It’s the strangest feeling, now that I know you are gone. That you have been gone for 27 years.
All this time I had kept alive a romantic notion, a vision of you in foreign lands — a poet, a pirate, a painter, a writer, a thespian, a sculptor of Raku chess pieces as I remembered from the mid-1970s when I knew you. In the gauzy passage of time and without the inconvenience of truth, I entertained fanciful thoughts. Were you, I wondered, a cloistered writer in a small Vermont village, or a devout monk in an Indian ashram?
The truth had far less romance than my imaginings. I learnt you were gone from a fellow student of our progressive and now defunct high school. You were involved for some years in various performing arts groups, which I knew about. Though in the final years of your life, you weren’t a world-renowned concert promoter or an explorer uncovering ancient mysteries in some remote cave in Fiji, but instead were building model train layouts and custom dollhouses at a hobby shop in Connecticut. I don’t know why this disappointed me. I was even sadder to discover that we lived in the same town for a few years, though galaxies away. None of that matters now, of course.
My parents have two of your Raku pieces, the queen and bishop, in their living room. One was broken by an old boyfriend’s brother, who in a drunken moment, accidentally kicked it, knocking off the perfectly curved top of the bishop, so gently and perfectly formed, full of such grace.
You introduced me and my wide-eyed and clueless peers to Samuel Beckett, Yukio Mishima, William Burroughs, Jean Genet. Had us lie down once, in our woodland mountaintop classroom, and close our eyes while you led us through a guided meditation and then read us a story. I remember a cottage in the woods, a stone hearth and the smell of bacon cooking, as real to the senses as if I were there in the room.
Burroughs gave me nightmares, but I was so enamored with Beckett that I designed my own course (as we were allowed to do in that nutty place), and I read and read and read. I still have those books, yellowed with age and at times with entire pages of text underlined. What was I thinking? I was clearly driven, obviously inspired, worked up to a delirious frenzy, but over what? I no longer remember.
“So it is with time,
that lightens what is dark,
that darkens what is light.”
- Watt, Samuel Beckett
The anxiety, the paranoia, is still there, and ever more deeply ingrained and finely chiseled with each passing year.
“I don’t like those gull’s eyes. They remind me of an old shipwreck, I forget which. I know it is a small thing. But I am easily frightened now. I know those little phrases that seem so innocuous and, once you let them in, pollute the whole of speech. Nothing is more real than nothing. They rise up out of the pit and know no rest until they drag you down into its dark. But I am on my guard now.”
- Malone Dies, Samuel Beckett
You cast me and my inner demons in a 2-person play, you and I. It was an honor, a privilege. You saw me as a writer, an actress, one of your shining stars, even though I never saw myself that way. I don’t recall the play, but we were to perform it in front of the entire school, parents, friends — until the administration deemed it too risque and pulled it from the evening’s program. I was devastated.
Once on campus, you presented a formal Japanese tea ceremony for your fellow teachers, students and parents. It was elegant, otherworldly. You brought us all into that sacred space and I was entranced by the idea of an altered state of reality, without the need of hallucinogenic substances. Just tea. And tea bowls. A scoop, a whisk, a piece of cloth. Ritualized sharing and reverence.
My parents drove me to your friend’s house, somewhere in the wilds of Northern Connecticut. The astrologer. He read my chart and made predictions. I have an old cassette tape somewhere. It was my first foray into self-examination, self-discovery, the esoteric arts, that would soon become a life-long passion. You were there for that, too.
Flash forward nearly 40 years — FORTY! I’m in my monthly spiritualist salon, in the parlor of our hostess’s old Victorian home, and she’s giving our close-knit group personalized mediumship readings, as is our custom. She comes to me and brings through someone named Robert. Bob. I don’t know any Bob in spirit. None of my deceased relatives have that name, nor any living ones either. I’m perplexed, as she’s usually spot on. Only now does it slowly dawn on me. The message? That I’m weighted down with a terrible burden, and I need to drop it and stop worrying, continue to develop my gifts.
Was that you, Bob?