MISFIT DOC: The Day Carrie Fisher Died

When Carrie Fisher had a heart attack on a plane, I was watching the musical ‘Carousel.’ It was intermission and I looked at my phone to see a news alert. How could I possibly focus on a musical number about a clambake now?

When Carrie Fisher died, I was in a diner in my hometown with my best friend, who’d been broken up with by her girlfriend the night before. We were both wearing all black. I looked at my phone and saw the news alert five seconds before the waitress came to take our order.

“What can I get for you?” she said.

“CARRIE FISHER JUST DIED” I wanted to yell at her. Instead I ordered fried rice.

I cried three small times that day. I thought about everything Carrie fought through. I thought about working at a movie theater when The Force Awakens came out and having to defend her appearance from coworkers who couldn’t accept that women age. I thought about her dog, Gary who tagged along on interviews and red carpets for emotional support.

The night Debbie Reynolds died, I was in the kitchen cooking with my whole family. Once again, I saw a news alert, this time that Debbie was rushed to the hospital. I immediately lay down on the cold tile floor.

“It’s all too much!” I said when my dad asked what was happening. It wasn’t just Debbie, or Carrie, or the tragedy of the both of them; it was the weight of the previous and upcoming year. I had no idea how many times, in the first month of 2017 alone, I’d have to lie down on the floor in distress.

Hours later, when Debbie Reynolds’ death was announced, I spent five minutes in shock at the weight of it all, then I watched “Singing in the Rain.” I watched it over and over again as a kid, memorizing Debbie’s sweet smile, Gene Kelly’s arrogant smirk, Donald O’Connor’s glistening eyes.

The day after Debbie Reynolds died, my sister and I were supposed to go to the African American History museum. Even though it has free admission, the new museum was so popular you still had to get up at 6am and reserve tickets. We didn’t make the cut. Instead, we went to the Newseum, a monument to the importance of press and free speech.

In front of the museum, there are 50 frames, updated daily, featuring a newspaper cover from every state. They all features something different from a local athlete sex scandal to the UN’s vote on Israel, to a cruise company’s liability in the death of a whale. Debbie was the only story present on every cover, sometimes alone and sometimes with Carrie. “Her heart broke,” they said.

Inside, I looked at a piece of the Berlin wall and wondered if one day there would be a piece of the wall Trump promises to build. There was an entire photo exhibit about refugees, showing them as people instead of the vague dangerous mass politicians describe them as.

Tucked away in a corner was an exhibit sponsored by CNN set up like an election cycle newsroom, with interactive maps and poll numbers. It sat empty, like a bankrupt casino with neon sign still flickering.

The museum sits on Pennsylvania Avenue, now the same street as a man who kicks reporters out of his press conferences. My sister took a picture of the evening light streaming in through a window decal that said ‘Freedom.’ It was really all too much.

On screen, Carrie Fisher embodies a rebellious hope in the resistance, in a better future, in defeating the darkness. In her last book, The Princess Diarist Fisher writes, on her relationship to Princess Leia, “Over time I thought that we’d melded into one.” Carrie was the vessel for fictional rebellion, but she didn’t have to be. She was rebellious independent of Leia.

In her real life, Fisher embodied a different hope, one that said “life’s fucking hard but you can do it. I did.” This is a woman whose ashes are stored in a Prozac-shaped urn.

The last line we ever hear Carrie Fisher say on film comes in the final five seconds of Rogue One. “Hope,” she says when a rebel asks what the map provides. Only it’s not actually Carrie—it’s a Norwegian actress altered with CGI to look like 19-year-old Carrie. The voice though, the one that says “hope” so assuredly, does in fact belong to her younger self, sampled from original 1977 footage.

After she’d died, a week into the new year and weeks away from the inauguration, I heard the line again as I opened the doors of the theater, where I work, as the audience streamed out, leaving popcorn on the ground for me to clean up. Were they as choked up as I was?

Carrie lived long enough to see Trump win the election, but not to see him take office. She had not shortage of cutting insults for the man who embodies the dark side. “Trump speaking his mind isn’t refreshing, it’s appalling. Coca Cola is refreshing…” she tweeted.

“Rebellions are built on hope,” Jyn says to rally the rebellion forces; the idea that inexhaustible hope is needed to keep fighting, protesting, and calling your senator (which can be hard when he shuts off his phone lines).

Women-centered marches that stretch from D.C to Los Angeles, to Antarctica, to Nairobi. Giving money every paycheck. Boycotting Ivanka Trump’s shoe line. Screaming at the TV.

Like Princess Leia Organa strangling her captor.

When Rogue One premiered, members of the alt-right movement protested the movie, tweeting #DumpStarWars because they claimed it was anti-Trump. Of course, this is a space opera, set in a fictional galaxy, far far away. There is no mention of Trump, or the election, or the United States, or planet earth. It was filmed a year and a half ago, when there was still a traveling circus of nominees. There is only the Imperial forces and the Dark Side, which align so closely with Trump’s administration that his supporters assumed it was targeted.

But the resistance is also about personal survival. The kind that looks an evil tanning addict in the eyes and says “I’m going to live and thrive despite attempts to destroy me.”

Remembering to take a break from social media, drink a glass of water, call your mom.

In her book Wishful Drinking, Carrie wrote “[M]any of us only seem able to find heaven by backing away from hell.” She backed away from a dramatic childhood, drug addiction, mental illness, rehab, attacks on her aging face, Paul Simon.

At 22, I’m just as lost as Carrie was at 19. In an excerpt from the diaries she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars, she writes on hope as futile excess. “That I want to completely drain myself of all hope, which will leave me safe and dry with nothing to lose.”

It would be easier to lose hope, like accepting the fate of sinking into quicksand. It would be easier not to march in the cold, not to donate money, not to make phone calls to strangers.

But if you drain yourself of hope, all that’s left is fear—with no antidote. In order to have something to run away from, there needs to be something to run towards, and vice versa.

I wish Carrie were here to say that Steve Bannon looks like Jabba the Hutt’s bastard son.

Hannah Lynn is a student in her last semester at the University of Pittsburgh. Her major is fiction writing but she also does research projects on gender, race, and country music. She is also the editor-in-chief of The Pittiful News, a satirical newspaper and has written for Reductress. She wears a lot of hats but looks best in a shower cap.

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