Our Blue Heaven
Every once in a while your world stands still. This happened the other day when my good friend Bill Styron passed away. There are certain friendships that are so important they leave a mark on you long after the person is gone.
So it is with Bill Styron, my friend of 40 years. Our lives were entwined by sharing our summers together on Martha's Vineyard, and also by sharing our depressions with each other.
Mike Wallace and Bill and I all had serious depressions at the same time. We helped each other get through them. When we finally came out of it, we called ourselves the "Blues Brothers" and went around talking to groups that were interested in mental health issues. We went to the University of Southern California, we went to the Carter Center in Atlanta, and we also appeared before suicide-support groups.
Our mantra was, "Don't commit suicide because you might change your mind two weeks later."
We had a lot of fun, strangely enough, talking about depression. We argued about who had the worst depression. Styron claimed his was a 9 on the Richter scale. He said mine was just a rainy day at Disneyland.
Sharing our depressions felt like having survived a war. The experience bonds you to the other person for life. Styron wrote serious books about serious subjects. But when you spent time with Bill and Rose, his wife, there was a lot of laughter in the Styrons' home.
I remember once Bill had planted a row of corn in his dirt driveway. I ran over the corn and Bill kept screaming out of the house, "How could you kill another person's corn! What kind of serial corn killer are you?"
The next morning I sneaked onto his property and put up a sign, "Beware of vicious corn."
Bill had an Infiniti and I had a Lexus. And that was a bone of contention. Who had the better car? One day during a hurricane, a tree fell on Styron's Infiniti. That afternoon his children came down the road with cameras, and when I met them they said, "Guess what? Dad's car was just smashed in by a tree."
I started laughing as hard as I could. That evening I found Bill in his living room, terribly grumpy, and he said, "No friend would laugh at another's tragedy."
I said, "It was my choice." Better his car than mine.
I only cite these examples of the fun you can have with friends. I, of course, respected Bill for his work. The fact that he was one of the best writers in America may or may not have affected our friendship.
Bill's last days were unpleasant ones. He suffered from everything and made countless trips to the hospital.
With true friendship, I accused him of going to the hospital so he wouldn't have to write another book. He looked at me and said an obscene word. We stayed connected to the end.
All I can wish is that you read his books, and all I can hope is that future generations will discover that he was one of the best writers of our time.
2006Tribune Media Services