A friend of mine on Facebook says we should all stop anthropomorphizing years - blaming "2016" for being horrible is silly, he says, because the span of time itself isn't responsible for its awfulness. There are other factors, he says. Okay, fine, he's right. The year itself is not the problem. It is the things happening inside that time frame that are.
But still. 2016, you motherfucker.
What to say about Carrie Fisher, as a fan, that hasn't already been said? The impact of this one is kind of out of left field. I didn't ever know she meant as much to me as she did, until today. And that's not really true, because of course it was going to hurt. But like Robin Williams, whose death shook me rather horribly, whose influence and presence in my childhood and coming-of-age was so huge that when he died, it felt like my dad was dying - it turns out I felt Carrie Fisher's death today in the same way. I was helping my daughter with a new Lego set she got for Christmas, and my husband came into the room to get his laptop. He sat down and was apparently checking Facebook, and he looked up and said, "So, Carrie Fisher died."
I finished what I was doing with the padawan, and excused myself to go to the bathroom. I went upstairs, locked the bedroom door, went into the bathroom and locked that door, and then bent over the sink in wracking sobs. When I was done, I went back downstairs and asked the padawan if she wanted to watch Star Wars. She was enthusiastic in her agreement, and I put on The Empire Strikes Back.
For a good portion of the afternoon, I was thinking back on my encounters with Carrie Fisher's work over the years. Star Wars, yes, obviously. I doubt there was a little girl of my generation - the one that doesn't remember a time without Star Wars - who wasn't impacted by Princess Leia. I've known women who have never seen a single Star Wars movie, of course, but even they know Leia and they know her as more a warrior than a love interest. I didn't really read comic books (except Batman) and was too young to have known Wonder Woman well as a kid, but Leia was in my living room from a time I can't exactly pin down. The boys were fascinating (come on, Han Solo!) but Leia was....look, you all get it, I know you do. She kicked ass. She talked back. She stood in front of Darth Vader, knowing how evil he was, and lied for the Rebellion. She survived torture. She didn't wait for someone else to rescue her lover - she dressed as a bounty hunter and did it herself! She killed Jabba the Hutt!
There is no way that I had any clue, as a kid, that the reason Princess Leia was so important to me was that she was everything I really wanted to be. Intelligent, a leader, looked up to, and with nice hair and perfect lipstick while doing it. That sass that might have been bratty in anyone else in A New Hope, or her command of herself in the wake of her planet's destruction, her ability to command others in Empire...I mean, this was all hugely impactful. And Leia wasn't without flaws and she wasn't without doubt. She was totally real, and it wasn't like George Lucas had some kind of insight into women. It was Carrie Fisher, imbuing her character with her real self. She said as much in a recent interview, though it was more about how the years have melded her and Leia, not just culturally but personally.
I was thirteen or so, though, when Carrie had a brand new impact on me. Around that time, I was picking up romance novels at garage sales, reading them when I thought no one was looking, etc. Occasionally I picked up different books, and one day it was a hardcover copy of Carrie's Surrender the Pink. I must have read it half a dozen times that summer. This may be a little too much information, but I can credit Carrie Fisher directly for my sexual awakening, at least a huge part of it. No run-of-the-mill Harlequin held a candle to that book. I remember it well, though the copy I had is long gone.
The first movie I saw in a theater was Blues Brothers (yes, I was an infant and do not recall the experience, but the fact remains and it was a frequent rewatch at my house through the 80s), and the first romantic comedy my mom let me watch (officially, because she consumed plenty on sick day afternoons when I was in elementary school - I have fond memories of watching Arthur and The Goodbye Girl with my mom) was When Harry Met Sally. And there is no doubt that Marie, Sally's best friend, is one of the best characters in that movie and hands down the best "best friend" role in any romantic comedy, largely because of Carrie's portrayal. It was not Princess Leia who first came to mind this afternoon, but that first scene of Carrie's in WHMS, when she's recounting the deeds of her married lover and trying to set Sally up with men from her Rolodex.
Going through her resume, I realize there's plenty of Carrie's film work that I haven't seen, but I've read her fiction (in fact, I was planning on rereading Postcards from the Edge this coming year, because it's been probably fifteen years or more since the first time) and yeah, it had an impact. She was a witty, clever writer, and I loved her stuff.
Her struggles with addiction and depression were so public, and I still think of it as one of the great tragedies, the way she suffered. You want to think, if she had grown up anywhere else, maybe it wouldn't have been like that (and you realize the truth, which is that she might still have done, and that people who aren't in the limelight maybe have it worse in the end - no one is telling their stories, and they often cannot tell their own). The fact that she took her ordeal, her bipolar disorder and her addiction, and spoke out for mental illness awareness, makes her a kind of lioness to me. That's huge.
And you definitely think, on hearing about her heart attack, that so many things likely contributed, lifestyle, the stress her illness put on her. That makes it sadder, it makes it all so much worse. She was experiencing a high in her career, from all indications having hit a stride in her personal life, and it's over. Her suffering, of course, is also over, so there is that.
(And I will say now, the fact that it was her heart, and she was so damn young - 60 is YOUNG - it isn't like this didn't hit hard for other reasons. I will be NAGGING my dad about the cardiologist appointment he is supposed to be setting up in the new year. NAGGING)
It was difficult not to think about Debbie Reynolds, too, outliving her daughter like this, a daughter with whom she had a complicated relationship (and don't we all, really, have difficult or complicated relationships with our mothers?). I sat there, tears running down my face and splashing into the pasta salad I made for dinner, when they talked about Debbie on the evening news, reading her Facebook post, and I thought about my mom and my daughter and I just had to stop and sit down for a bit.
I once said, when Robin Williams died, that it was as if my dad had died, so great was the impact of losing one of the chief voices of my childhood. Today I came to the conclusion that Carrie Fisher was a like a big sister or the rebellious, cool aunt you always hope is going to make it to the reunion so you can have a good time, the woman in your life who gave you your first glass of wine or first shot of whiskey, or who babysat and let you watch horror movies, or let you have a drag of her cigarette and then laughed when you gagged. I can't get past this image and feeling. And on some level, yes, you think of the people who are really in your life in that kind of role as being invincible, immortal, unchanging, up until the moment when their flaws are revealed or they unaccountably disappear, or when they die. I don't think it is a terrible stretch for Carrie Fisher (or any public figure) to be that kind of person in your life. Because of that, I think the collective mourning we've been going through this whole year is legitimate, and probably the kind of thing that's going to change us somehow.
Carrie Fisher didn't apologize. She didn't ask for our pity, nor for our adulation. She said once she wanted her life to be art. I like that sentiment a lot.
I have no doubt this is going to ache for awhile.