I don’t remember much about my childhood. There is a bit from a trip to North Carolina to visit friends where I received a manila envelope containing a protractor, a ruler (which my parents took away from me because it was too sharp), paper, a pen (also taken away from me), pencil, and a big pink eraser. You know, all the things that a three-year-old future writer would delight in being given as a gift. We’d take after-dinner rides to TVA to look for deer in “Big Red”, an old pick-up that was so beloved, my mom and I cried when she finally had to be traded in for a newer, but never as lovable, truck. Vividly, I recall seeing E.T. in the theater and Mom making fun of the lady in the bathroom who was sniffing and, rather loudly, complaining about how her sinuses were killing her. I never could understand quite why someone would be ashamed to cry during a movie.
But the thing I remember most about being a child is television. My parents told me that when I was just an infant, I would be sleeping on a blanket in the middle of the floor, in front of the television, with my bottom in the air, and every time this one particular Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial would come on, I’d wake up, lift my head, watch the advertisement in its entirety, then instantly fall back to sleep. Now, why my parents put me to sleep in front of the television rather than, say, in a crib is beyond me. It might help explain, however, why I ended up sleeping between my mom and dad until I was nine years old.
Clearly, I was hooked on jingles from a very early age, but I developed a love of sitcoms early in life as well. On November 26, 1977, I was born. On September 14th of 1978, ABC aired Mork and Mindy for the first time. From what I was led to believe, I was a fan as soon as it premiered. Though I do not remember speaking my first words, “good” followed by “Na-nu Na-nu”, I do vividly remember feeling deeply connected to the character Mork. Additionally, I recall a glorious day when my Aunt Linda had visited this faraway place called a “shopping mall” (something I would not see the likes of until I was a preteen because my parents did not drive out of our small town unless there was a funeral to attend). Aunt Linda brought me a Mork poster. My parents hung the poster on the door of my bedroom. I was only two.
Watching Mork as a small child helped me feel less alone. He was weird and was from another planet. I was weird and felt like I was from another planet. We had a
connection. Of course, like the rest of America, when I fell in love with Mork, I fell in love with Robin Williams. I loved and identified with Mork so much that when my mom tried to explain to me that the same man playing Mork was also playing Popeye, I struggled to understand that Mork was not a real person but only a fictional character being portrayed by an actor.
Eventually I would learn to obsess over other television programs (the next in line was Laverne and Shirley), but I would carry my love for Mork and the man who created him with me throughout my life. In the late 1980s, there was a music video, starring Robin Williams, for the hit song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. Quickly, I grew tired of the song, however, the video has always stuck with me. It is the reason, I believe, that I started to see Mr. Williams as more than just an actor I adored. He became a member of my family.
I have an uncle David. Or, I guess I should say, I had an Uncle David. He actually passed away a few weeks ago. Not long after Mr. Williams passed away. I was never close to much of my family. Today I can say that I am not close to any family members beyond my children and my husband. Since my mom died, I barely keep in touch with anyone. But at one point in time, I knew that my Uncle David adored me. I’m not sure why. I was a vegetarian and he’d cook green beans separately for me, without the ham. Beyond that one small gesture, it was merely my aunt’s assurance that made me aware of his adoration. From the time I saw the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” music video, I associated it with my Uncle David. Mr. Williams looked so much like my uncle in that video. The facial hair. The goofy little smile. My uncle was always rather sour, gruff, and distant when we’d see him. But the “uncle” in the video was dancing around like a fun-loving giant child. The man in this video symbolized what I wish I had in my life… a male family member who openly loved me, cared about me, accepted me, and who enjoyed life. Interestingly, that same uncle, along with my aunt, offered to take me to see Toys in the theater when I so desperately wanted to see it and my parents weren’t willing to take me. His kindness further connects my uncle and Mr. Williams in my strange mind.
In high school, my relationship with Mr. Williams evolved. My best friend was obsessed with him. We had two men in our lives who closely resembled Mr. Williams. One was her first love, the star of our drama department with whom I was lucky to have worked, and the second was our amazing Spanish teacher. It was easy to love these guys because, yet again, I could just transfer my love for Robin Williams onto them.
By the time I was in my twenties, thanks to things like being dumped the day before my wedding, I was basically a big mess. I’d graduated top of my class, yet I had no direction. To say I was not well would be an understatement. When I started seeing a psychiatrist, he diagnosed me with Bi-polar disorder and put me on a variety of psych meds. My self-worth plummeted and my weigh skyrocketed. I began to look for meaning in my life. And I started to read a great deal about my “condition”. I use quotation marks because I am not convinced that the doctor’s expert opinion was entirely accurate and today I do not believe I am nor have ever been bi-polar. At the time, I remember reading as much as I could get my hands on about Bi-polar disorder and learning that it was believed that Robin Williams shared my diagnosis. I would think to myself that I was in good company. It felt like permission to keep being myself when I’d think about how we were both given the same label.
More recently, not only have I had to deal with my first-born’s mental health issues, but my own issues would pop back up every once in a while as well. Nowadays, it’s believed that my son and I actually have Asperger’s and, sadly, I have learned that being diagnosed with bi-polar disorder when you are actually autistic is pretty common. In researching this new diagnosis, Robin Williams’ name came up again. It’s believed that he, too, could have been on the autism spectrum and,yet again, I am comforted to think that we might have shared this bit of life experience.
As I mourn his death, alongside the rest of his fans, I feel a deep connection to the man, both personally and to the characters he so skillfully created. He was talented on a level that most will never be able to comprehend. He was also deeply afflicted in a way we will never comprehend. Unfortunately, so often, the talent and the affliction go hand in hand. Saying goodbye is so very hard. But I am glad he was around for so many years, making me laugh, making me cry, and allowing me to feel like a little bit more like a person and less like a failure. Thank you, Uncle Robin, for helping me feel less alone.