I had been dragging my nails through some years of pain and hardship as the 80's became the 90's. Due to all the near misses with fatal collisions, murder plots, prison sentences, alcoholic drug-addled benders, lives and loves lost in the turmoil, friends and enemies alike told stories of my supernatural appearances and my self imposed solitudes. It had gotten to the point where I had stopped writing, making music and feeling the possibilities of love by 95. I knew in my heart I was very fortunate to not be dead or in a prison cell, but my liver had failed and I was dying.
While I was innocently drinking one night in a flat overlooking 16th and Mission, in San Francisco, with a visiting punk rock band from Bristol, England, whom I drank and made music with many times before, I felt an uneasiness that seemed somewhat foreign. I was no stranger to vomiting while drinking and hard cider with Newcastle was not my favorite drink, so I did not think much of it at the time. I was also only 3 days away from my last speedball binge and nursing a broken heart as well. I had made plans to get married in Minneapolis, but had been diverted into a quagmire of a drug deal (the famous last one and then I quit kind of drug deal) and gotten strung out in the Lower East Side of New York while my bride to be took another suitor in the Twin Cities. I was once again, fatefully consigned to being good at only one thing, escaping the feelings through booze, drugs, sex and violence. My mates from England were a little put off that I was not able to pace with them. I assured them I would make it up the following night and went to lay down. I awoke early in the morning and nearly vomited til I died. I was weak and dizzy and my head was banging like a drum. I took some Tylenol. I laid back down. It was at me again and again. I kept taking more Tylenol to try to kill some of the pain and pressure in my head. I had never felt worse in my life. Something was wrong like it had never been wrong before. I was slipping away. I was rushed to the hospital and awakened intubated and dying from liver failure. I was testing positive for Hep A, B, C, and Lupus. On top of this, I had taken too much Tylenol, which has the active ingredient, acetaminophen, and is highly toxic to the liver of a healthy person, let alone someone in my condition. And my condition was what it was, shot once and stabbed twice in the previous 18 months, jumped from extreme heights several times, traveling around constantly through some of the worst conditions by hopping trains, living in squats and cars, eating at soup kitchens or out of dumpsters, brawling in gang fights and prison riots or to win cash prizes for years now. I had gotten myself busted up pretty good in many different ways. I was feeling like I was at the end of the rope and when I left the hospital I knew I had to do something different and quick. One look in the mirror at the jaundiced, emaciated shell I had become and the pain I was in was all I needed to encourage me to think differently, as quickly as I could, for some new path or some reasoning to do something in a different way. I wanted to live, but didn't know how and, frankly, felt it was too late.
I was listening for any sign of what to do next. Looking at life from every angle. There had to be a way to crack this nut and get some more out of it. In a random phone conversation over some business I spoke with a friend who had moved from the city to a small town where she had lived when she was younger. It was about an hour north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. I had traveled to the town many times in the past, as well, and had a few friends there. She lived with two other women and one of the women was moving out hastily and they needed money for rent. The women who was exiting had a boyfriend who was aggressive and threatening and he was doing a lot of posturing to cover her unexpected move and the fact she owed back rent and was not going to pay. She said they felt vulnerable because the boyfriend, who was in my line of work and considered dangerous, said he would come back if he wanted to. They felt he was a threat as long as he knew it was just them at the house. It seemed like exactly what I needed. To get out of the city and the grind and be in the country next to the ocean full time. I had what they needed and they had a place for me. We agreed that I would make the move as soon as possible.
