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We Remember You

By Benjamin Lisman All Rights Reserved ©



In fond memory of Robin McLaurin Williams July 21st, 1951 to August 11th, 2014 “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

We Remember You

It was 3:33AM on a Monday morning in August, and the only sound to break the unnatural silence of the California street was the soft sobbing of a man, defeated. The comedian sat alone on an unlit bus stop bench, face buried in his calloused hands as the well of black emotions threatened to tear him apart. For the better part of a lifetime he’d taught the world to laugh and love and live anew; he’d played father and physician, king and pauper. He was a child in a man’s body, and dressed as a woman in a desperate bid to see his own children. He was a soldier and a scholar, a bard and a bastard. He was an emulation of the human soul, and sometimes even gave life to things that should not have been; bouncing orbs of goo, animated bats or penguins, and even wax figures of historical heroes. Once, he was even a being of phenomenal cosmic power. But he doesn’t feel very phenomenal now. Now he feels empty and alone, angry and sad. He rages and roars, unable to see the light, struggling to find something to stave off the worst of the truths, one he is not ready to accept. He is afraid; afraid of the demon in the bottle, afraid of the tremors and shakes. But mostly, he is afraid because he does not know what will come next, and he wonders where he went wrong, and whether or not the decision he made was a mistake. Tonight, he is afraid of the unknown.

The soft creak of the wooden bench as someone took the seat beside him initially went unnoticed, but the stranger paid it no mind. This wasn’t about him, it was about the illusion of forever, and what the worth of a man was, on a world that is merely a speck of dust in an ever-expanding infinity. All of existence balanced on a single moment, suspended in eternity, holding its breath while a lonely comedian cries. It was still 3:33AM on a Monday morning in August when the man’s wretched sobs finally came to a halt; he felt like he’d been crying forever, and his eyes stung from dryness. He wiped his face on the back of one hairy hand and sat back, staring up at the night sky as he waited for the redness to fade, silently thankful that the stranger beside him had not recognized him; or, if he had, appreciated that the man hadn’t demanded the comedian perform for him on the spot. No, that’s not fair of me to say, the comedian corrected himself. The people were why he did what he did, what he had done, for so long; there was a noble majesty in laughter, a beauty in the unbridled merriment that came with a smile. He’d made millions in his life, performing for the people, but he would have done it for free. Love and laughter was better than any name brand accessory, fast car, or fine liquor.

Such pious nobility, he mocked himself. Lord knows that he’d never really worked for free. He’d always had his indulgences; his cocaine, his booze, his women, his ego. He’d gotten drunk and surly, made an ass of himself and embarrassed his friends and loved ones when he’d gotten out of control. The fame had made him into a monster sometimes, destroyed marriages and friendships. The limelight and the adoration was as much of a drug as any other that he’d done, and the high was a hundred times more intense than the purest coke or the oldest bourbon; of course, the crashes were harder too. Puking and screaming and fighting, saying horrible things. Taking my own weakness out on others, no wonder I never had any real friends. He beat down on himself again, scowling. At one point, he glanced over at the man on the bench beside him. Dressed in a navy suit and tie, looking like an early-morning commuter who’d just stepped off the set of Mad Men. His brown hair was slicked back and combed, with just enough salt and pepper at the temples to show a little age. The comedian shook his head a little, I always wished I could look that put together, even for just five minutes, even if it meant I’d explode.

As if sensing his gaze, the stranger looked at the comedian and smiled; his expression was warm and soft, the edges of his eyes crinkling with laugh lines. He looked like the kind of father that every kid should have, the kind who came home every night and listened patiently to everyone’s day. The father who never raised his voice or got angry, who never got drunk and beat his kids or wife. He averted his eyes from the stranger and looked back up to the sky again, ashamed of the spectacle he’d made. What must he have looked like? A grown man, heaving and sobbing on a bus bench at three AM. God, what a mess. He languished in the awkward silence for a while longer, before finally forcing a smile. “Good evening.”

“Indeed, lovely night, isn’t it?” The man looked upward and smiled. “The universe, in all its splendor.”

The comedian followed his gaze. The night was darker than he’d ever seen it. But as he peered at it harder, his eyes adjusted to the night and he could see the stars slowly bloom into existence. Then other shapes, distant planets and suns, even galaxies that swept across the sky in great whorls of vibrant colors that humans did not have names for. The view into the night sky seemed to expand forever, through the whole of creation; somewhere out there, in the vast expanse, life was emerging from the water and taking its first tentative steps on alien soil. On another world, a father was tucking his children into bed, their moons light by the glow of a crimson star. Then other worlds, and other worlds beyond those, onward to larger things that spiraled into the future. The comedian realized that he’d never really stopped to look into the stars like this; to witness how vast the universe was, and by comparison, how small a man could be. He felt awe struck, and humbled. “Wow, really shows you how insignificant you are, huh?”

“Oh, not at all.” The stranger smiled and shook his head, “Quite the opposite actually. Every second, a creature is born, and a creature dies; worlds spin into existence, and later come undone. Stars explode into being as a flare of brilliance and beauty, only to later curl in upon themselves and be extinguished. Life and death are an infallible part of the whole cycle of creation; the matter that we are composed of was once the body of a radiant star, and in the future, it will be again. Our thoughts and emotions will echo into eternity, preserved in the thoughts and hearts of everyone we touch. In this way, every individual is irreplaceable and essential. We are all made of stars.” He smiled and looked up at the heavens again, “Such a magnificent thing, really.”

