I wrote this essay shortly after Carrie Fisher passed away in 2016 and have been trying to find a home for it ever since. In honor of what will be her final appearance as General Leia in The Last Jedi, I’ve decided to just post it here. This is part 2 of 3. Part 1 is is linked here and below. Come on back Friday for the thrilling conclusion.
(Trigger warning: depression, prolonged illness, suicide)
But that is not the only time Carrie Fisher saved my life. The second time requires some context to be understood, and it wouldn’t make sense to a child. So we move into part 2 of the story, in which you are now an adolescent. How’s being fifteen going for you, Harmony?
Spoiler alert: it isn’t going great. The good news is that you’ve started using your real name. The bad news is that you’re still aggressively nerdy, pudgy and bespectacled, and wounded by the world around you at every turn. Your mother no longer has the time and patience to seek out role models for you, as she is occupied by a mysterious and chronic health condition. This condition is resulting in her dying or killing herself or making a big deal out of nothing (depending on whom you ask). But she knows that her daughter still needs guidance. She knows that you love to write, and that you are naturally funny, and she feels that you deserve an audience. Your favorite thing to read, other than Lois Duncan novels, is The Onion. So your mother writes to the editorial board of The Onion, explaining her ongoing illness and her gratitude for the laughter their work gave to your family in a difficult time. She also mentions that her talented daughter wants nothing more than to write for them someday- a wish you had never shared with your mother before, though it seems obvious in hindsight. In response The Onion editors send an absolutely lovely letter of encouragement, a box full of print-editions and Onion books, and your most prized t-shirt for the next two years.
You come home from school one day and your mother presents their gifts to you. She is so proud of herself, and moreso she is hopeful that this might be The Thing That Finally Cheers You Up. You are cautiously pleased- you’d been waiting for Our Dumb Century to turn up at Half-Price Books for months now! -but you are also mortified. How could your mother tell these unknown people about her illness and your sadness? Where the hell did she get off allowing them to send her books and merchandise? You weren’t charity cases! Didn’t she know there were children in sub-Saharan Africa who had never even heard of satirical newspapers?
In response, your mother sighs and rolls her eyes. You will always remember exactly how she looked at that moment. She sneered at you in a somehow loving way, cocooned in one of her omnipresent shapeless t-shirt nightgowns, the outline of a morphine pump snuggled up to her breast like a sugar glider. Her ever-beautiful french tipped nails (a home job, thank you Sally Hansen) tapped on the side of her drug store cane. She fixed you with a shut-up look, then she said:
“Listen. This all sucks. It’s not going to stop sucking. You’re going to have to keep dealing with it. Why not get what you can out of it?”
You remain embarrassed, but you also read and reread the gifts from the Onion until they fall apart in your hands. You begin to write your own satirical articles on your home computer, hidden in a folder marked “Homework”, your ambitions guarded from others in the same way that most people your age hide their porn. You dream of the mythical Midwestern metropolises- Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh -and of a life that could be sustained there by your gifts. You dream of laptops and coffee shops, of a byline in italics. You let yourself hope.
Then she dies, and everything changes.
What does any of this have to do with Carrie Fisher? Good question. Let’s jump ahead one more time.
We are in the third and final part of this story. You are now Harmony at the age of thirty. You will not be surprised to learn that you are still fat and bespectacled, but you have at least begun to dress for it, and you are now comfortable telling your bullies where to shove it. Your twenties were long and weird and difficult, but they spat you out on the other side in the skin of an adult. You are now a woman with a dog and a master’s degree and a husband and a real job and maybe the beginnings of a drinking problem- but that’s a worry for another time. You have done all of the things that were supposed to make your life complete, and yet.
You are still depressed. You are used to being depressed. You have stopped fighting it. Depression is the annoying sit-com neighbor in your life, a schmuck in a Hawaiian shirt who crowds your every move and turns everything you touch to shit. He pops up at the worst times, ruining everything with predictable hijinks like some kind of bizarro Steve Urkel. Sometimes he stays out of the plot for minutes at a time, and you almost think he’s gone. Then he’s back, swinging through an open window and dropping his popular catchphrase: “Hey, why don’t you just kill yourself?!” Cue laughter. Cue applause.
Thirty-year old Harmony is exhausted by her depression. You are so tired of driving people away, of doing everything wrong, of not being strong enough. You sleep all of the time, but you never feel awake. You begin to notice things: the heights of bridges, the airproof plumbers tape that could seal the windows of a garage, the skulls and crossbones on the chemicals beneath your sink. These small details are now lit in neon everywhere you look, and on your weariest days you are powerless to close your eyes against them. In desperation you return to the therapist that kept you alive after your mother died. You ask this therapist how people ever learn to be happy, because you never did and you’re not sure you can continue to live if happiness isn’t at least a possibility somewhere down the road. You can’t handle a lifetime of endless visits from your brain’s warped, darkest-timeline companion.
You know you don’t actually want to be dead, not really, but you need something to live for or that’s where things are going to end up. So what’s it going to be?