I don't remember the first time I actually met Rebecca Fisher, the daughter of Emily Fisher — the subject of this month's cover story — but I'll never forget the first time I heard her laugh.
It was 1989, and I was a freshman at the Hutchison School. My brother and I moved to Memphis to live with our mother the year before, which meant new schools for both of us. Going from a public school in a small town in Arkansas to Hutchison was an intimidating challenge, to say the least. But I loved the school. I loved everything about it. The campus, my friends, my teachers, the honor system, everything.
But even after returning for my second year at the school, I still felt very much like the "new kid." As if being a teenager isn't awkward enough, in the back of my mind, I heard that insecure whisper telling me that I was somehow different from my classmates. Most of them had been at Hutch for years, and had memories of times shared that went back to kindergarten. Their families vacationed together in exotic locales. They lived in houses like the one on this cover.
I pushed this nagging insecurity deep down, but it was always with me.
One afternoon, my fellow frosh and I were gathering during our 15-minute break period outside the "Buzz Shop," where the seniors hung out. It was understood that the younger students hung around the outskirts of the lounge, while the older girls got first dibs at the couches and tables. But we loved listening to their conversations about driving (only a year away!), weekend parties (what's a kegger?), and of course, our pals over at MUS (Can you believe he asked her out!).
It was one of those many eavesdropping sessions when I heard Rebecca's booming laugh spill out from the inner sanctum of the Buzz Shop and fill the hallways surrounding it. It was at once husky and girlish, and incredibly loud. The kind of loud that makes everyone stop talking, and eventually begin laughing as well. I heard the source of the world's greatest laugh making her way toward the hallway. She wore a huge grin and had an air of confidence and happiness I envied at once.
I found out soon after that she too had recently been a "new girl." I thought she and her best friends, one a dark, exotic beauty, the other a star soccer player, were the three coolest girls I'd ever seen. Even though Rebecca had been a new girl too, I couldn't imagine she'd had any of the same insecurities I struggled with.
I wouldn't have any idea until years later what her life must have been like, or the things she dealt with every day when she went back to her beautiful house on Central. How could I have known? How could anyone?
Years after graduating from high school, I'd see the horrific headlines splashed across the cover of the newspaper about her mother's brutal murder. It was shocking, of course, but as the days and weeks went on after the murder, and the details of some of the Fisher family's struggles became daily news fodder, I realized just how wrong I had been about the happiest girl at Hutch.
When Rebecca's one-woman show, The Magnificence of the Disaster, based on the murder, came to TheatreWorks last March, I couldn't imagine how Rebecca could pull it off. But she did. It was a brilliant piece of writing, at times hilarious, at times horrifying — that she executed as only she could. I cried silent, fat tears through much of it. I cried for her, her family, for myself, for memories I hadn't dredged up in a decade, and for reasons I still don't understand. On the way home from the theater, I called both my parents just to tell them how much I loved them.
Oddly, when I think of her play now, the moments I remember are the ones when she made me laugh. Eighteen years after I first heard her, Rebecca is once again reminding me to laugh, no matter what.