So Your Childhood Heroes Are Dead, What Now?

“That’s really… interesting?” You might think upon reading the title. What you mean is depressing. If you’re not full of crap, you’ll just say it’s depressing. It’s supposed to be. I just need to get all of this off my chest.

2016 was a Sharknado of a year, meaning it was really really bad but everyone talked about it and we didn’t mind that it was bad because in one way or another, we all got some kind of attention out of it. Everyone died in 2016, if I were in front of a crowd I’d say “Who out there lost a loved one in 2016?”, I’d imagine nearly everyone would raise their hands. If I asked, “Who out there lost their childhood hero?”, I’d probably see the same amount of hands. This is a great technique I learned in the speech class I took for fun my senior year to get out of Astronomy, it gets everyone’s attention and brings them closer to the subject. So I’m going to assume you’re reading this because your childhood hero died in 2016, if you raised your hand you can put it down. If you’re reading this because you’re my friend, family, or my mom shared this on Facebook and you want to see if I’m as wonderful as she says I am and you raised your hand, you may put your hand down. By the way, I am twice as wonderful as she says I am. She likes to keep me humble and not brag too hard about me, she doesn’t like making other parents or adults in general feel too badly about themselves. Mom’s neat that way.

So now that we’ve aired out what this is all about, let’s get down to it.

Why do we have childhood heroes? What is the point in picking someone and idolizing them for a period of time or our whole lives? Everyone at some point or another is disappointing. We can forgive people for some of their mistakes or wrong-doings but it’s harder to cope when they’ve done something unforgivable. It’s also really hard to cope when they die, if you weren’t aware. To answer the first and second question: we have childhood heroes because we see them and decide they are the people we want to be or have in our lives, we want to grow up and see if we’ve measured up to our heroes. Can you say you measured up to your childhood hero? Surprisingly, I’m kinda halfway there.

My introduction to Robin was as any child’s was. Aladdin was a gateway drug to Williams and luckily I have parents who like him too, so naturally I saw every other child appropriate (or… slightly child appropriate) Robin Williams movie ever made. When I like an actor, I watch all of their filmography I can get my hands on. I loved Robin as an actor, I thought he was dedicated and hilarious. It wasn’t until I listened to his stand-up that I really grew to love his work even more and find comfort in him, oddly enough.

I was in 7th grade and couldn’t sleep. I had bouts of insomnia that drove me insane and on top of that I was depressed, but I thought I was just what I considered “Middle School Teen Angst” depressed so I didn’t really push it with my parents. On the nights I fought to sleep, I decided my best bet was to listen to stand-up comedy. I can’t remember how I got this bright idea and I’m sure it might be insulting to comedians, but they really know how to put a girl to sleep! I listened to everyone and I was in 7th grade so I thought they were all funny. I was shocked to hear Robin William’s stand-up. It was like hearing a teacher cuss. It was awe-inspiring and thrilling, which is exactly how they describe Harry Potter and also how I describe the first time I went to the bathroom in a Von Maur restroom. Listening to his raw and crass comedy soothed my worried mind enough to fall asleep and it was good enough to make me happy before going to bed and want to go to school the next morning.

August 11th, 2014: I was at my grandma Margaret’s for dinner. My aunt and uncle were there with my little cousin. We were all crammed into her living room watching the TV, three to a TV tray eating the best pulled pork I’d ever had. The news was on and as typical Metro Detroiters, we groaned about whatever was going on or laughing about what ridiculous story was being aired. Everything was fine. It always starts like that. When the announcement first came up on the screen and the broadcaster announced it with a sad tone and a brave face, I immediately said it was a hoax. I had been fooled before by Facebook hoaxes trying to tell me that Bill Nye died, like it was possible that Bill Nye was a mortal man. My family knew I knew and waited patiently for the blow. Everyone was upset he died because everyone loved Robin Williams. I sat there, listened to the full story- how he did it, why he did it, and how awful it was that it was him. And then I slowly walked the ten steps to the bathroom, closed the door, and cried for a long time. Whenever I cry about someone who’s passed away, I immediately think about the people they’re close to. I thought about his family and friends and former co-stars. I thought about the projects he was working on and how things would be different now that he was gone. Then I thought about how awful it felt knowing that Robin Williams was gone. That someone who’d been in my life through a TV screen was gone in real life.

