Princess of Hearts

TV Eye

Diana, Princess of Wales, and princess of our hearts

It won't take a psychic to figure what has been on TV Eye's mind since Saturday night when the news broke. The tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was as shattering as that of any other icon whose presence shone in my life: John F. Kennedy, John Lennon, my friend Stevie Ray Vaughan.... The emotions mixed painfully with the throb in my heart resonating from the deaths of several longtime friends earlier this year. I was down in San Antonio at the WorldCon SF gathering, taking a break back in the hotel before the Hugo winners announcement, and had signed onto AOL sometime around 8pm. A friend sent me a message saying Diana was dead. I turned on CNN. Nothing. The friend assured me he was not mistaken -- he was talking to someone in Europe and she was killed in a crash. Minutes later, the reports began on CNN: Diana was hurt, Dodi and the driver were dead.

I sighed with sad relief that Diana would be all right, and began to watch the coverage, cringing inwardly at the initial crash footage and watching the way CNN was pulling into action: First, the cautious reports, then the live footage of the look down the mouth of that tunnel. She was hurt seriously, the reports were saying, and I found myself praying for her. Online, my friend was telling me she was dead, that his sources were impeccable. After about an hour, I turned off the television and signed off the computer. Maybe if I didn't see it, Diana would be okay. I closed my eyes.

Adrienne, my intrepid partner in convention fun, woke me up sometime about 11pm. I had slept through the Hugos; did I want to go get something to eat? Yes. We went to the deli next door and began to talk at random. Oh, I thought to say almost offhandedly, Princess Diana was hurt in car wreck. Adrienne looked at me in slight amusement -- was this a big deal? Yeah, I nodded, suddenly very concerned. We went back to the hotel. I want to see CNN, she said. I nodded and went into our kitchen with the food.

The first image onscreen was footage of Diana with a voiceover. How odd, I thought -- they only do that when someone dies -- and busied myself with the sandwiches. Then Adrienne called out, "she's dead," and my head spun. Oh no... I walked in and we sat stunned, watching, murmuring to ourselves and each other.

CNN was in full emergency mode. They've had enough practice now at disasters and tragedies to know how to respond to these situations... O.J.Simpson, the bombings at the Atlanta Olympics and in Oklahoma City, various natural disasters and plane crashes. First, a just-the-facts-ma'am report, then the hastily edited footage and a live broadcast from the scene. This allows them to provide at least a couple of hours of wary reports and buys time to put together the inevitable obituaries and in-depth reports. I was glued to the TV set, broken-hearted over the senseless death of the guileless young princess who had won me over when she walked down the aisle 16 years before. I was also fascinated by the media machine, roaring into action but wincing at the glare of the light being shined back as CNN was now having to report that her death may have been due to paparazzi. Media. Overwhelmed, I turned the TV off about 2am and went to sleep.

It wasn't a bad dream. I stayed up Friday the night before the funeral, watching the preparation, and taped different network coverage on two VCRs. The image of Diana's lovely innocence, her expressive eyes, her gentle legacy, was everywhere. That Mother Teresa had died two days before Diana's funeral before was a poignant counterpoint to the work of both: We had lost two of the arguably greatest female humanitarians in a week's time.

And the contrast was notable: Even if one were not a royalist or fan of the monarchy, Diana's gentle nature was inescapable, and Mother Teresa was practically a saint. A woman friend commented a bit acerbically that Diana made better copy because she was younger and prettier. Yes, Diana's image may have been more physically pleasing, I told her, but I also thought that Mother Teresa had lived a long, full, loving, giving life; she was old and could rest in peace. Diana's life was snuffed tragically and, as her brother so emotionally noted, at her most radiant and beautiful. Those images of lives taken early seem to be the ones we cherish the most, the wistful question of "what if" forever on our lips.

When John Lennon was shot, I was in the living room of my West Austin house filling out a music poll ballot for Creem or some magazine. What's the worst thing to happen in 1980? The hype surrounding John Lennon's death, I wrote, somewhat jaded. He wasn't dead six hours yet.

The next day I woke up horribly depressed and sleepwalked through my day job at Wallace's bookstore on the Drag. A friend from high school brought me a poster she'd made in his memory. "Smash it and I'll build around it," it read. I taped the poster up and was told to take it down within 30 minutes.

When I left work, I wandered aimlessly over to Inner Sanctum Records, then the thriving hub of the campus-area punk community. I walked through the dusty hallway, steps echoing woodenly, and peered through the glass panes of the shop door. Inner Sanctum founder and owner Joe Bryson, a longtime friend, was inside by himself, doing paperwork at the counter. I walked in and he looked up, smiling. I burst into tears.

Bryson walked around the counter and past me as I sobbed. He locked the door, then walked back across the store to the turnable, setting the needle on John Lennon's Rock & Roll album. As the sweet strains of "Stand by Me" rose, Bryson turned and held his arms to me. There, in the fading light of the sad December day, we slow-danced to Lennon's yearning voice, each lost in our own memories, and trying to find a way to deal with the grief and pain.

Good night, sweet princess. May the happiness you sought and peace that eluded you in life rest with you now and forever.

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