Remembering Ned Vizzini (1981 – 2013)
On Friday morning I had just sat down at my desk at work when I got the message: my friend Ned committed suicide the day before.
What? No, not Ned. No. No. What? Why? Why now?
I don’t have anything original to say about grief, other than that incredulity, anger and sadness are on rapid spin cycle.
Yes. Yes, Ned.
I don’t make this statement cavalierly: the loss of Ned Vizzini is like a light being extinguished from the world. He was a true original. There is no one else that I’ve ever met quite like Ned. He was a genuine writing talent. He was quirky and embraced oddballs. He was the hardest-working hustler I’ve ever met. He was funny, goofy, and endlessly clever. He was so, so generous.
Ned’s most loved book seems to be It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, a fictionalized account of him checking into a psychiatric ward because of suicidal ideation from depression. (The book was made into a 2010 movie starring Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Lauren Graham, and Keir Gilchrist.) Ned spoke widely about young adult literature, but also mental health care. His losing battle with that hellbeast depression is absolutely fucking heartbreaking.
I remember the night I met Ned. I was a sophomore in college. A mutual friend told me to check out his band, so I did. I was carrying a metal “I Love Lucy” lunchbox as a purse. While we were chatting after his set, the lunchbox opened and all my crap came flying out. Ned bent down onto the floor of the venue and picked up all my stuff. When he stood up again, he asked me out. I said yes. He was so charismatic and funny and had the greatest smile.
I remember everywhere Ned went he carried postcards with him that he had printed out to advertise his first book, Teen Angst? Naaah…, which had just been published. It was a collection of his columns from a free New York City weekly paper called the New York Press, which he had been writing for since high school. Ned handed a postcard to anyone and everyone he met. My friends and college roommates all got Teen Angst? Naaah… postcards, some of them more than once.
I remember Ned helped me get my first byline in the Press. We did an article together about the then-newly opened Museum Of Sex. I conducted the phone interviews, handed over my notes to him, and he wrote the story. It was my first clip in NYC media.
I remember Ned bringing me as his date to some fancy party that Mayor Bloomberg hosted. I remember he said of the dress code, “I don’t think you have to wear a ball gown.” He schmoozed with the mayor; I was too shy. We met Judy Blume, who later chose to promote Ned as an up-and-coming YA novelist on the “Today” show. That night after that Bloomberg party, Ned broke up with me. I was crushed.
A few days later, I was attending a wedding in Providence, Rhode Island, and randomly saw Judy Blume sitting at the hotel bar. So I went up to her, reminded her who I was from the other night, and told her Ned had broken up with me. I remembered she tsk, tsk-ed and told me not to worry, because it had taken her three husbands to find one who was just right.
Ned and I remained friends over the years. I remember bringing Ned as a guest speaker to the middle school on the Lower East Side where I worked. He spoke to all the students about Teen Angst? Naaah… and autographed copies with a Sharpie.
I remember Ned wanted to get into a nightclub one night, so he asked me to get a group of girl friends together. I recruited my friend Ashley and her two roommates. Ned hailed us a limo from the side of road on Canal Street. I didn’t know you could just hail a limo like a taxi. Maybe you can’t, but Ned did. He showed up at the club door, in a limo, with four young women. They let us all in.
I remember Ned and I went to a book signing at the Barnes & Noble in the West Village that no longer exists. “Don’t you want to buy a copy, Jess?” He asked me, right in front of the author. I didn’t, which I think was obvious to the author, but did anyway. (The author signed my book, “okay?”) After the book signing, I remember Ned and I went to Grey’s Papaya and he dropped his hot dog and all its condiments on my open-toed sandal. He got down on his hands and knees on the sidewalk and wiped relish off my shoe with napkins.
I remember Ned helped me with a photojournalism class during my senior year at college. He took me to a squat — an empty building where quasi-homeless people are living illegally — on St. Mark’s Place. He knew someone there who let us in and allowed me to photograph it. The light was beautiful inside. Afterwards, I remember his mom and dad picked us up in their minivan and took us back to their home in Brooklyn. I don’t know if we told them we had just been inside a squat. Probably not.
I remember one summer day, my mom and I were in New York City and I called up Ned to come back with us for an evening at my parents’ house in Connecticut. I remember the car ride back and the three of us talking. I remember Ned autographed one of his books for my parents. Along with his name, Ned wrote, “You make pretty daughter.” My mother was not amused. Still, Mom let Ned drive her car because I still didn’t have a driver’s license and we went to go eat softshell crab.
I remember when Ned came to my college graduation party. He took a train out to Connecticut and decided to ride his bicycle from the train station to my parents’ house, not realizing it was something like twelve miles away. Not surprisingly, Ned got lost somewhere on the suburban streets and had to call from a pay phone for help. My Uncle Steve got in a car and drove to go find him. He showed up at the party right as it was ending.
I remember when I started a new job once, Ned sent a bouquet of tulips to the office to congratulate me. He didn’t include his last name, so I wasn’t sure if it was him or a different Ned I knew. “are you the ned who sent me the bouquet?” I emailed. “duh!” He wrote back.
I remember my last correspondence with him Ned over Facebook chat. He had moved to California to do TV writing. He had gotten married. His wife had had a baby. He was one of my first friends to do either of those things. All of a sudden, he had morphed into a grownup. I was happy for him.
But one particular memory keeps cycling through my mind as I’ve thought about Ned this weekend. I remember, on his first visit to Connecticut, taking Ned to the woods behind my parents’ house. There’s a small river and a fallen tree bisecting it. Ned climbed atop the tree and announced his plan to walk all the way across. I stood astride the river, voicing my skepticism at this plan. Like a tightrope walker, he inched and inched and inched across the tree. Then he wobbled widely, he lost his balance, and he fell into the river with an enormous splash. I laughed hysterically.
I led a sopping wet, sheepish Ned back inside the house. To their credit, my parents found this charming. His clothes and his shoes were so drenched we had to give him clothes and old sneakers from my brother’s closet to wear. To this day, Mom and Dad still sometimes look out at the backyard and say to me, “Remember that time Ned fell in the river?”
Ned Vizzini was a beloved author and inspiration to so many more people than I ever could have imagined. His death at 32 has been lamented by the likes of Judy Blume, John Green and Chris Columbus. There are hundreds and hundreds of tweets by his fans, friends and acquaintances, all expressing the same shock and sadness I feel. It seems like half the writers I know on Twitter and Facebook have a story about one time they saw Ned at a reading or he showed up at their book signing or yard sale. Everyone uses the same words: sweet kid, genuinely nice person, the nicest guy you would ever meet. Over and over, I have thought to myself, I wish Ned could see all this. I wish he could see how much he was loved.
Admittedly it’s also a bit strange to read articles about his death in The New York Times, People, and US Weekly. To me, he’s not Ned The Famous Author, but just Ned. In my minds’ eye, I still see him climbing up on that felled tree over the river, announcing he’d make it across. I see him losing his footing and I see the splash. I remember laughing my head off and feeling that kind of love you feel for a friend who is doing such a good job at just being themselves.
No one has ever tried to walk across that tree again.
If you are in crisis or thinking about hurting yourself, call the National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak immediately to a free, trained counselor.
Visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org for more information about suicide prevention and for help finding a therapist.
Email me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.
[Image via Instagram.com.MrKoyen]