There’s a point we come to where we realize invincibility just isn’t a thing. For many people, one step toward that is when they have a child and they start feeling this responsibility to this tiny vulnerable human.
But then there’s another phase, the reckoning v2.0.
For me, I’ve had a few friends and such on the peripheries of my life die in recent years, my parents too. But I remember a moment from when I was eight or ten or so, when my mother’s best friend, Dorothy, died of the flu after calling her mother to say she wasn’t well and needed some ginger ale. She was dead on the floor when her mother arrived, maybe age 40.
I reflected on Dorothy this year as I got ready for a flu shot, age 45, because I knew I would be on four flights and a train during flu season in Italy and it was the responsible thing to do. I remembered how alive she was, how fun she was, then how dead she was.
So it happens that today Luke Perry died, and I find myself indescribably sad tonight. (I really shouldn’t have watched A Star is Born tonight. Wow. Holy oversight.)
When I was a about 16, 17, Beverly Hills 90210 was THE THING. Jason Priestley was a Vancouver (but really Tsawwassen) boy and it was required to watch our GUY on what was the hottest show on TV. And then Luke Perry was cast, and Brandon looked like a schmuck next to this intolerably cool surfer.
At that time, programming for our age group really missed the mark. Very little spoke to us, and that show was the breakaway hit that was to teen programming what The Breakfast Club was to us nearly a decade before.
And whatever the rest of the cast was, Luke Perry was a complex character that brought the real. He was a fuck-up that we all related to and we wanted to see him come out on the other side. Yeah, he was hot, but he had soul, too.
The next generation got Tim Riggins and Friday Night Lights. We had Dylan McKay.
I remember where I was when I found out that George Michael died. I can’t remember who came first, him or Carrie Fisher in that Christmas that sucked, just after my dad’s death, but George was the guy I turned to with a broken heart. His songs about insecurity and abandonment and loss really spoke to me, but when he died, I felt betrayed and angry. In a way, he drank himself to death and sort of lost the plot well before he died.
And other people have died since, but okay, it’s depression, it’s suicide, it’s alcohol, it’s drugs, it’s irresponsibility.
Luke Perry, though, by all accounts was relatively healthy, wasn’t known as an addict or alcoholic. He had a stroke. Something people over 45 die from because of age, because they had some butter, because they needed to jog a bit more or something, or because a blood vessel just said, “oops, sorry” and the brain glitched. It’s a variation on the death that’s coming for us all, and he didn’t cause it.
And why I’m sad tonight is, I know he’s not the last. I know this is when it begins in earnest, when my youth falls away and the people and fabric of my life slowly slip into the goodnight.
Every generation reaches this point, when it starts, like a roller coaster peaking before the arms-up-screaming unstoppable descent.
I guess I’m taken aback by this feeling that, somehow, I lost maybe the last of my innocence today.
And, of course, I’m alone on a mountain in Albania for it once again, not among friends, not in a place where I can small-talk with others who understand.
I know, I’m a writer, I’m supposed to be the one who finds the words for these strange bubbling feelings inside. But today I can’t, I’m struggling. It’s about something much bigger than Luke Perry. It’s a kind of rite of passage that I didn’t want to see coming, a ride I don’t wanna pay admission for.
It’s about feeling more grown-up than I ever, ever wanted to feel. I’ve already buried my parents, so feeling grown-up has been on my mind the last 2.5 years.
The reckoning v2.0, indeed.
And yeah, it’s about Luke Perry, too. It’s about the guy who was bad but good, sexy but smart, cool but affectionate. And it’s about the guy just seven years older than me who’ll be six feet under later this week, all because a blood vessel stopped doing its job.
Here’s where I come up with some brilliant closing that makes sense of it all and gives us food for thought and something to make it all a little easier to swallow.
But no, there’s none of that. No “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” wisdom or how good it is to burn out than to fade away. Just some teary eyes, a half-glass of wine left to drink, and dark of night already fallen here on my Albanian mountain. I’ll sleep, wake, and pretend to be a grown-up again, going through the motions on my workday. Because that’s what grown-ups do, and because death is apparently part of my very adult life now.