When asking how many parents I have, the answer you receive will vary depending on who is asked. Ostensibly I have two, a mother and a father; but an almost entirely absent father left a space for others to fill. I will never cease to be grateful to the people who supported both my mother and me after my parents separated, but one person in particular comes to mind. A colleague and friend of my mothers, this woman moved in with us to help raise me and give my mother the support she no doubt desperately needed.
We all lived under one roof in Melbourne from 1989 until 1992, when we parted ways; mum and I heading to Brisbane and her heading to Sydney where another part of her family was in crisis. Also in 1992, Disney released Aladdin. The highlight of this film for me, still to this day, is the sensational Genie, voiced by Robin Williams. My much younger self immediately formed a bond with this character for many reasons, most important of which that he shared the name of my beloved Jeannie. I struggled to understand why Jeannie had moved away, and often sought comfort from, what was in my mind, her animated bright blue counterpart. The connection has lasted my entire life — when assigning personalised ringtones for individual contacts was the cool thing to do, Jeannie’s calls to me were signalled by the opening bars of You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me.
I find the human brain and the connections it makes to past moments fascinating. Certain sights, scents, and sounds push our brains into overdrive and force upon us both pleasant and painful memories. I was taught by Robin Williams, in the guise of an animated blue blob, that friendship and love survive distance and can continue to be forged even when people are apart. In 1993, Robin Williams taught me that the love of a father, though it was something I had not personally experienced, often knew no limits. In a high school English classroom, Robin Williams taught me that life is short and making the most of every moment is the true meaning of life (and that half a classroom of boys standing on their desks will reduce me to tears every single damn time).
People are sent into our lives for a myriad of reasons and while Robin Williams never knew me, he saved me in ways I’ve only truly come to understand as an adult. Today the world is mourning his loss, and rightly so. His death has come far too soon and under far too tragic a circumstance. He is a rare actor whose films meant as much in our childhood as they do now that we are adults. I mourn for his family, who must currently be experiencing unspeakable grief. I mourn for his friends and colleagues. I mourn for his fans. And, somewhere deep inside, I mourn for the young girl I was when Robin Williams taught me that life was precious and a thing to be cherished. How could he pass this message on to others, both on screen and off, and not know it himself? Robin Williams died today, and a small part of me died with him.