Friday, August 30, 2019

One Year Later

"What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies." Aristotle

"The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment." Dr. Colin Murray Parkes

It was one year ago today that actress Vanessa Marquez died. For many Vanessa was Ana Delgado in Stand and Deliver (1988) or Nurse Wendy Goldman on ER. For me she was my dearest friend, the one person I love more than any other in my life. Her death is the most traumatic event in my entire life and August 30 2018 will forever be the worst day of my life.

My memories of that day are still not entirely clear. I have no doubt that I have repressed much of it. Anyway, I called Vanessa that day and she did not answer. I then texted her, figuring that if she was asleep she could answer when she woke up. Vanessa texted me back and let me know that she was having very severe seizures. I asked her if she wanted me to call the paramedics. She said that she did. It was then that I called the paramedics directly. Given the timing of the events that day, I am still convinced that her landlord (according to many news reports) called the police or South Pasadena decided to send them on their own. After all, they were there before the paramedics even arrived.  Anyway, I had to go to work at our local historical society's museum that afternoon. I texted Vanessa when I got back. I waited a long time for a reply and then searched the internet to see if perhaps she had been taken to hospital. It was around 8:00 PM Central Time that I learned that there had been an officer invovled shooting involving an unnamed 49 year old woman at the address of Vanessa's apartment. I knew right then it was Vanessa.  It was only a little before 11:00 PM Central that The South Pasadenan confirmed the woman was Vanessa. I broke down crying immediately. I let some of our mutual friends know, and then posted the news to Facebook and Twitter. By that point I have to believe I was in shock. I did not sleep the entire night and I cried until 1:00 PM the next day. In the early morning of August 31 2018 I actually thought of suicide. I dismissed it as I realised I should stay alive to preserve Vanessa's legacy and try to get her justice, and I didn't want my friends and family mourning the way I was. Of course, I also realized that Vanessa would be very angry with me if I took my own life. I would sleep very little for the next few nights and I wouldn't eat anything at all until Sunday evening. I had absolutely no appetite at all.

Here I want to stress that Vanessa Marquez was not mentally ill, nor was she suicidal. In our last conversation we talked about The X-Files 25th anniversary marathon set to air on BBCAmerica and a John Williams concert in the area that she was looking forward to. She talked to a mutual friend about a sale at Sephora that weekend. Even though she had been sick all summer, she was still enthusiastic about life. What is more, she still had her sense of humour. It is why I am convinced that the South Pasadena police officers present that day are guilty of utter incompetence, gross negligence, criminal irresponsibility, inappropriate behaviour, and extremely unprofessional conduct. I am convinced that none of them should ever have been police officers and that they belong in prison or a mental institution. I have written the South Pasadena City Council repeatedly telling them just that. As to the city of South Pasadena, they have responded to none of my letters and have released no information, not even the names of her killers.

Since Vanessa's death my mental health has taken a beating. In the month following her death I slept very little. When I did sleep I often had nightmares. I cried every day the whole month of September, usually multiple times. In the following months I would still be apt to break down crying at any given moment, particularly if I heard certain songs or experienced other reminders of Vanessa. When I first saw TCM Remembers 2018 I broke down crying when they got to Vanessa and I cried for a whole half hour. I still cry on a regular basis. From the very beginning I have had difficulty thinking about Vanessa's death, let alone discussing it at length. I literally have to prepare myself to do so. Even now I feel anxiety and it is not unusual for me to have panic attacks. There are some days I just don't want to get up in the morning. And I still feel a great deal of anger at both the police officers who murdered Vanessa and the city of South Pasadena who have done nothing about it. I have to admit that I regularly feel guilt, pondering if there was something I could have done differently or something more I could have done. Even now I have trouble concentrating and my memory isn't what it once was. If my behaviour has seemed a bit strange the past year, then the reason is quite simply that I am still dealing with the after effects of Vanessa's death.