I felt like a big dummy for taking it so personally. It’s not like I knew him. It’s not like we’d ever met or worked together. I was just as upset as any other fan. It almost felt selfish to mourn so heavily because after I grieved for his family and close friends, all I could think about was how I’d never be able to see him or hear anything new from him again. My broken heart wasn’t mad at Robin for doing what he did, I was 15 and depressed. If it’s not a stupid boy from school that you cry about, it’s gotta be Robin Williams. When a celebrity dies, you find out everyone loves them. Whether that love is real or not doesn’t matter- everyone is entitled to grief. Being able to like and share pictures of him with funny stories from people who met him and find out new things about him I didn’t know before comforted me. It was like going to a funeral and celebrating his life but with thousands of people on the internet. It’s nice knowing that you’re not alone when you’re hurting. I wasn’t the only one who lost a childhood hero that day and that’s okay.

The shot in the face was Carrie Fisher. I feel like someone might have described her as a shot in the face before and I feel like people describe me as that too. That’s part of the reason I was, and still am, torn up about Carrie Fisher dying. Carrie was a constant in my life. There was not a moment Carrie Fisher wasn’t someone I had in my mind as a hero. Much like Robin, she became even more important to me when as I grew up.

When I was an infant, my dad would let my mom sleep and he’d give me a bottle and rock me back to sleep. While he did this, he put Star Wars on. If you didn’t know this already, Star Wars is the best when you are a baby. It has cool lights, soothing voices, nice colors, and sick noises. I might have enjoyed the movies more as a baby than I do now. When I was old enough to really grasp concepts and understand people, I was immediately drawn to Princess Leia. She was hardcore, pretty, and a girl. I was all of those things as a young child as well. My absolute love for Leia made me want to be Leia which meant hanging with the boys. Oh yeah, I was totally the girl with more guy friends and let me tell you- that whole bit that goes something like “I’m friends with guys because it’s less drama” is such bull, I choked just typing it. When you plays Star Wars with boys, you’re always Leia. I was cool with being Leia until I realized Luke and Han got all the action and the boys ignored me when I was making important decisions as a general and senator and princess. I thought it was very Leia Organa of me to beat the crap out of the boys until they let me be Han Solo. Once I was Han for a few times, I decided I was done and moved on from playing Star Wars with boys. I had SNL skits I secretly watched to rewrite and make funny (SNL was rough when I was growing up).

Being a television devotee, I grew up hearing all kinds of things about Carrie Fisher. To me, Carrie was Leia. I was a kid, it’s natural. So it was weird hearing things about Leia that weren’t very… galactic. That’s when I realized that Carrie Fisher wasn’t just Leia. She was a totally different person! This was a realization I made as a child, unlike many grown men who still can’t make that realization post-mortem. Being the curious kiddo I was, I decided to go downstairs to our computer corner and Google Carrie Fisher. I read all the articles I could and learned a new term. That term was something that would later come back to me. The term? Bipolar disorder. Now, I was a nosy kid so I knew what Bipolar Disorder was. However, I was under the impression from media and people around me that it was bad, like Bad bad. That led to me doing more research about Bipolar Disorder. Now, you’re probably thinking “Jesus, how old was she?” I was probably ten. I’d say like eight to at least twelve, if we’re talking safe ranges. My love for Carrie Fisher was stronger than some stigmatized bull. Carrie was Bipolar and that was okay, it was none of my business and I wished her the best. Thus began my tenure as a spokeswoman and supporter of both Carrie and Bipolar Disorder awareness.

When I was a junior in high school, I started going to therapy. I was depressed, like for real depressed, not the fake thing I thought I was to comfort myself and my family. When I was a senior, I found out that depression was only a side dish to my entree of Bipolar Disorder. Before this kickass diagnosis, I went to a psychic. What does this have to do with anything? Brace yourself and be patient, god….

