Rest in Peace, Stephen “tWitch” Boss

Trigger warning: suicide

You’ve made your way to this blog. Thank you for reading. I want you to know that you’re not alone. I love you, even if I don’t know you yet, and you can talk to me.

When Stephen “tWitch” Boss exploded on the dance scene, appearing on So You Think You Can Dance, I was instantly entranced by his larger-than-life grin, expressive eyes, and incredible dance moves. He had a magnetism inside of him that was made of 100% pure love. He was one of those people you couldn’t help but adore, and to the outside world, it looked like it couldn’t get much better for him. His wife and three beautiful children added to his seemingly perfect life, and they danced right alongside him.

Like tWitch, my life was permanently altered by dance. I may not have met my spouse on a reality dance show or achieved world-wide fame, but dance came to me at a point in my life where I needed the exact focus and direction it provided. At 24 years old, I began belly dancing thanks to my cousin Yemaya, and it had a huge part in making me the person I am today. From the first day I saw tWitch embody the music with his passion and positive spirit, I was inspired.  

If you’ve been on social media (kudos to you if you’re on a break, we could all use one), you’re most likely aware of the devasting loss that the dance community felt with the announcement of his suicide last week.

Finding out he had passed away was a shock. Realizing that he had actually taken his own life was something I was completely unprepared for. My head felt tight and my chest ached; I clutched my face in my hands and held my breath, hoping it wasn’t real. Tears stung my eyes. All of my thoughts immediately went to his wife Allison and their kids. I couldn’t imagine what kind of horrific pain they must be in if I, a stranger, felt like this.

Next, I felt complete confusion. Why? Why had he done this? Why had he decided that his loving light wasn’t meant for this world any longer? Where had his light gone? It seems clear that we as the general public won’t be able to make sense of his personal tragedy any time soon, if ever. That is for his family to get through. But something that his death triggered in me was an inherent fear that I was possibly missing the signs in the people I love.

Society paints a picture of depressed people walking around with clouds over their heads and happy people with the sun shining all around them. At the height of my depression almost 20 years ago, that’s exactly what it felt like to me, though I didn’t like showing it. Reading about tWitch’s death reminded me of a conversation I had with a coworker during this time. I had confided in her that I was taking antidepressants, and she looked at me in surprise.

“YOU? You’re depressed? But you’re always so perky and happy!” And I realized that even though I wasn’t purposely trying to hide this part of me, I did make it a habit to appear chipper, never wanting to put my emotional baggage into someone else’s trunk. I didn’t want them to think it was their responsibility to make me smile.

The thing is, it partially IS their responsibility. (I know not everyone is going to agree with this, and that’s totally okay!) Relationships are a huge part of what makes us human. We have good ones, we have bad ones. The hope is that we’ll learn the lessons from the bad ones, and the few that stand beside us consistently will have our backs and help us get through the hard times. We need to check in with our people.

If we don’t tell them, how can they help us?

On the other hand, our responsibility, when we feel down, is to reach out when we’re in pain. It’s one of the hardest things to do, because as much as we value a community, it’s also astonishingly hard to burden them with our troubles.

So, we’re expected to obtain a utopia wherein we easily talk to our friends and family when times get tough, while also having the wherewithal to make sure every single person in our life is happy and content? I’ll be the first one to say that’s nearly impossible. But please, try. Please. People need to know they are loved. Maybe it’s not the person you might expect. Maybe it’s the friend with the picture-perfect Instagram photos. Maybe it’s a stranger on the bus who could use a random smile or compliment. And if you’re the one feeling down, do the hard thing if you possibly can. Reach out to someone, anyone, and tell them you’re not okay. It’s the hardest, bravest thing you might ever do, but it will be a life-altering thing.

Last week I knew I wanted to write something about tWitch, because his existence made mine more joyous. I knew it would roll into a mental health conversation, but I need to end this blog on tWitch. I still have to process my sadness, but I’ll forever be grateful that the world I know had tWitch in it. Without ever having met him, I can say that he made an impact on me as a dancer and as a human being. I hope he is at peace now.

Vulnerability and Gratitude: a Tribute to Robin Williams

I don’t normally write much about pop culture in this blog, but I am feeling that I must say something now. There is a lot of information and opinion going around about Robin Williams’ death yesterday. Some people are recycling facts and lists so that we can recollect the best moments of his career, some are paying loving homage, and some are expressing bitterness that he took his own life. I’d like to say a few words in tribute.
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The most striking character Robin Williams ever played in my mind was John Keating in Dead Poets Society. In him, I saw a human so raw and so real that I found it hard to comprehend that Williams hadn’t always been Keating. As a fellow artist who has, at times, felt misunderstood and out of place, I saw a story that touched my heart. I also recognize the bittersweet irony of Robert Sean Leonard’s character taking his life because he felt the world would never allow him to be who he was meant to be.
In the same vein, One Hour Photo’s Sy Parrish was so quietly terrifying and believable that we didn’t want to accept that it was our beloved Williams. Still, we followed him into the deep recesses of the character’s mind. Perhaps it was his personal dark shadow that made it a little too easy to play Parrish.
The truly terrifying thing is that we genuinely can’t always see the pain in a loved one’s eyes. We see the slapstick facade they put on to entertain, but the darker side stays hidden, pleading silently that someone will probe just deep enough to realize that something is truly wrong. Unfortunately, most of us are not equipped to see that agony for what it is.
Robin Williams was one of those actors who did so much more than play a part. He brought intricacies out of his characters that perhaps the writer didn’t even know were there. Williams played them all like it was second nature because he let himself be vulnerable to every part of the character. He didn’t just play the character’s appealing parts, he played every side. What we didn’t know about Williams could fill caverns. Will we ever know why? Do we want to? Can we be satisfied by simply thanking him for baring his soul and letting the rest go?
I will say it. Thank you, Robin Williams, for being that inspiration to me and so many people. If I ever forget to sound my barbaric yawp again, may your voice come back to haunt me and remind my soul that the best way to show this world who I really am is to let it fly, no matter how off-kilter, how screechy, how weak or strong, how awkward, or how incredibly beautiful it might sound. To be vulnerable is to be true, and it’s not always pretty.
Thank you also to my mom for reading to my sister and me every night. Thank you to my dad for showing us the fruits of imagination. To my sister, I know you sacrificed your thug reputation spending hours locked in your room during read-ins with me. I love you. Thank you to my mom’s lifelong friends that drove hours to visit and, instead of catching up with her, sat patiently, reading my 152-page, handwritten, novel. Thank you to my early childhood teachers for giving me admiration for the written word, of loving them so tenderly that I knew from a very young age that words would always be a huge part of me. My gratitude knows no bounds.