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Sarah Deller and the Search for Pocky: Or, What Alan Rickman Meant to Me and How I'm Trying to Cope with the Death of Someone I Didn't Know by Sarah Deller

When I was a teenager, the question I heard most often, after "What are you going to do when you grow up?" was "What are you going to do when Alan Rickman dies?" 

My mom, concerned. A teacher, occasionally, alarmed. Kids at school, scornful. My friends, amused, in the most loving and caring way. Alexander McQueen died, and I had a short, intense breakdown. The question was asked in a hushed way now, "oh my god - what are you going to do when Alan Rickman dies?" 

I knew the answer because it was something I'd asked myself when I was twelve years old and felt the waves of obsession sweeping me up: I would lock myself in my house for a week, watch all his movies repeatedly, eat nothing but pocky and pizza, and cry. 

Even as a twelve year old I knew what has only been confirmed in the ten years since:  

  1. Alan Rickman was my hero
  2. I dealt with things in a way that baffled many people, and baffled me, though it felt as natural as breathing 

"Hero", I think is a good way to describe what Alan Rickman was, and still is, to me. In a way I guess I discovered him like many of my peers, although it has never felt like that to me. I don't mean that in a special snowflake kind of way, it really is a little more complicated than just watching Harry Potter

I was watching Harry Potter one day: The Prisoner of Azkaban. And I was like, "heck!" (my twelve year old self was not as accomplished a curser as I am now). "Heck, that man is a swell actor! Who could that person be?" 

I turned to Google, of course, typed in the unfamiliar name and waited for the results to come up (dial up in rural ontario, bless). 

There he was, this Alan Rickman-man as Snape, and - I spotted a second image, which threatened to knock me down in a tide of nostalgia and elation and confusion - 

He wasn't - he couldn't be - 

Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility. 

Sense and Sensibility, like Mrs Brown, held a mythical place in my soul. It was one of those rare, grown up films that as a young child I had seen, once, on television or at someone's house and always remembered and adored. (Please note that Mrs Brown stars Judi Dench - I'm spotting a pattern???? weird). The key to these films was that I barely remembered them, I just had a wonderful, rosy impression of them. And a large part of my impression of Sense and Sensibility had been this man - this Snape man, could it really be him?!?!?!?!?!?!? - as Colonel Brandon. 

So began ten years of a passionate following of his work that I could describe but which would probably only make me appear nuttier than the rest of this post will likely take care of (disclaimer: i'm totally cool with everything about myself that I am about to disclose, and have disclosed, "nutty" as it may be).  

In reality, my "Death of My Hero" predictions were not far off. Last Thursday, I woke up, saw the news, denied it, sobbed, and somehow managed to make it through a quick coffee meeting. But I could feel something other than tears creeping up in me. Tears were certainly part of it, and luckily I have always been fine with crying in public. So I cried on the sidewalk, on the bus, in the coffee shop before my meeting, in the mall, in Walmart, in the grocery store. Feeling this other thing creep up in me, I had begun a dogged pursuit to find the Japanese snack Pocky, the snack that I had bought along with Alan Rickman films every couple of months all through my teen years. Pocky is apparently hard to find in Halifax and I was glad of it: it gave me a purpose, that day. I traipsed across the city, crying but okay. Trying to stifle this other thing that kept pushing its way up through my throat. Pocky would solve my problems. Pocky, just focus on finding Pocky. After that....

This brings me to the second thing my twelve year old self recognized, but didn't have words to explain: how I deal with things. Of course, this is partially (but not totally) the result of bipolar disorder, in all its passion and dispassion.

I'm writing this on my way back from an audition in Montreal, which, had it and Alan Rickman's death coincided two years ago, I almost certainly would have cancelled. Progress in my mental health? Perhaps. Although, between movies on Thursday, as I alternately sat staring at the wall, and sobbing on the floor of my bathroom, one thought kept coming back to me: here you are. The real you. 

