Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Goodbye Again, Douglas Adams

March 11, 1952 - May 11, 2001
So long, and thanks for all the fish.
I'm gobsmacked that Douglas Adams passed away 10 years ago today. It's not a "gosh, time flies" thing. I have a child, so I well understand that I'm zipping along the temporal plane at a rapid and irreversible pace.

Instead, I'm taken aback every year on May 11 when I realize it's the anniversary of Adams' death. Every year my brain tells me the same thing: "Wait, Douglas Adams died?" And I have to patiently feed it a few commemorative articles and Internet tributes so it can get its bearings. Which never works, because the  next May 11 my brain is brought up short yet again by the simple fact of his death.

I don't know why this happens. The part of my brain that stores celebrity death data is actually quite well developed. I remember where I was when Princess Diana died. I know that Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie are deceased but Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore are still alive. I can tell you that James Dean died on September 30, 1955 and Elvis passed away on August 16, 1977. My mind retains these facts because it's fascinated with minutiae and believes these milestones are worth remembering.

I brooded for days over the Skipper.
But for some reason, when Douglas Adams, not just some random celebrity but one of my favorite authors ever, died in 2001, I failed to properly process and absorb that information. It's true I was preoccupied with Precocious Daughter, who was a toddler at the time, and had just come through a bad health scare with Beloved Spouse that had my focus pulled into a pretty tight knot.  Maybe I just had too much on my plate to add in another wedge of emotion.   

Where would I have put it?
I know that Bestest Friend and I commiserated over Adams' passing.  We were fans from way back: on my 17th birthday, she took me (in her orange Beetle) to the late great Taylors Bookstore in Dallas to meet him. It was there that I obtained three of my most prized possessions: the original Hitchhiker's Trilogy books, personally signed by the author while he chatted with us. We called him Doug. It was the best birthday ever.

He even told me not to panic.
I should have been devastated by his death. I remember being shocked; he was only 49, after all (which age seems ever younger the closer I get to it), and it happened quite suddenly. And I was sad, I know I was. But there was some kind of cognitive dissociation, a faulty circuit in my brain between the fact of his passing and my reaction to it.

The only explanation I can come up with is that somehow, Douglas Adams seemed more personally connected to me than your average celebrity. He was a writer, for one thing, so his success was very relevant to my own aspirations. Through his work he had made me laugh, which forges a particular special regard from one person to another. And of course, I had met him, talked to him, shaken his hand - just once, and only briefly, but to great effect on me. I wasn't some deluded fangirl who thought she "knew" him, but he did feel less abstract to me than other famous folk I admired.

Yet when he died, this person who seemed "real" to me and not just another celebrity, there was no funeral to attend, no flowers to send, no personal condolences to offer. My sadness was real, but I was one of millions of mourners with no personal relationship to the deceased. So maybe my brain was expecting some kind of compensation or closure that it didn't get, and without that command line, my "Douglas Adams is dead" program terminated before it was done.  (I hope Mr. Adams would appreciate the metaphor, in any case.)

And maybe it's just that I still laugh out loud when I read his stuff, as if it were brand-new and I was seeing it for the first time, every time.

Still makes me laugh.
 In any event, as if it were some kind of cosmic joke straight out of one of his books, I seem fated to be surprised every year on the anniversary of Douglas Adams' death.  It's bittersweet, really; sort of like finding buried treasure and then realizing that the map has been tattooed on your backside for a decade and people were pointing it out the whole while but you just thought they were being rude.

So goodbye again, Douglas Adams. As always, it's been a pleasure remembering you.

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