Looking Up

By Miles Jackson, Cousin

August 2nd, 2014

For those of you who don’t know me, I am Abby’s youngest cousin. And she is truly my greatest hero. It matters to me very much that I say that in the present tense. Abby is so cool. All three of our cousins were always so cool. All my brother Dylan and I wanted growing up was to be as cool as them. Danny playing Sega with us was mindblowing, Cynthia having me at her office for Indian food made me feel as “badass” as a small suburban white child can, and Abby coming to my elementary school class to do theater games felt like I was allowing these seven-year-old peasants exclusive access to a celebrity. Because that’s what she was to me.

And what she remains to me. Even when I was a teenager, I would get awkwardly nervous and shy around Abby. I don’t think I would’ve acted much differently around Meryl Streep or Jessica Lange. Abby was and is everything I ever wanted to be. People go on about Abby’s physical beauty, but to me that’s entirely accidental. She was an amazing human being, an amazing performer, an amazing daughter, sister, partner, mother, friend — her beautiful smile just happened to reflect all of that.

As most of you know, having had or taken care of small children, they get sort of senseless but endearing fixations — rocks, dinosaurs, etc. Abby was dinosaurs for me. We would make pacts every Christmas Eve to wake up before everyone else to open stockings together. But I always woke up easily, like, three hours before her — in hindsight far more excited for Abby than Santa. I became a faithful Ani DiFranco fan from far-too-young an age because she gave me her albums, and if Abby did it — I had to do it.

I would always say since childhood that I was going to go to NYU. Once again, in hindsight, there could have definitely been better fits for me, I honestly had no idea what I was doing — but I didn’t dare consider anywhere else, because Abby didn’t go there. It was only more poetic that we were not only in the same school, but that I was placed in the exact same program as she at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. A program that we both had problems with, including one teacher in common who gave us both a particularly hard time. I’m damn proud that whatever his problem was seemed to run in the family.

Of the various rent-jobs that Abby took on to support herself as a young artist, I am pretty sure she escaped nannying. I have not been so lucky — but I have learned a lot as a “manny” — the very manly version of a nanny. The six-year-old boy I take care of, Toby, will see a cute dog on the street and say he wants to marry it. I have also occasionally made his list of people he wants to marry — before kids understand the actual implications, that is what they understand to be the highest expression of love and admiration for someone.

The day we lost Abby, through tears that soon were peppered with laughter I admitted to my parents that as a little boy I was sure that Abby and I would get married. I had never told anyone that, because…obviously. To an older mind that seems bizarre, awkward and embarrassing. But, besides finding it funny, I find it so telling of the extent of her impression on me from such an early age. And while I figured a few things out and decided marriage might not be the way to go, that admiration never died — and never will.

I find this to be so unfair on so many levels — for me, personally, and for every person in this room. And for every person who ever met Abby. I felt and feel very angry. I am very sad. I also am in intense denial. Abby was always other-worldly to me. She kind of always had a sort of mythical, legendary significance to me. So for her to suddenly be this incredible, unmatched spirit who we all talk about, like an invisible but impactful presence in our lives — that’s not much different than who she has always been to me.

What really gets me, is that I will never get the chance to act with her. I am sure that, if not strictly actors, there are many artists here today. And I am sure that all of us afflicted with the impulse to become artists have a love/hate relationship with our art and fellow artists. There are so many unfortunate qualities that give actors a bad name — we can be incredibly vain, selfish, self-indulgent, opportunistic, neurotic — shall I go on? And even though I never performed with her except in makeshift Christmas pageants, I know exactly the kind of scene partner Abby would be. She would be so present, so selfless, so giving. She would be alive and spontaneous, responsive and endlessly imaginative. She would show up without ego or judgement. We would have so much fun. We would have so much fun.

I spent my entire life until June 1st looking up to Abby. I still do, but it’s much more literal now. I talk to her more frequently than I ever have and I blow her kisses whenever I perform. When I have been unintelligible with tears, my only solace has been reminding myself that the reason I am doing what I am doing with my life is all because of her. I can confidently trace most aspects of my life to my idol, Abby, and so in many ways, literally owe that life to her.

When I have been beside myself with grief, I have gone back to who I was when I was just the little cousin — who in many ways I still am. And I think, as I always have, “How can I be more like Abby?” This often involves me trying to have a more genuine smile, or trying to be a nicer person — both of which are challenging for me. But the dumbed down answer is just to love. Love those around me and those far away. Focus so much less on myself than on other people. And in so many ways, to fly despite gravity.

I want to close by telling Owen and Julia — hi guys. I know you might not know me very well, but I really love your mom, and so I love you both very much. I’ll never be as cool as her but I would love to be as supportive an older cousin to you as your mom is to me.