(Content warning: Discussions of suicide)
It’s always the same. The call at a weird hour; the one from the friend who rarely calls. I don’t really want to leave a message… so you can guess what kind of call this is. You don’t ask What happened because you know. You don’t ask How because you know you don’t need information like that in your head. You don’t even ask Who is it? You ask Who is it this time?
The phone rang at 1:30 AM and I was already getting into my coat and pulling out my cigarettes. We talked a little, said the things you say, and then I cried in the door to my bedroom for a while, keeping my sounds soft and stifled so I didn’t wake up anyone else in the house. I curled back up in bed and replayed who I’d told the last time this happened, who I’d called at the unusual hour, how glad I was when they’d answered even though I seldom called. I was grateful for this strange, interim time to know when no one else did, to have my private grief in that quiet space between night and morning.
I thought about how I’d tell my roommates. Did I have to say something, or could they find out on the internet? I didn’t want to be the one to tell them. Maybe the information is already out there, I reasoned. Maybe, even so late, those too familiar posts were flying across Twitter and Facebook and breaking everyone’s hearts for me. Maybe I wouldn’t have to have this conversation again. Maybe we could just nod knowingly when we saw each other next and share the usual times and addresses of the usual places we’d gather. Maybe I didn’t have to do anything because we all knew the script, we’d all been through the routine. I reached for my phone, already relieved.
Everyone who was up at that hour was sad about Alan Rickman. They were sad because they loved Harry Potter and because they were still sad about David Bowie. All of this mattered to them a lot, and all of it was like watching a train wreck. I couldn’t warn them. I couldn’t tell them to save their devastated and heartbroken and shocked, not to waste them on some famous stranger who would be mourned more than any of us will ever be. I couldn’t tell them how stupid they were going to look later, once they knew.
I refreshed and I scrolled and I watched all my friends share their absurd, oblivious mourning. I watched them try to fill a hole in their imaginations because they didn’t yet know there was one to fill in their real lives. I watched them share memories of their childhoods, of their fandoms, and none of them started with That time that we… They posted movie clips and not shaky YouTube videos from that one performance piece, glossy headshots and not blurry iPhone photos from that last dance party.
I thought that they were so wrong about how sad they were. They were going to regret every word they’d spent not on her, even though she and I hadn’t spoken in a year. They were going to regret caring about celebrities more than they cared about our community, even though I hadn’t seen half of them in a year either. They’re going to be sorry, I just kept thinking. We’re all going to be so sorry.
I was still watching them when my roommates got up for work. The coffee pot gurgled, and the shower ran, and my cat begged for food and one of my roommates told him Just wait until Riley gets up. I tugged myself into my discarded clothes and picked up my coffee mug like I just wanted coffee, like I was just going to the kitchen, the usual. I opened my door and then I paused between my bedroom and the bathroom where one of my roommates was putting on her makeup. And then I said what we always say. I said I’m sorry to bother you so early. I said So I got this call.
My roommate was sobbing before I’d even begun to explain, because we know why people like us say things like that, and because I’m never up that early, because honestly my roommates and I seldom talk at all. And my other roommates heard her crying and piled into the hallway, and I had to say it again and then again: the name, unique, and that phrase, so common. No one had any questions. It wasn’t a surprise, like Alan Rickman, or a secret, like David Bowie. We had done all this before.
My roommate put her makeup brush down on our grubby vanity table, this puffy thing making a surprisingly weighty clink, and I thought what a good image that would make in a piece. And then I remembered that I’d written this piece before, years ago, for another entertainment site and about another trans woman. And even though this piece didn’t exist yet I knew it would be the same one, the piece I always write when this happens.
I thought about the hundreds of other writers stumbling into the morning news, spilling their coffee as they raced to file emotions on Alan Rickman and David Bowie, their grief coalescing because it had to, because there are deadlines and style guides for all the ways we can feel about things. There were the familiar steps to take, the tasks that always come next.
My roommates and I hugged each other, and they left for work. I fed my cat and filled my coffee mug and turned on my computer. I watched the media pieces on Alan Rickman start to pop up and my friends start to share them. I waited for someone to say something, for someone else to set the wheels in motion. And then I did what I always do, and I started writing the whole thing down.