It was a strangely satisfying thought, as were the other similar ones that struck me with shocking clarity. You knew the medication wouldn't work. You knew you were always going to be depressed; you knew you couldn't escape. You can feel it starting, can't you? It was just waiting for a moment to rear its head...  I knew it had all been a trick; I knew the relative normalcy of the previous year wouldn't last. And those thoughts were very, very comforting. When I started taking medication for bipolar disorder, I didn't know how to deal with not being depressed. Did I even have a personality beyond depression? I don't mean that in the strange, loving way, that one sometimes hears of: "Oh, I don't want to stop being depressed; I'd lose part of who I am". Maybe for people who feel that way, it's healthy or whatever. That's not how I feel. I didn't want depression, I certainly didn't it miss it, I just seriously did not know who I was without it.  On Thursday, I was reminded that I recognize my depressed self. I lived with that self for so long, I thought it was my only true self. And here was that self again, and I was comforted, in a very perverse way. 

I guess what I didn't understand, and what I'm still trying to deal with, is that medication isn't some cure-all magic potion shit. I think I'd been hoping it was, but knew it wasn't, which is where all that satisfaction came from when I'd been proved "right". What I didn't understand with those "you see? you always knew...." thoughts was that depression isn't a black and white thing. It's a thing that's just gonna be there, I guess, in varying degrees, and I'll deal with it however I can, even if I don't always know what that dealing looks like. I think people with depression may understand that I'm actually really glad I was able to mourn the death of my hero with sobbing and screaming into pillows. And then that I was also able to marginally pull myself together and get on a train. The sobbing meant I could still feel shit, the getting on a train that I hadn't locked myself into my apartment. 

That's a step, and a huge one in its way, but man, I can tell I'm still fucking depressed right now. The pocky was only a very, very temporary distraction. Things aren't feeling great. And that's a bit alarming. And I think people (myself included) don't really know what to do about that. I wish I could tell my friends how to help me. I have no fucking clue. None. And aside from the depression itself, there is still this weird mourning thing, the catalyst- but you didn't really know him????

What I'm finding hard to deal with and what is unusual, I think, to many people, is that for the better part of ten years, I was convinced that one day, my hero and I would be pals.

She's deluded!

Madness!

Hear me out. I felt it with the certainty that someone who wants to get married just... knows that someday they'll get married. I'm not one of those people, but from what I can gather, they just know. I never doubted that someday Alan Rickman and I would be friends. As I reminded myself periodically, he said that to know more about him, you just had to look in the work. That he was all there, in all his characters. So I certainly felt like I knew him, and I definitely knew how much I admired him. He meant as much to me as if I had known him personally. And as I had always planned to work in theatre in England as well as Canada, our future friendship was a certainty in my mind. Our paths would cross, the rest would be history. 

It's something that I thought about when I first met Alan Rickman, very briefly, on his birthday in 2012. I guess that's what I'd like to end this post with because it seems to sum up all the hope and certainty and excitement that consumed me when I thought of that wonderful actor, as well as the current bittersweetness when I think of him.

Me and the closest I got to a photo with Alan, because, as everyone knows, he doesn't do photos with fans. He got really, really pissed off at a couple nearby me who were like forcing him into a photo. It made me respect him even more. 

Me and the closest I got to a photo with Alan, because, as everyone knows, he doesn't do photos with fans. He got really, really pissed off at a couple nearby me who were like forcing him into a photo. It made me respect him even more. 

To describe it in a very slapdash, stilted way: I saved up my money, flew to NYC for two and a half days, and saw Seminar twice, the first time on his birthday. It was one of the best days of my entire life. Afterwards, waiting at the stage door, I was terrified and elated.

Naturally, when he came outside, I started crying. Not in a big way, just a, "holy fucking shit he's actually standing right there and I've wanted to meet him for so long" way. Eventually, he came over to where I was standing, pressed up against a metal barrier. 

At first, I didn't know what to say.

"Did you get my card?" I asked, my voice barely above a whisper, or so I remember it. 

"No..." he said. 

I must have looked like I really was going to burst into tears then, because he looked up from my program, which he'd been signing, and said, "oh, no no no, I'm sure I did!! It's just - I've got a stack, you know, like - that -" - and he did some very undignified arm movement and I was extremely gratified - " - and I'm sure I'll get it later". 

And that day, and the next day, after meeting him again, I walked away giddy with delight and couldn't wait to tell him, maybe ten years down the line, maybe twenty, that we had actually met before, at the stage door of Seminar on his 66th birthday...