So there I was, traveling back to this small town on the coast of northern California and moving in with two young women so I could heal and hopefully stop the downward spiral of my liver, which was set on by the overdose and hepatitis. The doctors at UCSF had not been very positive and put me on a long list of donor seeking patients. They had just finished David Crosby and sent him out into the world with a new liver. I did not expect to find a donor. I have never won a lottery in my life, so I figured my fate in that regard was a sealed one. However, one of the staff had referred me to a Chinese herbalist in Chinatown who had knowledge of liver disease and I went to him as a last ditch effort to reverse the short lifetime of drugging, drinking, prize-fighting, prison and strange sexual appetites before it abruptly finished without me. I figured I was using a fake ID at UCSF to get treatment anyway, so what the hell do I have to lose. A Chinese herbalist seemed like such a long shot for a liver beset upon by the modern marvels of distilleries, drug manufacturing and super viral infections. The herbalist gave me a regimen of teas, roots, seeds, flowers, all of which were overwhelmingly harsh and difficult to ingest. I was weak and frail and had a hard time eating the stuff, so if I had not had the monies from illegal activity and marijuana sales and the marijuana itself, I would have easily died by the end of the year after I fell ill.
The little whaling town next to the lagoon on the sea had always been a respite from my life running the triangle of LA, NYC and SF, but now it would be my infirmary. It had a colorful history as an artist colony and community of free thinkers. Our house was nestled right behind the country cottage of an older Italian immigrant who made pizza in his wood fired oven every day, old world style. I lived there with two women and one of the women had a toddler, so there were always women around to babysit the young boy and the energy, in that respect, was refreshing for me to be around. I had been institutionalized in several jails, prisons and hospitals at that point and the posturing of men had made me weary of their company. I had a close circle of male friends that had earned my trust and I theirs. They would be the only men I would interact with and it was always clear that I never wanted to meet any new people, under any circumstances. I had to have strict rules in that regard back then because my affairs had crossed the lines of certain groups that conducted their business through the means of violence and intimidation. I would not bow to these groups, but I had to always be aware that I was vulnerable if I did not keep a healthy guard and vigilance about my self always. I had been living that way since my early youth and developed a great capacity to operate in many theaters of influence while navigating a jagged course away from imminent danger, sometimes barely by the skin of my teeth, as some would say.
Apart from the uncertainty of recovering my liver and my life, it was a happy isolation, for the most part. I would make occasional trips to oversee my grow rooms in San Francisco and Oakland, but did not venture farther, leaving my operations in Los Angeles, New York City and Amsterdam to be co-opted til I recovered, or at least that was my hope. My housemates, a mulatto dominatrix I had met some years before in Frisco, while working for the Mitchell Brothers, and a young girl with a child who had come to the town after attending some Grateful Dead shows, were very accommodating. The community had ties to the band going back to the first Acid Test and the music and the art surrounding the band was an influence on the community. The young girl had a son with the lead singer of a reggae band that played locally and whose band I had enjoyed many good times with. The dominatrix was also a trained chef and she helped me ease the rankness of the herbal regimen with some local honey and wildflower salads. The kitchen was nice and open and the living room always had music or movies with weed smoke wafting up into the rafters. There was a sliding glass door that opened to a shared deck with a small cottage. The woman who lived there had done so for some time and was very nice, but very private. It was all very helpful to a man like myself who was feeling his own mortality everyday and awakening into the desire to live like I really never had known how to before.
The house was situated at the bottom of a terrace road that came down from a mesa that rose above the bay there. There was an overlook that looked out over the beach about a hundred feet up the road from the front door that was a nice place to view the surf action and get a vista of the mountain and across the water to the golden gate and San Francisco. At first, I was too weak to walk up to the overlook, but as my strength came back, little by little, I was able to make it up to the overlook and take in the view with some fresh air. I was aided by a young girl in those first days of recovery, my little blond angel of mercy who helped me and stayed with me when she could. She helped ease my nights and support my ailing frame as I tried to go out for walks and eat food. It was difficult for a couple of months, but she hung around and brightened the darkness of it with her warmth and her smile. Its a confusing life for people who go through it feeling completely forsaken most of the time and then to have the world open just enough to let some light in and you can move to the next moment because of it, you can find yourself wondering if this is really what you deserve, or if the merciful help has not arrived too late. It can be quite a paradox.
The woman who we shared the deck with approached me as I sat nursing a wheat grass orange juice one morning and asked me if I would like to share some green tea with her. I had rolled a joint and was hoping it would ease my digestion of the rank tea and raw roots and seeds I had ingested earlier. She was fairly aloof and solitary from what I had seen and I felt compelled by her offer with the curious hope I might know some of her story. My intuition told me there must be something there. I had not written in a while, but I was reading a lot while I laid around and hopefully averting a painful death from a failed liver. I had wondered if I was ever really a writer to begin with and was uncertain of what to do with anything I had written anyway. My "publisher" was from the underground DIY zine movement of the 80's and had no intention of becoming a legitimate press with bar codes and Library Of Congress recognition, let alone any institutional accolades and connections. The writers I had known and read with were marginal at best even to the so-called "Outlaw" poets who had invented their own bible. It did not seem like my writing mattered to anyone outside myself and the few lunatics that shared my common spiritual asylum in the streets of the underworld. But, I was, at least, still an avid reader. A few days prior this woman had loaned me a signed chapbook of Richard Brautigan's that was one of the more compelling reads of prose I had looked over in a while. It was called "All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace" and it had some serious movement and physicality to it that seemed like a mad voice speaking of love and machines while awaiting an unseen, unmentioned, barely alluded to execution. Or, at least, that was how I read it in my near death delirium. It was a beautiful language that he had constructed. It spoke right into my heart.
She made a very traditional green tea and her humble cottage was filled with buddhist trappings and many books. There was an old victrola that was functional and she had a collection of dixieland jazz and blues on 78's. She put on one after the other as we smoked the joint and shared the pot of tea. I thanked her for the book and she nodded in recognition and talked about how reading is a necessary part of physical recovery as well as mental and spiritual. I asked her about the author and his style and she seemed reluctant to be more detailed at first, but then I zeroed in with, "I notice it was signed to you, so you must have met him." Now, I had read his novel, "Trout Fishing In America", so I had some knowledge of his work, but this chapbook had really spoke to me for whatever reason and I wanted to see what the circumstances were in her history with it. I knew that Brautigan, along with Creeley, Berrigan, O'Hara, Saroyan and Ferlinghetti to name a few, had used this town as a retreat many times, but first hand accounts were hard to come by, so I figured I might get one of those if I asked the right questions in the right manner. She seemed like she was at least open to talking in general terms about the chapbook. I figured I just had to broach the subject at the right moment.
As the smoke dwindled and the tea was finishing, she asked me what it is I do in an almost pensive state that belies fear and judgment under the surface. I just simply answered, "I try to do my best to stay alive lately, the weed helps a lot. I grow it and sell it." I did not like to cop to the nature of how I lived, but she had been hospitable and kind, and I realized she may have wanted to hear some of my secrets as much as I wanted to hear some of hers.
"Down at the Co-Op I overheard someone say that you were a gangster. You don't seem like what I would consider a gangster," she said in a straightforward way that I admired, but it immediately rubbed me wrongly that I was the object of local discussion in the open market of gossip that is the Co-Op. "you seem more like an artist of some sort. Some urban contemporary artist or musician." As she finished I immediately saw an opportunity to cast myself in a different light.
"I have produced some music, done some mural painting, wrote a few things that I even read to some people." I said with the confidence that I was matching her in general wit and wisdom of parlance."And as urban as I might appear, I am no stranger to country living." I even borrowed my mother's southwestern twang as I pronounced "country living". That will give them something to talk about over the organic local grown, I figured.
"Really, I would like to read some of your work, then. Do you have anything I could see?" As she asked this I felt like I had broken through the neighborly chat and now I had a new hope that I would get to hear more about this chapbook of Brautigan's that she did not want to talk about much earlier.
"I think my room mate has one of my old chapbooks. I'll get it from her. I have not been writing lately. More concerned with getting better. Surviving this. Not very Zen of me, I know, but I'll deal with that when and if I get reincarnated. Until then, it's a fight to the death."
She furrows her brow at my words and then laughs, covering her mouth for the moment, then retorting, "Fuck, you're a poet. I should have known by now. You are good at hiding it, that's for certain."
