This was the first Christmas without our oldest friend, Marion (aka Marnee) Stevenson, who died much too young at 56, and suffered much throughout her life. After a 2-yr. struggle with pancreatic cancer and a decades-long struggle with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, she left this world in August. Marnee was a brave soul and warrior, particularly for the mental health community. She fought tooth and nail for more funding and recognition for mental disabilities, and for them to be acknowledged equally with diseases of the rest of the body. She had been a professional dancer, journalist for the Daily Local News, photographer, actor, cook, chauffeur, gardener, and lobbyist—a unique entrepreneur like us—which is why we were such longtime friends, empathetic and mutually supportive of each others struggles. She attended almost all the gigs from when we performed in a band all over the region, as well as art openings, parties, you name it. And she was famous for her dancing at our shows (sometimes she was the only one ha ha).
We three celebrated all major holidays and birthdays, but never on the official date, so much like the way our lives functioned and it was our inside joke and we’d laugh about it. So this Christmas, Deb was wrapping gifts, and for the first time there was no “Marnee bag” for her after so many years. We both shed some tears over this reality. One night a few weeks ago we’re channel surfing and come upon what looks to be a good movie, with Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. It was called “The Fisher King,” and something kept nagging at us about the significance of the movie, but what?? It was an empathetic story about homelessness in NYC during the 1980s, and how it could happen to anyone. Williams, as the lead “king” of the waterfront homeless community, was as usual excellent. And Bridges had to really stretch himself beyond his usual “dude” persona. Then partway through the plot,William’s character has an hallucination in Penn Station and suddenly the indifferent commuter hordes morph into dozens of beautifully waltzing couples swirling around him to gorgeous music. And then it hits us simultaneously—that’s the movie Marnee was in!! And 2 seconds later, a young and gorgeous Marnee waltzes by with her thick curly dark hair, more than once. We were in shock.
The significance of this movie for her goes beyond her appearing in it because it was during filming that something happened. She lost her keys. Anyone who knew Marnee knew about her key collections. Hundreds of them attached to her pocketbook. They were her security blanket and obviously a diary of her life and struggles. And if asked, she could tell a story about each of them. So when Deb got a very confused and upset call from her up in New York, saying over and over that she’d lost her keys, something bad was up. It was the beginning of her breakdown. So this film represented the before and after Marnee. And so we were overwhelmed with smiles and sadness watching the rest, and the odd or not so odd thing was that some of the characters mirrored her journeys. The next morning watching the movie, still in a sort of deja vu state, we receive a heartfelt letter from her parents (the 1st in many years) about her passing and her possessions, expressing gratitude to us as her longtime friends. The coincidence was just eerie.
At her memorial service last summer at which we both witnessed about our friend, the woman who gave her eulogy mentioned the movie and how important and exciting it had been to Marnee, especially that her part hadn’t been left on the cutting room floor. Deb remembers her talking about that the fiiming and how she had to travel several times up to Manhattan and spend the night, hoping for her big break. And being exhausted after getting back early the next morning in time for her other jobs. And thinking that her place in the scene had been cut.
So the world goes on without another spirit and fighter for justice and we all have to take up the slack. If only she’d lived to know that Obamacare was going to cover the mental health issues for which she and her parents Marion and Bob had fought so long.