Essays Archive for April, 2011

1,000 Monkeys: To Absent Friends

Dear Monica,

Today is April 20, which means another year has passed in which you didn’t, like me, grow another year older. You are forever 16 in my memory, while I have grown older and not particularly wiser, through marriages, divorces, pregnancies, deaths. My oldest daughter is nearly ten years older now than you were when you ended your life.

I think you, more than anyone, would have understood how completely ridiculous it is, the idea of me as the responsible adult to a houseful of children, much less with a daughter turning 26 and getting married this year. You were the one who wanted a family back then, while I dreamt of running off to Europe to write poetry or novels while shacked up with a handsome but poor musician, or some such romantic nonsense. You always believed more than I did in the idea of some kind of happily ever after, while I was the one who obsessively read Sylvia Plath for clues to her mysteries, which I guess makes it all the more odd that you left, while I stayed behind.

One of the curious after-effects of your death — or at least, how your death affected me — is that I tend to instinctively reach a hand to people who’ve gone through, or are going through, a devastating loss. Everyone grieves differently, of course, but at least someone who’s experienced losing a loved one to suicide knows better than to offer bullshit bromides by way of condolence. No one really knows what to say to make it better, because the truth is, there’s nothing they can say that will make it better.

It is what it is: this person you cared about, valued, loved, has chosen to end their life, and they didn’t consult you about it or stop to think how it would hurt you. Maybe a part of them even wanted to hurt you, get back at you in some way, and that too, makes you angry, because they will always have the last word. And I have to tell you, for a lot of years there was as much anger in me as grief at you, for making a choice that threw my own life into such turmoil. People are narcissitic that way. We can only experience pain and loss, really, through the lens of how it feels to us. We grieve selfishly for the person we lost, because what we’re really grieving is the eternal, infernal absence of that person in our lives. We grieve for the loss of the person we were before, and will never be again.

The pain and sadness that a suicidal person feels doesn’t just disappear into the ether when that person ends their own life; it just shatters into countless little shards that pierce the hearts of everyone who loved that person, and those shards, they don’t go away.

So when someone I know is dealing with losing someone they loved, I don’t tell them it gets better (it does, but usually not in the way you think), or that eventually they’ll be able to think of that person without it hurting so much (ditto). That rawness that feels like an open wound will heal, of course, but there will always be a scar there that wasn’t there before, and you might as well accept that and not try to hide from it. You’ll go along for a long time not thinking about it, just living your life, and then out of nowhere a song, or the flavor of mocha ice cream, or a character or bit of dialogue in a movie, will stir some memory. And there it is again, and yup, it still hurts.

I drank a strawberry daiquiri in Sarasota last week, and thought about your birthday, and remembered the time we made daiquiris with rum pilfered from a friend’s parents’ liquor cabinet, and we made them way too strong and got crazy drunk and stayed up all night, listening to Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd while your lava lamp threw crazy shadows around the room. I wondered the other day if I still have the VHS tape somewhere of us singing and performing that dorky skit in the talent show at church camp that last summer. We were happy and laughing and just being silly girls in that video, and then somewhere on the other side of that moment, just a few short weeks later, you plummeted down a rabbit hole and then you were gone.

The truth is, even though the missing you still hits me out of the blue sometimes, I wouldn’t really want it any other way. Because those little moments that slice the soul do, eventually, mellow until they feel bittersweet rather than too excruciating to bear. There’s still a tear somewhere inside that will never completely heal, but that pain also serves to hold a place for the person you loved and lost in your heart. And in the end, maybe the pieces of us we leave behind in the hearts of others are all we really have to show our lives had any meaning at all.

Happy birthday, my friend. Wish you were here.

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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