Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Gone, before she was Gone

The Victor Ave House in Riverdale (centre)

There are people who come and go in our lives. The ones that go often become nothing more than a faint memory. But sometimes,  memories of the ones that go hover incessantly; their personalities perhaps larger than life or the impact they had on you sticks with you and despite their absence, you drift back to the times you had with them. 

I knew a woman in my mid-late twenties who was one that has hovered for the last 30 years. She was a friend and  my landlady, even though she was only a couple years older than I was at the time. She was a chef in training back then and was working at the very exclusive and well known Scaramouche Restaurant in Toronto. Her father bought the house for her and working was really sort of lark to her because whenever she was between jobs, her father, Stewie, (sweetest man in the world) supported her.  She was tall (statuesque really) and blonde and confident in the way a woman who has never known scarcity and attended all the right schools and summer camps would be expected to be. Her friends were many and they all had nicknames that were like secret handshakes between them. She wore designer clothing and was always adorned in expensive jewelry. She was an only child of only child parents.She loved periwinkles. She had a bull terrier named Boris.  I envied her.

She rented the third floor of her old Victorian house to me in my last 2 years of university. She had a live-in lover she called Thomo, a gorgeous blue-eyed Brit who was a decade older and I spent many late nights after we all got home from our evening shifts working in restaurants (he was a chef at the old Inn on the Park (Four Seasons) and we would all need to wind down after our busy nights with a few drinks before I headed up to my garret to crash. She would sit and hold court on her king-sized bed that was encased in a sea of white bedding and down-filled pillows, chugging Henkell Trocken straight from the bottle. She laughed a lot. Her life seemed carefree and looking back now I recognize she had an air of entitlement.

I remember her lackadaisical attitude toward responsibility. It was unfamiliar territory for me. I would be enjoying a warm summer afternoon in the small courtyard behind the house and lament the fact that I had to get to work at my part-time job by 5 pm. She would turn to me and say things like, "don't go to work, stay here and have some cocktails with me." The thought of skipping out of a shift of work never occurred to me. I needed the money. I did not have a daddy paying my way in life. Or, she would go as far as to say, "you should quit that job". Then she would laugh and chide me until I reminded her that I needed that job to pay my rent to her every month. I was never certain if she was serious or just projecting her own attitude about work toward me. She was famous for her lavish dinner parties and she did indeed enjoy howling at the moon. On many occasions, I howled with her. 

She drove a VW Cabriolet and one night when I got home from work around 2 am, she said let's drive up to Thornbury! She had ended her romance with the Brit and was now involved with a man who lived up on Georgian Bay. She was spontaneous that way. I recall thinking - "really, Now?" She was already three sheets to the wind and I had likely had a couple myself, so we piled in her funky rag top and headed north, sharing a bottle of plonk along the way. After she downed the last of it, she flung the bottle up over her head and out behind the car, the glass smashing on the empty road, cackling maniacally like a witch as she did so. It's a miracle we survived that drive and the next morning I wished I had woken up in my own bed in my cosy garret when she announced she was not driving back  until the next day and I had to work that night in the city. This was a typical scenario whenever she was around. 

It became clearer and clearer as time passed that she liked the drink a little more than most. She had been married once in her early twenties and it did not last long. But she came away with all the accoutrements of a big wedding like Waterford Crystal, fine china and a down filled sofa and expensive dining furniture that most of her friends had not yet acquired in life. Most of us were still students or just starting out. It made her stand out and seem accomplished. She approached everyone, even people she hardly new with a bold brashness that declared her status and oozed privilege. The truth was, I had never met anyone like her and I was never really sure if I loved her or hated her. I also knew we were not cut from the same cloth. 

Those two years that I spent swirling in her social circle were times I have never forgotten. Life was one big party, blaring music, fabulous food, a never-ending supply of booze and weekends on Georgian Bay. I met my first husband the last summer I lived in her house and the space was too small for two, so the time had come for me to move out. Another single woman (an old camp buddy of hers) would gladly take over the space. It was much coveted. It will always be my most memorable apartment in Toronto. It was in Riverdale which at the time, was just becoming popular. Not long after I left, she and I had a conversation that did not sit well with me. She sidled up to me and told me that she thought I should know that my fiance had been flirting with her and had propositioned her on more than one occasion. It came as a complete surprise to me as I trusted him wholeheartedly. I decided she was just trying to stir the pot and wrote it off as her own self-delusion. I never did find out if it was true, but it created a wedge between us and I moved on in my life without much contact with her after that.

