robin williams, my missing oak

i have two sharply vivid memories of my childhood. one is an audio recording of sleepy hollow i listened to on a tape deck in my family’s apartment in nashville when i was . . . five? six?

i first swam unaided in a swimming pool shaped like a guitar
i swam across the neck, the shortest distance from edge to edge
these are the things i remember.

to this day, the sound of horse hooves on hardwood gives me the shivers. i still dash back indoors from taking out the trash at night, even though i bear little resemblance to ichabod crane, nor do i live in upstate new york (thank goodness).


the second memory is an audio book of pecos bill, voiced by robin williams. i would sit on the top bunk of my bunk bed (i’m not sure why i wanted a bunk bed, as an only child. wishful thinking?) and listen to the cassette while reading along. i remember the tilt and meandering rotation of the solar system mobile in the right far corner of the room (near the window). i remember the angle of light falling into the window, across the floor and the trashcan where i’d fling apple cores, again from the top bunk.

my accuracy often required i hop down
and place the apple core directly into the can
and i’d often find seeds days later that i’d missed during cleanup.

what am i supposed to do when something that was always there, in the background, reassuring, the hum of a fan at night,

is no longer there?

perhaps i’ll rephrase,

what do i do
when the people who are supposed to live forever

actors and storytellers, the daydreams and friends i grew up with, they are supposed to be permanent.

robin williams was one of my ancient oaks,
and i came back to town for a visit
and noticed the oak was gone.

peter pan is supposed to live forever. he isn’t supposed to take his own life.

so what do i do when . . . what do i do when, quite literally, a part of my childhood dies? characters are safe – harry potter isn’t going to get into a traffic accident. i know frodo made it and that he won’t get cancer. inigo got to retire and put his feet up and i don’t have to worry he’ll miss his father too much one night and hurt himself. but people . . . well . . . and i’d forgotten that williams was not the characters he’s portrayed.

i was in the cereal aisle of an iga

when i found out robin williams committed suicide.

i got store brand honey bunches of oats.

the worst part is, i wasn’t surprised. williams always struck me as . . . as too brilliant. too sharp, too able to feel. there always seemed to be a second story his eyes were telling behind the smile.

depression is real.
it is a liar and a thief.
it stole my pecos bill.
it stole his joy.

it is never too late.
it breaks my heart that a man
with such a gift for laughter
and ability to tell the sweet and sometimes sad truth
could not find peace.

* * *

considering i’ve already decided to avoid disney at all costs with my daughter (don’t get me started on the gentle and damning stereotypes of how disney treats its women and how they always need a man to make them whole), i need to make sure the world has as many permanent – or at least permanent as possible – ancient oaks for my girl to grow up with.

Love matters. we should act like it does, all the time.
if you are depressed or think you might be,
tell someone. tell many someones.

(i am often loathe to swing second person and give commands, but i’d rather come across as a little bossy than lose another oak)

check in on people you love.
ask questions.
be the first one to show vulnerability,
and if someone is vulnerable with you,
treat it as a sacred place.

no more losing pecos bills, please.

not like this, at least.

if we’re gonna go, let’s go because we were riding a tornado, ok?

One thought on “robin williams, my missing oak

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s