“Wow,” the comedian replied, dumbstruck. “That’s really beautiful. Did you write that?”

“No,” he chuckled in reply, “That belongs to the universe. Dictated, but not read.”

For the first time that night, the comedian laughed; it was brief, but the warmth was like an old friend. “I’m Robin, by the way.” He extended a hand.

The stranger shook it, that familiar smile on his face. “I know who you are, Mister Williams. I’m a big fan.”

“That’s not possible. We’ve been talking for nearly five minutes and you haven’t asked me to sign your tits.” The comedian flushed, “Sorry about that, I-” The stranger’s golden laughter erupted out of his throat in melodious waves, cutting Robin’s apology off in a burst of warmth. “Heh, sorry, humor is my defense mechanism.”

“I know.” He replied with a smile, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. “That’s why people love you so much, Mister Williams, because your form of attack is to disarm people with laughter and happiness.” The stranger gestured with one hand, “You could be physically intimidating, you could be abrasive or insulting. But not you, you make them laugh. That’s why I like you.”

“That means a lot to me.” Robin chuckled, clasping his hands awkwardly, “A lot of people laugh, but to know that what I do . . . what I did, was important to them? That means the world to me.”

“You know what my favorite was?” The stranger leaned back on the bench, reminiscing. “My favorite was the ‘Newsboy’ sketch.” He screwed his expression up tight and turned to face the comedian. “I got something to keep you sane, Mister Williams. Everyone has autographs of movie stars. I got something different. Lookit this, autograph of Albert Einstein. Lookit that, Mister Williams, look at his eyes. See, the lights are on and everybody’s home, you see that don’cha? You know what he used to say, don’cha Mister Williams? He used to say…”

“My sense of God, is my sense of wonder about the universe.” Robin finished the line, “My God, that feels like ages ago.”

“January 21st, 1983. It was taken from a stand-up performance the previous year, and about four months of studio re-mastering. You never got an award for it, which was a crock of . . . well, humbug, to be honest. I suspect that they were too buzzed on cocaine and alcohol to app-”

“Okay, now seriously.” Robin cut him off, jumping to his feet and turning to face the stranger. “Who are you, really? God, an angel? No,” he scoffed bitterly, “No angels where I’m going, I know that much. So does that make you some sort of demon here to chat me up? A little foreplay before you bend me over, is that it? Because look here man, I don’t need all this bullshit!”

He didn’t interrupt. The stranger let him rant and rave, swear and wave his arms as he let the fear and the rage and the sorrow spill out; grief had seven stages, and the comedian made no attempt to hide any of the ugliness he had inside about it. He raged, he threatened, he roared; he demanded leniency, he preached his entitlement, and in the end he begged for mercy. It was only once Robin was done, kneeling on the sidewalk as he shook with spent frustration, the stranger spoke again. “Please, Robin, sit down.” He patted the seat beside him, which the comedian wearily accepted.

“I don’t have a name, Mister Williams. I am neither God nor the devil; I don’t know if they exist, and furthermore, I don’t believe in angels or demons. I know what you did, and honestly, I don’t care. I’m not here to judge you, but if you’re asking my opinion, I don’t think anyone’s going to slam your fingers in a drawer over this. I think that the cosmic forces that weigh in on the finer mechanics of good and evil have more pressing matters to attend, than the soul of any one person.” He adjusted his glasses absently, “What I’m here to do, is help you.” He gestured toward the city in the valley below, dark structures perceivable only from the pinpoints of light inside them each, “Do you see those light? Do you know what those are?” The question was rhetorical and needed no answer, “They’re people, Robin. They eat and sleep and fart and procreate, and eventually they die; some of natural causes, some of violence or benign tragedy, and some take their own lives. The world is a big, scary place, and sometimes people get so wrapped up in the madness that they lose sight of those lights. They lose their way.”

“Those people know who you are; they’ve seen you, or heard you, and they’ve laughed at your performances before. Some of them were touched by your humor, or your insight, or your tenacity; it gave them a light to look for, a glimmer of hope in the darkness that guided them through one of the darker pockets in their journey.” He gently touched the comedian’s shoulder, “Whether or not you realize it, you gave the people a part of yourself, something they will cherish and share with their friends and families for the rest of their days. In that sense, in each of their hearts, a part of you will live forever, and no depression or aggression or act of self-destruction can ever take that away from you.” The comedian looked at the stranger with wistful tears in his eyes, and he returned the gaze with a smile, “I’m just here to remind you that death isn’t the end of the journey, just the next stretch of road as you look into the horizon; and as you take that first step, I want you to remember that the people love you, Robin, and that love is something that you will always have inside you. All you have to do is look for the light, and you’ll find it.”

Robin wiped his tears off on the back of his hand and smiled crookedly, “Well, when you put it that way, I guess there really isn’t anything to be afraid of.”

And he was gone. The stranger was alone on the bench. The time was 3:34AM on a Monday morning in August, and Robin Williams was gone from the world, too soon. The people would mourn. His friends and family would cry. But the warmth of laughter and love that he had given them would live on in their hearts, and they would share his stories with their friends and families, and that light would live on forever. The laughter could never, truly, die.

And somewhere, amidst the sea of stars in that indigo sky, the comedian looked down on the world below and smiled a crooked smile; even so far away he could still see the light of their laughter, a warm glow into perpetuity. In the mystery of what waits for us all beyond life and death, our memories would guide him along into eternity, and as he had done for us with a lifetime of mirth and majesty, now we would light the way for him.

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