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When the World Doesn't Want You

Thoughts on Joyce Carol Vincent

By Roy StevensPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 6 min read

*** Trigger Warning***

Isolated Death and Neglect Discussed

“When the world doesn’t want you

It will never tell you why.

You can shut the door, but you can’t ignore

The crawl of your decline”

(from “Ancestral” by Steven Wilson)

I’m haunted by Joyce Carol Vincent’s story. I’d read about her from various news sources then consigned her memory to the same disregard cache where almost all news stories go, at least with me. More than a decade later my son got me into Steven Wilson’s music right about the time Wilson released his Hand. Cannot. Erase. album, inspired by Wilson’s own wish to memorialize Vincent.

“Oh right, I remember this from the news,” I told my son as we listened to the story of H, Wilson’s fictionalized version of the painfully real Joyce Carol Vincent. Vincent died absolutely alone in a North London bedsit sometime in December of 2003. Her death was the result of either an asthma attack or a peptic ulcer. She was so alone in this world that her body wasn’t discovered for more than two years!

At first glance that sounds so incredible it seems to approach impossible. The thing is she’d managed to gradually and deliberately estrange herself from all family, friends and coworkers over the course of the preceding three or so years. Theories are legion as to her motives. Was she a victim of some form of abuse or mistreatment? Did emotional or psychological issues cause her to self-isolate? Was she running from something or someone?

Various U.K. social assistance programs inadvertently helped the world to forget about her. The rent on her bedsit apartment and its utilities was automatically covered by government programs. Vincent’s most immediate family members hadn’t heard from her for a very long time and assumed that’s the way she preferred things. A former boyfriend suspected the same. She’d suddenly left her most recent job in the Treasury Department at Ernst & Young and her ex-coworkers guessed she’d been fired or was running away from something. Of these dozens, maybe a hundred or more people no one thought to ask after or investigate where Vincent was or how she was fairing. Her sisters did hire a private investigator to look for her but he or she failed to uncover anything.

Of course, someone dying alone and unremarked happens multiple times every day. But Joyce Carol Vincent didn’t fit the ‘model’ in any way, no more than J.M. Barrie’s Tinker Bell does. In some of my comments to other Vocalites I’ve mentioned my continuing horror at the fate of the original version of the tiny fairy sprite from Peter Pan and Wendy.

Before Disney’s homogenization of Barrie’s story, the original Peter Pan gradually loses interest in Tinker Bell and pays her less and less attention. Since “Tink” literally feeds off of her love for the boy who refuses to grow up she is slowly starved of love until she dies completely alone, forgotten, in a kind of self-made sarcophagus of leaves within which she has shrouded herself from the elements. Please consider remembering this the next time you see the little green sprite fly into view before waving magic out of her wand. For the record, I don’t bear any particular animus toward Disney; I’m just a bigger fan of literary veracity than I am of their corporate brand.

It makes you (or at least me) wonder where J.M. Barrie was coming from with his most famous creation. That’s an enormous subject which has won doctorates for a whole army of academics and literary historians (it’s fascinating stuff too), but my thoughts right now are with Tinker Bell and especially the all-too-real Joyce Carol Vincent. Yet Tinker Bell is a fictional character and not even a human one and Vincent sounds like what some crasser people might label a ‘loser’.

But here’s the other thing. Joyce Carol Vincent was far from what an average, ‘normal’ person could fairly describe as a loser. She was bright and successful in school. She was beautiful and has been described as the kind of little girl upon whom dozens of little boys and girls had a crush. At points in her life, she had a growing modeling career and a budding musical career. She was at least very competent in the workplace and definitely had the respect of her coworkers. Romantically Vincent experienced several serious relationships which didn’t seem to trigger any negative concerns among those who knew her. Hints of abuse in her last romantic relationship have been thoroughly disproved.

She even flirted with the edges of stardom. Beautiful and charming enough to catch the attention of people in politics and the entertainment industry, Joyce Carol Vincent knew some big names. Betty Wright, Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes and even Nelson Mandela spent time with her. Vincent was among the people on stage at the end of the giant 1990 Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium, televised around the world! Today she might have been a successful Influencer.

