ve made in the past 12 years, including the decision to be a film critic, and even the very recent decision to end our marriage.

And all of these things, in the end, I can trace back in part to my five-year friendship with Monica, to her life, and to her untimely death. One of my favorite films is A River Runs Through It, and I never watch it and hear these closing lines without thinking of Monica and what her life and friendship meant to me:

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

I, too, am haunted by waters, and some of the words are, and always will be, hers.

– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon