I found out late. I’ve been on break for the past three weeks, off from school and work and most of the bullshit obligations surrounding them, so I’d been halfway through Vizzini’s first novel, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”, when my brother asked me if I knew how he’d died. I told him I didn’t, because he wasn’t dead. The kid took it as another assault on my luddism. He pulled up the article.
I read it. Then I re-read it. Then I found another one, and one after that. I wasn’t really looking for how he died (suicide), the way he did it (he jumped), or even why (presumably his lifelong depression), but one account, at least one, about how work could change a tentative, gawky, closeted teenager into someone who, if not made completely whole by his novels, ended up at least a little more so. I looked for a long time.
When I was twelve, I found him on a cousin’s bookshelf. I wasn’t much into books. Or cousins. Or casual encounters with literature on foreign furniture. But this particular cousin didn’t really go for those things either, and it was in good faith that she recommended the book, on its way to becoming a movie, and I’d said “Sure, why not”, although I really hadn’t planned on reading it. It found its way into my backpack, my house, my bed. But I never cracked it open. Some months passed. My voice got deeper. I started to see that some impossible attractions were more impossible than other impossible attractions, my classmates started hooking up and down and around each other, and it was around this time, like any other kid looking to feel less alone, that I decided to give his novel a shot.
I read that shit straight through. Its narrator, Craig Gilner, was as self-deprecating as I fancied myself to be. He went to a school as cool as unrelenting as mine. Craig found himself in front of psychologists, parents, girlfriends, and transvestites, each of them looking for a response he hadn’t been trained for, warned about, or even glimped on television, but he came up with one anyways. Because you have to. He found a way to manage. And on top of it all, the motherfucker was clinically depressed.
That said, Vizzini wasn’t Dostoevsky. He didn’t hit me like Salinger would, later, or even Baldwin, a little while after that. But I didn’t need them at this point in my life. What Mr. Vizzini had was empathy. Empathy for overbearing doctors. Empathy for boys who wanted to be girls. Empathy for parents and empathy for imposters and empathy, at this point in time, was something I needed a little more of. I’m still pretty tentative, a little less gawky, and I left the closet a while ago, but Craig’s framework is one I’m still carrying. The one I swing like a beacon or a compass or an app telling me where exactly I need to go. I don’t intend to misplace it anytime soon.
Mr. Vizzini may be gone, but he’s still making people whole. He’s still filling my gaps. He’s still giving me empathy. May he live a little longer yet.