What happened? No one really knows, though serious efforts have been made to fathom her story. Many people have been at least as affected by Vincent’s story as me. Nothing really adds up to explain why she dropped out of life, though the subject remains fodder for speculation and identity politics-tinged opinions.

The sad fact remains that Joyce Carol Vincent has become a celebrity representative for thousands, perhaps millions of people who have left life and us, utterly, totally unremarked. Why am I so drawn to the pathos of this particular story? Why, as I suspect, are so many others interested in the stories of sufferers of such extreme neglect? For myself, I have working theories about my identification with the outcome for Joyce Carol Vincent, Tinker Bell and more recently a character named Euphemia Baxter in a novel I just finished reading. I might explore these ideas with you someday. (But don’t hold your breath.)

On the larger stage it seems to me that abandonment and fear of abandonment in particular must be awfully close to a universal concern among us. With our protracted and delicate childhoods in what until very, very recently was an extremely dangerous and uncertain world, parental abandonment or even community banishment would have been an unavoidable death sentence for a child.

So, we’re probably hard-wired to require the security and relative safety of communal and certainly parental attention. It’s in our DNA. A world without these things looks like positively Lovecraftian horror to us! Negligence and abandonment are such powerful notions in our collective conscience that they can be found in our stories with only a tiny effort. Just think of Little Orphan Annie, Lassie, almost all of the characters from Lost or even King Kong. This subject often conjures greater fear than death itself.

In Michael Christie’s excellent novel Greenwood a character named Euphemia Baxter is the essentially absent hero. She is abandoned by everyone (or at least so it seems to her) to give birth alone in an isolated cabin in the woods of New Brunswick. Her only value to anyone in the world appears to be as a ‘breeding mare’ for an absurdly wealthy monster of a man.

Euphemia Baxter dies alone, horribly; hemorrhaging after the birth of a daughter she has placed in a nearby tree for hopeful but unlikely rescue. Christie engineers a brilliant, beautiful story in which we eventually discover that Euphemia was in fact cared for by someone and she has even managed to leave behind a powerful message for her daughter and her progeny.

I couldn’t say how Joyce Carol Vincent or even a real-world version of Tinker Bell would feel to know that they didn’t leave this world completely unregarded after all. In Greenwood a small portion of the message Euphemia Baxter leaves behind states, “For so long I’ve felt as though my life were a seed that the soil of the world refuses.” To leave life so bereft of the care and attention of others strikes me as a threshold of grief no one should ever face.

Whatever drove Joyce Carol Vincent to isolate herself in life it still saddens me profoundly to consider she may have passed on feeling utterly forgotten. Yet there is some consolation in the fact that, like the characters in the stories we read and the ones we write she can still carry on in our memories.


About the Creator

Roy Stevens

Just one bad apple can spoil a beautiful basket. The toxins seep throughout and...

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Comments (22)

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  • Test9 months ago

    Super!!! Excellent story!!!

  • Kayleigh Fraser ✨11 months ago

    I feel like I’m the living version of her…. This is not such a mystery to me 🥺

  • Naveedkk 12 months ago

    Let us not forget Joyce Carol Vincent and others like her. Their stories remind us of the fragility of human life and the need for compassion and empathy in our interactions with one another.

  • Veronica Coldironabout a year ago

    So many in the world die in ambiguity, but to die alone, unwept and unremembered so long is just so sorrowful! We all hear that "it's not what you take, but what you leave behind you when you go", but this is something else. To think that a human being is out there, having no love or interaction with others and then passing away without anyone even realizing it is just harrowing. This article will be with me a long time. Your writing is absolutely awesome, and I know I'll be back for more! ;)

  • Valentina Savageabout a year ago

    Sad but really heartaking! I would be very happy if you go read one of my poems

  • Kendall Defoe about a year ago

    I am sure this sort of story happens more often than anyone cares to admit. So sad that she could not reach out to the world. Thank you for this one, sir!

  • Cathy holmesabout a year ago

    This is an amazing article. I'd not heart of Ms. Vincent before. What a sad story. Thank you for bringing attention to her.

  • Kristen Balyeatabout a year ago

    Very glad you brought awareness to Joyce's story, Roy! An important reminder to us all. I hadn't heard of her until I read this, and my heart just broke. Glad to be able to honor her in memory. Thank you for sharing this important piece!