The plain truth was that I considered Vanessa my best friend. In fact, I was and still am in love with her. One of my biggest regrets is that I never told her that I love her, although given Vanessa's intelligence I am fairly certain she knew anyway. I cannot speak for how Vanessa felt about me. I know she loved me, as she told me that she did, although I cannot say whether it was as a friend or something more. She certainly thought a lot of me, as she would never let me use my typical self-deprecating humour (for instance if I said, "When I was young and cute," she would respond, "You're still cute, silly!"). She worried about me a good deal, and I have no doubt that she is concerned for what has become of me the past year. Quite simply, we were very close. We had known each other for years. We communicated on an almost daily basis, whether on social media sites, through texts, or through phone calls for many of those years. Our discussions could last hours. Our mutual friend Paula told me that she thought no one made Vanessa happier than I did. Is it any wonder then that when Vanessa died I felt as if part of my soul had been torn away and I still feel as if part of me is missing?

Of course, I am not the only one mourning Vanessa Marquez. She had many friends and fans who loved her. Acclaimed cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz did a tribute to her in his comic strip La Cucaracha. She was included in the 2018 edition of TCM Remembers and in something of a place of honour, immediately following one of the breaks in the video so there was no way anyone could miss her. One of her co-stars from Stand and Deliver, Lydia Nicole, set up a petition to have Vanessa included in the on-air In Memoriams of the SAG Awards and the Oscars. The petition received national attention in such media outlets as The Los Angeles Times and Deadline. It is a mark of just how loved Vanessa is that the petition reached over 12,000 signatures. When the Academy failed to include her in the on-air In Memoriam, their omission of Vanessa also received national attention. Of course, as her inclusion in TCM Remembers 2018 shows, Vanessa was well-loved in the TCM community. She was one of the original members of #TCMParty, the group of Turner Classic Movies fans who live tweet movies on that channel using that hashtag. Vanessa had many friends among #TCMParty and everyone adored her, and not simply because she was a famous actress. Vanessa had an enthusiasm for classic movies that was absolutely contagious and she had considerable knowledge of classic film as well. When Vanessa died #TCMParty mourned her more than many better known celebrities, perhaps more than anyone except Robert Osborne. And I have to say that #TCMParty has supported me throughout this rough year. When she died I got many tweets and messages from fellow #TCMParty members who would tell me, "I am so sorry, Terry. I know you two were close." I think it is fully possible that I would not have survived without them. 

While I must admit to some bias where Vanessa Marquez is concerned, there should be little wonder that she is so loved by so many people. She was a talented actress who starred in a classic film (Stand and Deliver), a cult movie (Twenty Bucks),  and the no. 1 TV show of its time (ER). That is not why people love her though. She was also stunningly beautiful, with big dark eyes and a dazzling smile. That is not why people love her either. Instead people love Vanessa because she was an entirely wonderful woman. She was warm hearted. If someone was feeling down they could always count on Vanessa to cheer them up. If one of her friends was attacked by a troll on Facebook or Twitter, Vanessa was always the first to come to his or her defence. She was happy when something good happened to one of her friends and sad when something bad happened to them. And she was always eager to help others. When Jaime Escalante, the teacher upon whom Stand and Deliver was based, developed cancer, Vanessa was relentless in raising money for his medical bills. In my entire life I have never known anyone as loving, as giving, or as sweet as Vanessa.

As hard as this past year has been for me, I must admit that several good things have happened. As I mentioned above, Vanessa was included in TCM Remembers 2018, alongside classic actors, directors, and producers she adored. While she was not included in either the SAG Awards' or the Oscars' on-air In Memoriams, as I mentioned above, the petition to have her included in both on air In Memoriams reached over 12,000 signatures, proving once and for all that she was a major star. Two memorials were held in her honour, and more recently she was remembered when the LA Plaza de Cultures y Artes held a screening of Stand and Deliver. I had the honour of assisting in the scattering her ashes and I am now in regular contact with her mother. If there is one thing this past year has shown me, it is that the woman I love more than anyone else in my life is loved by many others and will not be forgotten.

As difficult as life can still be for me, I have slowly been recovering from my grief. I no longer cry every single day, multiple times a day. I can laugh again and find enjoyment in life more often than I had in the months immediately following Vanessa's death. I know I will miss Vanessa until the day I die, and there will always be this hole in my life where she should be, but I have to believe that one day I will be able to go without sorrow overtaking me on a regular basis. Ultimately, I feel lucky to have known Vanessa as well as I did and to have been so close to her. As strange as it sounds, if I had to do it all over again I would, even if I could not change the end (although I would try). Vanessa was the most remarkable, the most wonderful woman I ever knew. And I will always love her.

Vanessa Rosalia Marquez, December 21 1968-August 30 2018