I was the last person on this earth to speak with Tiffany Sedaris. We were close friends for nearly a dozen years. The night before she killed herself, she begged me to go along with her to her family reunion in order to help her through her anxiety over the event. I agreed to go, promising to rent a vehicle so she could flee at a moment’s notice should she feel uncomfortable. I even had her a little excited to show me around where she grew up and had her howling with laughter. I expressed the depth of my love and affection for her as a friend and did so again when we spoke very briefly the next day. It wasn’t enough. I know, or can logically guess at, reasons small and large why she committed suicide. I was her friend. I do not give a hoot what anyone else says about this letter. I will do whatever is required of me to defend her honor and legacy. I only wish I could have saved her and have her back in this world. I found David Sedaris’ article, “Now we are five,” in the Oct. 28 New Yorker to be obviously self-serving, often grossly inaccurate, almost completely unresearched and, at times, outright callous. Some of her family had been more than decent, loving and kind to her. “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.
As an artist, she was fixated on color and was one of the most colorful personalities I am ever likely to meet. She was the queen of trash pickers. Then there was her astounding artwork, willed to another loyal friend from long before I met her. And, most importantly, there is the intangible -- the love, the wit, the friendship, humor and affection that her friends will remember her for the most. She was 10 times funnier than any other Sedaris, since her humor stemmed partly from living a darker, harder life on the razor’s edge. Her passing and the circumstances surrounding it have been unbearably upsetting to her many friends and, personally, I will mourn her until my dying day.
Not only could Tiffany have been saved, she could have blossomed. While her friends had done pretty much all they could, at least half of her mental health issues stemmed from, or were exaggerated by, her poverty and unstable housing situation, but also from David’s occasional mockery of her in his writings.
Her father had the wealth and should have had the wisdom of age to see she was in dire need to more financial assistance.
David Sedaris has made a fortune writing about the foibles and idiosyncrasies of his family, which America and the world has latched onto, since most families are somewhat dysfunctional. As this holiday season and time of reunions approaches, 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.
In an interview on Dutch TV, given about a month after Tiffany’s suicide, David was asked, “What if you could ask her one question?” He replied, “Can I have the money back that I loaned you?” He laughed. “She borrowed all this money from me. She said, ‘I will pay you back in my lifetime.’ I can’t believe I fell for that.”
David should consider the payment for his article about Tiffany’s suicide to be a debt paid in full. David’s detachment and insensitivity is insulting and offensive to all who loved Tiffany, likely including his own family. Maybe David could have given Tiffany some more of the money he made off of stories about her. He repeatedly heard she was living a hardscrabble life.
David spent a good 10 to 20 percent of the article talking about how to name the posh beach house he bought on a whim, three weeks after his youngest sister died, destitute, from a brutally violent suicide in her ramshackle hovel on the “hard side of Somerville, Massachusetts.” I have a good suggestion as to how to name the new beachfront vacation home, the one with a nice view from David’s bedroom, one of a few houses David owns. Perhaps this one should be named, “The House of Shame.”
Michael Knoblach is a Medford resident.