"A little too good, I imagine. Which might be the criticism of the world we live in bearing down on my attempts to write it out. How about I come by with it tomorrow, same time, for some more tea?" I ask with sincerity.
"I would like that very much, and some more of that kick ass grass would be nice as well." She smiled in a way I had come to know that meant I was more welcome now than before. That was very pleasing to a man who was weakened into a state near dying, to say the least.
That afternoon it rained and I spent the time in bed, underneath a down sleeping bag, holding on to the little wings of the angel as the rain washed against the window pane and the wind blew through the trees. It was peaceful and warm under the military surplus covers and the girl was so good to me, but Brautigan's words kept my mind busy. My roommate, the dom, came and laid on the bed as we all shared another joint. I told her about my tea with the neighbor and she seemed to know something about the woman.
"She was one of his (Brautigan's) girlfriends before he died. He had a few here in town and a couple of ex-wife's that would visit. He killed himself here, back in 84'. Shot himself in the head. They didn't find him for a month or so. He had isolated himself in his house. It was sad." She revealed this artifact as we laid there in our common stoned euphoria. I broke the long silence when I asked her for one of my chapbooks so I could show it to the lady across the deck. She went down the hall to her room and came back with one of my chapbooks,"Evil and Other Safe Lubricants", and tossed it on the bed. The little angel scooped it up and started reading it.
"Here, Fuzzy, it's my favorite one, so give it back when she's done, you signed it to me."
I thought that was odd, I never sign those things. But, I remember that a couple of months before, when I was released from the hospital, several people asked for their copies of the chapbooks to be signed. I had forgotten about it. The thought made me a little cold and stupified that I had missed the connection and I held on to the warm nakedness of the angel under the covers as she read my words and I fell back to sleep..
I was transformed into a four-legged creature in my dreams and I ran through thickets and woods without any direction, just crashing forward as fast as I could go. I woke up startled and sweating with a jolt and sat up in bed. It was still outside and beams of bright moonlight came in through the branches outside the window. The branches were still as well. It was a break in the storm pattern. I gently pushed the angel into the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. I had not taken a walk on my own in a while. I felt a slight surge of strength and felt a strong urge to see the ocean. I could hear its riding percussion in the distance. I dressed quietly and slowly in layers and put on the watch cap and down parka last.
I felt a little bit dizzy and my side ached deep in the center of my struggling liver, but I needed out for a moment, I was going stir crazy. Once out the door I made for the downhill lane to the beach gate. My breath hung like my own personal fog bank in front of my face. The nighttime world was wet and slick with a shininess that sparkled crisp little bursts of light off of everything that caught a moonbeam. I made my way to the gate and slipped on the ramp that led down to the beach. Once my feet touch the hard packed, wet sand my footing became sure and easy. The beach opened up wide, as the tide was still somewhat low. I had been in the house for a few days, weakened severely from my last trip to the city. It was good and invigorating to be out on the beach in that moment of clarity, with clouds obscuring the mountain and also a wall of them offshore moving in to rain some more on us. I was so grateful for that moment alone on the beach. Like I knew I was going to make it then, in that moment.
I looked at the sand on the beach and the random occurrence of phosphorescence was there. Every time I swiped my shoe in an arc on the sand in front of me a million little trails of light followed it. I sort of danced around looking at the ground and marveling in its luminescence. A shooting pain nearly doubled me over and I realized I had gone too far for the moment. Nearly blind from the pain and beginning to feel weak, I made my back to the house. I made my way back to the room and, quietly as possible, took off all the layers of clothing and the wet socks and muddy shoes. I looked for a good sized roach on my Joker rolling tray and lit it up with the shaking hands if a fiend. The pain was everywhere, my hands were clawing up and I was having cold sweats. After I took a long, deep hit, I dropped the roach on the tray and sat slowly on the bed, bending in forced contortion til I could pry away enough of the army-issued covering to slide back into the warmth of the nest. Her body felt hot and healthy and I wondered if I was draining my small bursts of health off of her. I wondered if I would be able to put it back when I was done, or if I was doing permanent damage to this little giving soul. I was on the verge of delirious tears and she rolled over and put her head gently on my chest. It was all right for now, just don’t make any hasty moves and flow with it all. That would be the best I could do.
