“Ain’t too much sadder than…”
I was a Robin Williams stan growing up. And, yes, most of that had to do with his voice work as “Genie” in Aladdin. But, when I saw that, I had to see it all. Mrs. Doubtfire. Hook. Good Will Hunting. Ferngully. Jumanji. The Birdcage. Even a little 'Mork & Mindy.' He was a consummate character, both on film and in my life.
I can’t quite fully describe what I felt when I heard of his death, which, reportedly, was a suicide. The best way I can describe it is the way I describe it when anyone dear to me passes: I felt everything and nothing.
But, this isn’t really about how enraptured I am by his cartoon-impersonation genius, it’s about the man, himself. The man behind the cartoon. And it’s about me.
As a background, I’ve been holding back on writing about this in depth for a while because I never felt I had all the right words. I still don’t know if I have them. But, I do know one thing. To use another Disney reference, “it is time.”
You know how someone can have a bright smile, but sad eyes? I always felt that way about Robin. And according to his publicist, Robin had been suffering from a severe case of depression. I believe his depression had been reported prior to that, as well. That part hit me the hardest. Because I can relate. From social media to reality, people know me as the “funny one.” Yet, like many comedians, there’s something dark lurking beneath. There’s a reason why comedians are oft-colored with the image of the showman onstage and the depressed alcoholic off.
It started with my childhood. Muddled with failed attempts to gain the affection of my aloof and alcoholic father, followed by his subsequent lung cancer diagnosis, and then his death. And with his death, crept the man who groomed the vulnerability of a freshly fatherless me and snatched me into molestation as he drove me to school every morning. I was 12. And abandoned. And tainted. And unwanted. My only escape came with creating worlds that lead me to my screenwriting aspirations. My only shield came with belly-laughs, both forged and felt.
The 12 year old girl followed me into high school and into a suicide attempt. And with that attempt, I didn’t necessarily want to die (or to leave), I just felt dying would be the only way to stop the pain. That 12 year old girl followed me into college and found the strength to tell my mama about the molestation for the first time, after telling my class via a piece I wrote in a writer workshop (which was the first time I had ever spoken it outloud). That 12 year old girl is me today. I suffer from depression. I have a therapist that I see, weekly. I cry myself to sleep so hard some nights, my eyes hurt. I think of ending it often. I’ve gotten close a few times. I’ve gotten close last week.
For me, depression is quite the bitch, equipped with my very own sultry voice. She tells me I’m unworthy, unwanted, weird, an outcast, untalented, abnormal, forever alone, unloved, unattractive, a burden to others, and that everyone would be better without me. Some days, I believe the hell out of her. Other days, I don’t. Other days, I (rationally) know she’s full of shit, but I let her voice prevail. I think that’s the most frustrating part of it all. The rollercoaster. One day I’m legit super-confident and ready to take over the world and the next day I’m crawling into bed wanting to forever sleep away the hollow ache of my empty heart. Sometimes, it doesn’t even take a day for the switch to happen. It’s an ongoing battle and not unlike a drug addiction, there doesn’t seem to be a real “cure.” Just a better method of making it to the next day.
Laughter has always been and will always be the tupperware to my depression’s leftover meatloaf. It has a funny (ha!) way of sealing it up to be put away, but at the same time, keeping it fresh. Because, to be honest, the harder I try to laugh to keep from crying, the more acute the inevitable cry that follows.
It is my favorite thing to do. I love providing it as much as I love doing it. And of course, there’s nothing better than laughing until you cry. The tears I'll cry today and tomorrow are from a much sadder place as I mourn Robin, but I don’t doubt he'll continue to keep me laughing for years to come.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams. Never had a friend (in my head) like you.