Monday, November 26, 2007

SS: Hey, Danny, it’s Me

Last week, I found out that a friend of mine committed suicide. We had not been in contact for a few years, and it was a mutual friend who called me with the news. His name was Danny, and it is still hard for me to comprehend that he is gone. I wanted to write something about him, as a sort of a tribute. He was a special person – the type whose loss truly makes a dent in the world.

I met Danny in 1999, about four months after I moved to New York City from my hometown near Washington, DC. It was a difficult time for me. I was feeling lonely in this gigantic new city, I was struggling with my first post-college job, and had comically horrific roommates. I was doing all I could to keep myself together emotionally.

Almost from the moment he said hello, Danny put me at ease. He was a joker, and especially fond of impersonations. I remember the day we met because he launched into a hilarious imaginary dialogue between these two ladies – a mother and her long-in-the-tooth daughter who lived in Long Island. He had them throwing these casual yet incredibly caustic barbs at one another – all in a stereotypical Long Island accent. I was laughing so hard that day I managed to forget my worries.

We exchanged numbers, and would periodically get together or just talk on the phone for the next several years. He was quite open about personal issues, and I suppose this helped me open up to him about some of my own struggles at the time. He never tried to give me some quick-fix-it type advice. He would just listen and make me laugh. I appreciated this – sometimes you just need someone to listen.

Danny was a talented actor and comedian. He wrote several plays based on or influenced by his growing up gay in a Jewish neighborhood in Long Island. One of my favorites was “Shred it ‘Till It Blooms,” in which he portrayed the Old Testament God in a slinky cocktail gown and a feather boa. In another, “Gimme That Old Time Religion,” he wrote in a scene between Sarah and Hagar in which the two bond over using hand moisturizer. He said this was an homage to me: I have dry hands, so I’m always carting around a bottle of hand lotion, which I apply when the need arises. He loved this. He thought it was an extraordinarily glamorous and feminine ritual; that it captured some "true" essence of femininity. He would say I was the woman he wished he could be. Coming from him, I can think of no greater compliment.

It is amazing how prolific Danny was, considering some of the spectacular demons he dealt with daily. He was bipolar, and even with medications, he still struggled with the horrific highs and lows of the disease. He could be incredibly productive and confident during his manic periods -- writing his plays and comedy monologues -- as well as incredibly self-destructive.

When he was down, it was like he was pinned by a rock to the deepest corner of the Grand Canyon. He would completely isolate himself from human contact. You couldn’t get him on the phone, and he certainly wouldn’t call you. Nothing could bring him out of this -- not medicine, not therapy, not religion -- except for the passing of time.

And there were times he was on an even keel. He was calm. Those of us with less neurological ticks in our brain cannot begin to understand how lucky we are just to feel “even” each day. We cannot comprehend what it feels like to be permanently on the edge of the cliff, first afraid to fall – perhaps even fighting it –then accepting the inevitable descent, and finally praying for it to happen.

I wish Danny didn’t make the choice he did, but part of me can understand why he might have felt there was no longer any other viable option. He couldn’t find a medication that was working and I presume therapy wasn’t helping. He must have felt like a mute trapped in an abandoned mine – even if he wanted help, it was impossible for him to call out for it. A deep depression will do that; and if the pain doesn’t kill you, the numbness will. The numbness gives you the courage to do it.

I am sad that I lost contact with him before his death, especially because it was for no other reason than I was being a typical over-scheduled, crazily busy New Yorker. I would never be as arrogant to presume I could have prevented his death. I wasn’t a close friend of his and I think he was already on a path from which he would not be diverted. But I am sorry I couldn’t have had one more conversation with him:

Hey Danny, it’s me, Sarah. I’m sorry I haven’t called you in a while. A lot of things have happened in the past few years. I bought an apartment, quit that magazine job, and got married. I have a cat now. It’s November 26, 2007, and I’ll be 31 tomorrow. Wish you could be here. I love you.

© Sarah Stanfield, November 26, 2007


The Write Bunch said...

RS: Your friend sounds lovely. I know from up close how challenging bipolar disorder can be--in mild forms at least. It is an unimaginable struggle. I love hearing peoples stories of people who've touched their lives and can only live on in the remembrances shared. He lives on through your words and you honor him beautifully.

The Write Bunch said...

HC: SS, very powerful and moving. I wish I had known Danny, too, from your description of him. I agree with RS that Danny lives on through you. Thank you for telling me about him.

The Write Bunch said...

DW: Danny is very lucky to have known you. Your description of him "pinned by a rock to the deepest corner of the Grand Canyon" really expresses the paralyzing darkness that can envelop us. Thank you for sharing Danny with us.

The Write Bunch said...

DW: Danny is very lucky to have known you. Your description of him "pinned by a rock to the deepest corner of the Grand Canyon" really expresses the paralyzing darkness that can envelop us. Thank you for sharing Danny with us.

sezhoo said...

AV: Thank you for such a moving, honest tribute to Danny. Yes, it's the numbness, strangely enough, that precedes courage here. Your last paragraph, btw, is as moving a eulogy as any I've seen. Thank you. And Happy Birthday.