It’s that the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Thanks to our noble Ninja Captain Alex J Cavanaugh, it’s time to share our fears and insecurities, or support and assistance. Doesn’t matter which. If you decide to join us, know that whatever you share will receive the upmost respect and attention.
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In the still of the night, with your dreams fading, misery and doom weighing you down, do you see all hope as hopeless? Do you hear the banshee scream? During the darkest moment, is that when you choose death over life? You press the reset button, unconsciously aware that what you really want is to start over.
In life, JoAnn rose each day hesitantly and accomplished what many of us yearn for: a measure of success as an author. She dedicated her life to promoting authors of colour. Along the way, she hoped if she took her meds, some form of joy would kick in and allow her peace of mind.
Five years ago, JoAnn, a talented writer, university professor, and often difficult friend, chose to press the reset button. It’s taken me this long to realize she wasn’t a coward, nor was she courageous. The meds were slowly killing her creativity, bleeding her dry; no amount of desperation, screams for help, or willing her sanity to remain intact, worked. She wasn’t getting better.
I didn’t understand. I told her over and over again: “FIGHT! Be stubborn. Refuse to give up. Believe in yourself, in our friendship. Persevere–it’ll get easier–I promise!” What I should have said was, “JoAnn, happiness is a decision you make every morning. If not today, then tomorrow.”
Sometimes she’d call (I’ve lost track of how often) and mumble that she’d taken an overdose of meds. Then she’d pass out. I lived in British Columbia, Canada; she lived in Mesa, Arizona. Still, I’d always manage to contact the authorities and have someone show up at her door in time to get her to emergency where they could pump her stomach. One summer I even talked her into coming north to stay with us. I thought my sheer determination to save her — would save her.
She stayed three months. On her way home, she detoured through Chicago on 9/11 to New York so she could help friends cope with the nightmare. It was while she was in NYC that she convinced her agent, the infamous Marie Brown, to sign me. The relationship never went anywhere; but for a time, I could say, “I have the same agent as JoAnn Hernandez, Ed Bradley, and Michael Jackson.”
In 2010, JoAnn called from her studio in Mesa to say she’d taken an overdose of meds. I asked her not to call me again. I couldn’t help her. If she wanted to die that badly, she should just do it.
So, she did.
Convinced of my ability to affect people, (have since learned otherwise) I believed it was my doing that caused her to take her own life. To compensate, I grieved and then moved on … for five years.
If you google JoAnn’s name, it doesn’t tell you she was born August 2, had two sons, one adopted from Vietnam. It says: Honourable Mention, 2009 The Eric Hoffer Book Award — Young Adult: Winner, 2007 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People. Americas Award, 1997….
It may tell you she wanted to put books by authors of colour in every bookstore in North America. She founded The BronzeWord for that purpose. Today it says she resides in Mesa, Arizona — even though she’s been dead five years. The exact day she died is unknown.
I don’t know if there’s enough words in the world to convince someone not to press the reset button. Nor if it’s even the right thing to do. Is JoAnn at peace now? I can only hope. I do know there’s a hole where her life used to be.