A few years ago I received a call in the middle of the night. I awoke in a panic and picked up the ringing cellphone from my nightstand. Nobody calls anymore. Even then, nobody called anymore. It was my friend Charlie from México, sounding nervous and apprehensive, and immediately I knew it was bad. I burst into tears when he told me the news — big, heavy, overwhelming tears that woke my old boyfriend. I remember his tentative touch on my shoulder while I sobbed, my body shaking. When I hung up I told him what Charlie said: Johnny Depp was dead.
This was a time when celebrity death rumors infected the internet — every day, headlines I shrugged off, links I refused to click on because, please, I was better than that. But that night I opened my laptop and Googled: “Johnny Depp death.” While I scrolled through the first few articles, my boyfriend was fuming next to me, angry because he thought, based on my reaction, that something Really Bad had happened — my dad dying, my mom dying, something worthy of my hysteria. By the second article, I realized it was another rumor. Johnny Depp was fine. He was somewhere, alive. I apologized to my worried boyfriend and tried to fall back asleep after I texted Charlie that he was wrong.
Johnny never found out I slept like crap the night he didn’t die.
This morning I woke up to the news that Alan Rickman passed away, only a few days after David Bowie. I thought of that night, a night that became a funny story my ex-boyfriend would share with friends and new acquaintances. A story of absurdity, of irrationality in the face of Celebrity Deaths and what that said about Us. I do get a little embarrassed when I think of that night, because I am aware I overreacted. Just a tad.
I’ve been told time and again that I feel too deeply. I cry openly, like I did both times I watched Inside Out and every time I see Smash get accepted into Texas A&M on the third season of Friday Night Lights. I teared up when Sylvester Stallone won a Golden Globe this past Sunday, and when Emily and Richard see Lorelai get her diploma. I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking whenever I feel like I need a good, long cry, and the mere thought of Severus Snape’s Patronus makes me ache. I tend to cry out of joy more than from sadness, and at times, I realize, I make others uncomfortable.
I’ve seen people on the internet ridicule those who grieve famous people, reminding them they don’t even know those they worship. I saw it when Michael Jackson died and when John Hughes died and when Robin Williams died and again, now. I am not sure why they care enough, why it bothers them enough to have to call it out. I wonder if they’ve never fallen in love with fictional characters, if they’ve never been affected by a book or a movie or a three-minute song. I wonder if they ever cry when they laugh or if they spend their days mocking people who tattoo song lyrics on their arm. I wonder if they think that grieving famous people keeps us from grieving “regular” people, if caring about Scorsese’s latest movie stops us from caring for the environment.
I don’t think I could ever tell someone that what matters to them is not important enough. If I have, I am sorry. There are passions I don’t understand, but I try to and I try to keep my big, opinionated mouth shut. Sometimes it is difficult.
When I found out Alan Rickman died, the first person I thought of was my mother. I remember watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time and talking about it with her afterward. She knew how much I loved the books and she let me talk about them for hours, days, weeks — and now, years — so she knew I would want to do the same with the films. I remember sitting around our red kitchen counter when she asked me what I thought of the casting, and I remember saying Alan Rickman was perfect for the part. My mother, of course, knew him for his massive body of work; to me, the 12-year-old, he was just the bad guy in Die Hard. Now, he was Snape, Potions Master.
I get too attached to material things. I get attached to houses, I name my cars, and I have a hard time parting with old shoes from my closet. But I am aware there’s a line, and I am aware my relationships to my husband, to my family, to my friends, are more important than anything else I have in this world. I cry when my friends cry. I have cried about divorce and about addiction and about death in the family. I cry when my friends succeed, when my husband does something kind, and simply when my sister looks happy. I cry about “real” things. At times, I overreact. And I will always celebrate the people who made me, fictional or not, famous or unsung.