The image of David Sedaris, the author and humorist, is taking a significant hit this week as the result of his October New Yorker article about the suicide of his sister.
In her will, Tiffany Sedaris mandated that no one from her family was allowed to attend her memorial service.
Two boxes was all she left, Sedaris suggested in his article.
“So put that in your pipe and smoke it,” our mother would have said.
A few days after getting the news, my sister Amy drove to Somerville with a friend and collected two boxes of things from Tiffany’s room: family photographs, many of which had been ripped into pieces, comment cards from a neighborhood grocery store, notebooks, receipts. The bed, a mattress on the floor, had been taken away and a large industrial fan had been set up.
Amy snapped some pictures while she was there, and, individually and in groups, those of us left studied them for clues: a paper plate on a dresser that had several drawers missing, a phone number written on a wall, a collection of mop handles, each one a different color, arranged like cattails in a barrel painted green.
But, it seems worth pointing out now, if clues are what the family wanted, why did only Sedaris’ sister, Amy, show up at Tiffany’s apartment?
Now, a friend of hers, Michael Knoblach, has called out Sedaris in a column of his own in the Somerville (Mass.) Journal.
“Some of her family had been more than decent, loving and kind to her,” he writes, suggesting Sedaris, himself, was a callous brother.
“Two lousy boxes” is not Tiffany’s legacy. After her sister left with that meager lot, her house was still full of treasures. More than two vanloads of possession were pulled from there and other locations by friends. She was a hoarder of items worthless to most but vitally important to her.
There were fantastic art materials — milk crates of angular rocks (good ones), each crate containing one round stone, which perfectly fits the hand, bearing signs of some form of unorthodox flint knapping to bash and hammer the rocks into shapes she needed; dozens of boxes of antique broken ceramics or stained glass for her mosaics, many dug out of the ground from a hidden 19th Century dump whose location she shared only with me, my favorite broken bit being the bottom part of a piece of green McCoy pottery that now only said, “Coy,” (pure Tiffany wit); ephemera; old CDV photos; old letters; fragments of vintage children’s books; her collection of antique baleen corsets; an original picture sleeve from the Little Richard 45, “ooh! My soul/true, fine mama;” her antique baby blue high chair, in part covered with ancient happy dolphin decals in which sat a doll, representing her; and an old stuffed rabbit, a rabbit, representing the rabbit she once owned named “Little Sweet Miss Bitsy Who’s Its,” a.k.a., “Hooos,” (the number of ooo’s varied with her pronunciation) — she gave the rabbit away when she could no longer afford or manage to feed it/care for it — she had already long since given away her cat, Mister Wonderful; those beautiful, multicolored old vivid lead-paint broom handles David mentioned, which she used to have strung together as a divider between rooms when she had a larger apartment; and the cheap plastic flowers she scattered around her body before taking her life.
I could go on and on.
And he does, suggesting that Sedaris could’ve shared some of his fortune from writing and mocking the life of his sister.
“As this holiday season and time of reunions approaches, he wrote, “let this be a warning to others — not every black sheep is a lost sheep and some might come back into the fold with just a little more kind attention or modest financial assistance.”
It might be a little harder to enjoy NPR’s tradition of airing Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries this year.
Update 1/31/14 – Sedaris reads his essay on This American Life.