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Tales of women in the city

October 28, 2012
Zawe Ashton as Joyce Carol Vincent

Every once in a while you come across a story, maybe in a newspaper article, or on the web, in a novel or in film that just moves you and resonates so deeply that you wonder if on some level the story is a commentary on your own life. I discovered one such story late last year. Joyce Carol Vincent, a thirty-eight year old woman was discovered dead in her flat, surrounded by Christmas presents, the TV still on, the dishes still in the sink, a mound of post at the door. She had been dead for three years.

What was shocking about this story, was not just the manner in which she died and the length of time it took to discover her, but the fact that once a filmmaker began investigating her story, it transpired that Joyce Carol Vincent was once a beautiful, lively, friendly outgoing woman with dreams of being a singer, had well-paid jobs and several friends, not the kind of person you would expect to die alone in a dingy flat.

So what happened? I guess that despite what appeared on the surface, beneath it all was a woman who nobody really knew. Everybody interviewed for the documentary Dreams of a Life, said virtually the same thing: they worked with her, clubbed and raved with her, some even dated her for some time, but then she would leave their lives, to travel (they thought) or to another job. No one thought or even guessed that Joyce may have been in some kind of trouble, financially or otherwise, no one thought that she may have needed help or support simply because of who she was to them, a work colleague, a sometime girlfriend, a beautiful woman who had lots of friends and everything that anyone would have wanted from life. If she was in trouble, she would have said, she would have been in contact or someone would have been around to help her…Surely?

Stories like this sting the conscious, as you wonder if the same could happen again, to you or to someone you may know or have known. Stories like this remind us of how anonymous the life in the city can be. You may know someone’s name, share a laugh and a joke with them but that doesn’t mean you know them or their life; it doesn’t mean they know you or your life. In short, we all have our masks that we put on to convey what we want people to think is really us, whether to gain approval, friendships or love. We convince ourselves that the mask is our true self and to remove it would expose all kinds of horrors that would cause us to lose that which we have worked so hard to gain. Maybe that’s what Joyce Carol  Vincent was afraid of, maybe that’s why the majority of her relationships were on a very superficial level, and the few, including family, who were close to her knew little of the reality of who she really was and what was going on in her life. The mask was a lie and was only revealed as such at the discovery of her death.

When I watched this documentary, I grieved. I grieved for a woman I never knew. I grieved for a life that had been damaged in ways that only God knows. I grieved because at the time she needed someone, there was no one.

Joyce Carol Vincent’s story is not so much a cautionary tale but a reminder that we were created for relationship. Real relationship. No one can survive this life alone, we need people around us to love, care and support us. More importantly we need to be that somebody for somebody. We can’t assume that someone else will take care of what we can choose to take care of. Imagine, a phonecall, a Christmas card, an email, an impromptu visit could have changed the outcome of this woman’s life, it could change the outcome of the life of someone you know.

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