  • Dana Crandellabout a year ago

    I'm incredibly far behind on my reading. I found this on the Raise Your Voice thread this morning and I'm very glad I did. It's eye-opening and very thought provoking. Too relatable in some ways. Thanks for putting it out there, Roy!

  • Sorry, I had read this and I forgot to Like and Comment, but this is an Amazing Story Friend❤️💯😉

  • Testabout a year ago

    Wow, what a powerful and inspiring article! Your words truly resonate with the struggles we all face at times. Awareness can help to prevent and reduce tragedy.

  • This comment has been deleted

  • Ahna Lewisabout a year ago

    Very thought-provoking and such a sad story! I had never heard about Joyce Carol Vincent before reading this. Your writing style kept me engaged and I especially enjoyed all the literary references!

  • Jay Kantorabout a year ago

    Roy ~ Tinker Bells and Pollyanna's amuck - in our "Uncertain-World" ~ Isolation is a 'Bitch!' Jay Kantor, Chatsworth, California 'Senior' Vocal Author - Vocal Author Community -

  • Whoaaaa, I had no idea about Joyce Carol Vincent but I am her and she is me. I self isolated myself from everyone from June 2021. But my reasons were because of my mental health decline. I was burned out and had become too incompetent that I had to quit my job. It's been 2 years now. I've been avoiding all my family and friends. I only see my parents as I live with them. But I didn't completely fall of the grid like Joyce did. I still reply texts and go online. But I so desire to fall of grid. To go live in a cottage in the middle of the forest. I just want a drama free life. I highly suspect that Joyce had mental health issues and that's why she self isolated. But yes, I may be wrong. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Donna Fox (HKB)about a year ago

    I had no idea about this event with Joyce Carol Vincent. Your article on how deaths go unnoticed so often, is both heartbreaking and thought provoking. I definitely agree with the notion that being lost or abandoned is scarier than death. On a side note, the real fate of Tinker Bell in the Peter Pan book has me shook but oddly not shocked. Just another reminder I need to give the original version a read. I’m also going to check out the other books you mentioned as they sound like they’d be a good learning opportunity for how to create realistic fear/ character fears. Your ending sentiment that characters can carry on in our memories really hits home for me. I often find when I finish a story or end one of my own I am sad to see the characters go even though I can still visit them when I want. Thanks for this tribute to Joyce Carol Vincent and the sprinkling of your wisdom-filled insights!

  • Naomi Goldabout a year ago

    She probably knew too much. That’s why I self isolate. In November, I moved into a new apartment no one had the address for, and I got very sick. I wondered if I died how long it would take people to find me. But that’s not even what makes me sad. What makes me sad is being around people. When I began to isolate, it ended my depression. I hope Joyce was and is at peace.

  • This makes me think of two productions. The first is "Cipher in the Snow", one of those half hour specials from the 60s or 70s about a boy who dies as one who literally no one knew, even though he was their student or classmate. The second is the whelmingly inspirational song from the musical "Dear Evan Hanson", "You Are Not Alone". Evanescence has recently become one of my favorite words. To fade from memory is literally what awaits each & every one of us in this life & world, even those with stories so moving as the one you've told here. But there will be other stories bearing this essence which will arise time & again. And though not conscious of their remembrance, they will be.

  • Donna Reneeabout a year ago

    This really is just a horrible and haunting thing to contemplate. 😢. I agree with L.C about the way structured this piece, very nicely done!!

  • חנוש אביכזרabout a year ago

    I couldn't stop reading. Your writing was really well done!

  • L.C. Schäferabout a year ago

    I think this is my favourite piece I've read today. I love how you tie together the real life and death of Vincent with those fictional characters. I agree, Disney did Tink a dirty. Barrie's vision was much more profound.

  • J. S. Wadeabout a year ago

    Great read Roy! Haunting mystery!

  • Lamar Wigginsabout a year ago

    Such a sad ending to the beautiful angel she was. I would also like to know what happened. Things just don't add up. I know some people retreat inside themselves because they feel they are the only ones who understands them. But to drop off entirely is beyond me. Feel free to drop me any updates if you come across any. Very well written article, Roy. She would be proud. 💖

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