Years ago at university certain students were subject to stereotyping. The typical engineering student wore shorts, a tee shirt, flip-flops and was not known for being articulate. Many were viewed as racist, beer drinking men. Drama students were understood to be weirdly dressed drama queens with odd hairstyles, pretentious and effete mannerisms and affected speech. I knew many drama students, as well as engineers. There were two types of drama students. There were those who wanted to fulfil the typical image of the stereotypical drama student. They dressed, spoke and acted like drama students, whether they were studying drama or not. Then there were those who did not strive to portray themselves as dramatic or arty types. Many of them had artistic temperaments and anxieties or neuroses. There was probably a large amount of material of interest to the mental health profession. One thing was certain as a general observation among drama students, the more talented they actually were the less they were likely to conform to the stereotype.
Lisa Melman was in the category of exceptionally talented. This did not make her a conventional Johannesburg Jewish girl, but she was certainly very down to earth, very unpretentious. She was kind, she was fun and funny. She could sing and she did sing. That voice was rich and haunting.
She carried a tremendous pain with her in the first few years that I knew her. Her late mother, a talented artist, suffered the same illness that would take her daughter many years later. Her mother’s suffering tormented and disturbed her and there was something of that agony that was always present. She told of laughing at the hilarious things her mother said when the morphine was active and of the guilt of laughing at what was truly funny when it went hand in hand of the horrible cause of it all.
The pain of it all never left her free. That sadness and her lack of personal confidence kept her locked away from everyone. Yet she was still giving and warm despite her anger and agony.
She made a name for herself as a performer. Yet she was always Lisa, never a drama queen.
Although it has been over fifteen years since I last saw her or had any contact with her, she is a friend whose presence in my life, and surely the lives of many who knew her, will be strong. Her vitality and humour was both an escape of her torture and an expression of it. That she suffered this agonising and horrific illness that squashed life out her is so horrible. Although she never seemed free of pain in all the years I knew her, and must have suffered more intensely through her illness, when she smiled at you it was a very real smile. The happiness she showed you in being your friend was very real.
May her family be comforted and may God remove all suffering from among us.
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