The moment I sat down, I kid you not, the psychic asked me if I was mentally ill. “Wow, you’re good!” I exclaimed, making her laugh. She told me that I wasn’t always going to see it as a bad thing, that I would find comfort in it through talking about it with other people who understood what it was like. That I would entertain people with stories of my pain and how I made it out of those situations through humor “much like Carrie Fisher.” I thought this was funny, she just up and mentioned Carrie Fisher like she knew I liked Carrie Fisher. Oh, and by “I thought this was funny” I really mean I started crying. “You’re basically going to have a similar career.” She informed me. “Oh, so like writing?” I assumed. “Yeah but I see something bigger, you act right?” She asked me, knowing the answer already because she’s a damned witch and genius. I almost did a spit take of my oolong tea (it probably wasn’t oolong but let’s just go with it, mhm?) I was a child of theatre and have retired multiple times. I’m minoring in theatre because if I’m unemployed as a writer, director, news broadcaster, journalist, radio personality or podcaster, I can also be unemployed as an actress. “So, I’m going to be Princess Leia?” I asked, because what else would I say to that. “Not quite but you have the potential to be something like that.” She smiled at me.

I like to listen to the recording of our session because not only was she totally right but it’s so weird to think that she just pulled Carrie Fisher out of her mouth and knew to apply it to my life. So I went on with my life as being Basically Carrie Fisher, I suppose. I’d like to say, I know I’m not Carrie Fisher. I’m cool with not being Carrie Fisher. Is it an honor to be told I’m practically Carrie Fisher, hell yeah baby. Do I really think I’m going to be something like Princess Leia, no… but I don’t turn 19 until March.

I saw the psychic a few months after Carrie passed away, the hurt was oddly still very fresh to me. I think it’s because I so personally felt for her and just how constant she was. Thinking about it still hurts. Whenever I’d think about writing something as good as Postcards from the Edge, I’d think about whether or not Carrie would like it. For some reason, Carrie Fisher’s approval meant a lot to me and I didn’t even know. What really sucks is knowing that even if things pan out the way they’ve been prophesied, I’ll never know if she liked whatever I come up with. Another thing that sucks: the world took away Carrie and left it with me to be the voice for surviving mental illness with rough sense of humor and messy stories. I hate chosen one stories! (P.S. please don’t take me seriously)

Everyone knew I loved Carrie Fisher, just like they knew I loved Robin Williams. When Carrie was first admitted to the hospital, I went over to my best friends house as a distraction from worrying myself sick. I spent the entire holiday thinking about Carrie and her family. I even asked those who pray, to keep her in their prayers. I’d lost one hero, I wasn’t going to lose my Carrie Fisher so fast. When she did pass away, I swear everyone called me to ask if I was okay. I got a lot of texts and calls and messages. To be honest and only slightly dramatic, I was far from okay. Life was falling apart to begin with and once again I relied on a celebrity I didn’t even know to keep me comforted and sane. I still look at Carrie’s twitter, thinking that maybe if I forget for a moment, a new emoji filled tweet will appear and I’ll be able to read it like it’s my mother tongue.

Both Carrie and Robin died before I turned 18 meaning I lost both of my childhood heroes before I turned 18. Incidentally, both Carrie and Robin had depression and Bipolar Disorder (From what I know, Robin was never really diagnosed but believed he might have been). I never got to know them but they knew each other. That puts me at some kind of ease, knowing that the two people I idolized the most knew each other even though they never knew me. A few months ago someone asked me if I wanted to be like them, they didn’t mean it in the cute way. They meant “do you want to die in your 60s from a drug overdose or suicide?” because people just think they can talk to me like that, I guess. The answer is no, if you were wondering. Another great one I get is, “So did you like, want to be Bipolar and Depressed because of them?”. I have fun with that one because it’s easily the dumbest thing you can say. “Oh yeah, I just messed with my brain until it was chemically imbalanced to perfection. I’m so glad you asked!”

Losing them doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. Luckily, we have access to nearly everything we can get our hands on and talk about them forever. I was lucky to have them in a time I really needed them, when I was growing up. Now that I’m grown up, I can learn from their experiences and by the grace of my stubborn will, help other people like me. I guess that’s what I’ll do now, I’ll work on helping others. I don’t have myself figured out and square to sanity but maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s what made Carrie and Robin so good. I mean, what else am I supposed to do?

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