This article can also be found on the Huffington Post here.
When I read that Robin Williams had committed suicide, it wasn’t much of a change to isolate myself from the storm that followed. A big reason for this is that I place little stock in the speculation and churning cycle of the mainstream media. They chew up issues and spit them back out after raising more questions than they’ve answered. I do my own research and generally stick to the Comedy Network if I want a more generalized summary of any given news item.
I have my own ideas about what it means to control your own life and the right a person should have to end that life if they choose. But I’m not writing this to spout my opinion on suicide.
I’m writing this to tell a story I’ll never have the chance to tell Robin Williams, as if I would’ve had a chance of ever meeting the man.
Before you assume blatant narcissism makes me think I would be on speaking terms with a comedy legend, let me assure you that I hold no illusions on that front. This would’ve only been a secret to hold in my brain, confident that if I ever did get a chance to exchange words with him, Robin Williams would know about the time he showed up in one of my dreams.
Of course if he hadn’t died, he might not have shown up at all. Let’s ignore that particular logical inconsistency.
Speaking of logical inconsistencies, the fact that he was around didn’t even fit the scenario. I was in a beautiful loft in some European paradise. You know the apartments, the kind that only rich people (in real life) and struggling artists (on TV) have, all exposed brick and huge windows for natural lighting. I was living there with a friend from my office and someone who was entirely unfamiliar to me, but whom I intensely disliked for some reason.
At some point during the dream, after I had ascertained that the city I was in was mostly memories of Berlin and everything was beginning to take on the surreal quality of almost-but-not-quite lucid dreaming, he was there. In the apartment, among many more people drinking and carousing, Robin Williams appeared.
In this vague “am-I-dreaming” state, I saw him. He stood with his back against the wall, sipping at some unimportant beverage. He looked around the room in a shy, almost subdued fashion. He seemed unutterably sad, and I wasn’t yet aware enough to know why. I waved to him.
“Hey, Robin! Whatcha doing all the way over there? Come on over!” Only in my dreams would I be the benevolent popular guy and Robin Williams the shy nerd in the corner.
He smiled that sad smile we’ve all seen in a million still images. His smile has always spoken to me in a very personal way. That purse-lipped smile always had a peculiar twist to it, a knowing look. I imagine it as the smile of a person that has figured out some tremendously depressing cosmic truth, and smiles at the rest of us only because we haven’t done so yet. It’s the smile I imagine H.P. Lovecraft would smile.
He did come over, though. Not reluctantly, like I was an aggressive fan. But in a way that made me feel like he was glad for the company. At this point, I was lucid enough that I somehow knew that he was already dead. In that moment, it felt like I had to tell him what was in my heart. As if this would be my last chance.
“I wanted to share something with you,” I said. He nodded.
“You’ve been with me my whole life. When I was a little boy, I got to know you through Aladdin and Jumanji, Mrs. Doubtfire and Hook, and I know I’m not the first person to tell you that. But as I got older, you were still there. In my adolescence you took on new meanings, references within your performances coming into focus.”
To Dream-Robin’s credit, he was still paying attention. Even asleep, I knew he’d heard it all before.
“But the biggest change was when I grew up. Death to Smoochy, One Hour Photo, and your Live on Broadway show helped catapult me into adulthood. I realized then that you’d been in on the joke the whole time; you knew the darkest parts of humanity and just put them aside to bring smiles to children and adults alike. I gained incredible respect for you then, and I’ve always treasured your place in my life.”
It could be that he didn’t know what to say, but it would be far more accurate to assume that my sleeping brain didn’t know what he would say. I know that all four of our eyes filled up with tears, and I asked him a question. Again, the feeling came upon me that this would be my last chance, ever.
“Can I hug you?”
Robin smiled differently, the sort that showed his teeth and rendered his eyes to horizontal slits. It lifted me up inside, just like it did all those times onscreen. I know that he wasn’t a big man, and I must have borrowed some memory of what it feels like to embrace some other small person, perhaps my mother, because the impression of wrapping my arms around him is still strong. I could feel tears sliding down my cheeks, and his own dampening my shoulder.
Shortly afterwards, the dream unravelled and I woke up.
I still won’t indulge in the rumours and speculation surrounding his death. Before, I might have been afraid to. But now I know that regardless of how he died, no matter why, Robin is still with me. As a myriad of characters, references, influences, and most importantly as the sheer spirit of who he was. He’s with me until I die too. And that’s enough for now.
It has to be.