I would hear things about her from time to time, but my circles changed and eventually I did not really know what had become of her until I heard she had left Toronto and moved to Manhattan...the Big Apple..NYC. She had apparently declared herself an artist now and was painting large abstract oil paintings that she was selling for big bucks. Supposedly in the range of 35-40K a piece. Then I heard she had married Scott Weiland of The Stone Temple Pilots fame and now her last name was his. Another friend of mine that I met through her would get 3 am phone calls from time to time and would have to endure her drunken ramblings. At one stage she got a call from some godforsaken southern state bar that really worried her to the point that she called the local police there to let them know that this woman was in need of help. That was the last time she was heard from.

Until yesterday. 

My dear friend Cindy, aka Halifax Broad had decided a few months ago to try to find her and had come across some information on line that led her to an obituary. It was from  August of 2013. The name was Weiland but she was not certain if it was really our mutual friend. She left her contact info and that was all she could do. A couple months later she got a phone call from a woman I will call Nita, who said she knew Deirdre. She had been the executor of Stewie's will and had been doling out an allowance all these years.  She was indeed dead and she died a homeless person on the streets of Toronto. When she died, there was not a single person alive to call and report her death. Not a friend, a relative, nobody. She died without a will, so cremation was not allowed. She had her buried in a pauper's grave with no fanfare, no funeral, no headstone. Nothing. 

How did this happen to this once vibrant, larger than life human being? Well, it turns out she was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. It was likely exacerbated with alcoholism. Nita never knew the Deirdre we knew back in the 80's. She knew her as a schizophrenic woman who would call in the middle of the night demanding more money each month as her allowance would run out. She had no idea that her life had been scads of crazy (no pun intended) fun for years before her descent into mental illness. 

I could rattle off at least a dozen names from those days of people who knew her well and partied with her and spent lots of time with her that would surely want to know that she died. In the end, she had nothing more that a few pieces of filthy clothing and her binders. Many, many binders filled with her ramblings. She apparently took them everywhere, all that was left to prove she was alive and had something to say. 

It saddens me greatly to think that her life ended this way. Despite her disdain for work and an ordinary life, she was generous. She did not place much value on her things and would gladly share them with you. I recall borrowing some of her clothing a few times and she was always quick to offer food and drink, although maybe she just wanted someone to drink with. This is a clear case of someone who fell between the cracks. She must have eventually become so unattractive as a person that she put off everyone and ended up completely and utterly alone. The cause of death was reported as the result of tongue and throat cancer (she did smoke). The story about being married to Scott Weiland was fictitious, yet she did change her name to give credibility to her lie. 

I know there are some of my readers who will remember her and be shocked to hear this accounting of her life. Had any of us known of her illness, we might have been able to intervene years ago, but it is too late for that now. Not only did she die alone, she died 2 years ago and her old friends are just learning about it this week.  

I do hope she has found peace at last. If I could, I would tell her that she will always live on in my memory, that she was an unforgettable character, she was fun and talented and she was right about my first husband. I should have listened to her.

R.I.P. Deirdre Lynn Weiland (Shannon) 
Died August 20, 2013


Gabrielle said...

Thanks so much for posting this story about Deidre. I knew her in the 90's and always wondered what had happened to her. I had no idea that her life turned out to be so sad.

Anonymous said...

I had dinner with a friend last night who told me she had just heard about Dede's passing - that she had been homeless. I searched online and found your blog. We went to camp with Dede ( as we called her) in the 60's and I am so saddened to hear of her downward spiral and mental illness. The last time I saw her was at a camp reunion - living in New York then - and although she was dressed to the nines , outgoing and brash you could sense something was very wrong. But then, I always thought she was a very troubled soul. How very unfortunate that she spent her last years as she did. Thank you.

Alan said...

Deirdre was one of my close friends in from 1996 to 2002,. Despite her serious drinking problem, she was a most beautiful soul.