The next morning I was awakened by the sounds of women talking and laughing up the stairway. The rain was dripping down outside, not the battering storm it had been, but there was a lot of water coming down. I had a bit of a headache along with my usual internal pain. I didn’t really want to smoke any herb yet, but I knew I was about to eat a bowl of raw dandelion roots, milk thistle seeds, burdock root bitterness that I would wash that down with a dark, musty stinging nettle, milk thistle flower and Echinacea tea. The dominatrix had been putting local honey in the tea and nosturtium flowers with the roots, leaves and seeds along with a little oil and a dash of Bragg’s. It still took being stoned to get up an appetite for it all. I snapped a bong rip as I sat up against the wall. It took so much effort I almost dropped the bong and spilled the water all over the floor.
I put on some thermals and figured I would forgo a shower til after my tea with the neighbor. She burned a lot of incense and we would be burning weed, so I figured it wasn’t bad manners. I was curious to hear more about Brautigan from her, as I was hopeful she would be more forthcoming about him. I had always wondered what I would be like if I had been more active in the readings and the publishing of my work. Not just left it all to Drew, my publisher. But, then again, I really didn’t have the stomach for being exposed that way. I mainly answered his requests to do readings in support of the chapbooks, that he published of my writing, in all these strange places with all these strange people, because I knew he put a lot of work into it through correspondence with editors and zine distributors and people that ran readings and I knew it was doing something to help him as well as myself. Drew Blood, as he was called, had been battling AIDS for a long time and it seemed to help him to have all the interconnectedness with others through mail and phone calls.
He lived on a meager income in Riverside, CA and in the last few years his condition had worsened and his ability to get the work done was impaired. He was taking a mixture of drugs that were not all legal in this country yet, so they were hard to get. When he had to go without them, he would be onset by fevers and dementia, open sores and languishing depression even after the "cocktail", as it was being called, was returned. Some people had said, as politely and carefully as possible, that I should look for a new publisher, but I just felt like I couldn’t do it without him, really. He had been there in the beginning when I was not sure what I was doing and encouraged me to just keep writing no matter what others said. He built a world that I could interface literary people through. I would have never done it without his guidance and friendship. I am certain I would have died wild in the streets with scraps of paper that had scrawled rantings and ravings on them thrown into a plastic bag by some intern in the autopsy lab and they would have slipped into the garbage like so many other great unread works of art. Buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, as they used to say.
And on that morning, I was uncertain if I wasn’t beating him to the grave at that point. It all seemed so meaningless in that perspective. That was not the part of the writing I understood, the self-promotion and the pompousness of being a writer. I was still not sure if it applied to me. I had been reading all my life, dissecting the styles, learning the rules, tracing the histories, over and over until I felt the language as a physical part of me. It could not be removed as you could not remove my brain. I could not unlearn, unsee, unhear, unfeel any of it. To lose it would be to die, I was certain of that. And death would bring what? It would never be possible to be certain of that. I concluded that much of the paradox long ago. The only thing I could be certain of about death was that people seemed to live on in the memories and the affections of those still alive that knew them best. These people could choose your path in your afterlife here by remembering the positive or the negative. The action is similar to throwing stones into a puddle while the rain falls gently. You add to the concentric ripples cause by the raindrops, but you can never control when the rain will fall. You only choose where and how your stone is cast. You will not even have any control over the ripples other than your intuitive knowledge of where they will go that is shaded by your instinct and experience. If I was a writer, I felt like it was best to just write and leave all the parading to others. If Drew went first, I would champion my memory of him. If I didn’t make it out of here, I am certain he would champion my memory in the most positive way he could til the day he died. I was able to be grateful that I was in a peaceful place and not some Skid Row or Tenderloin hotel or Lower East Side squat. If you have to go, you have to go, many of my closest friends have gone that way. But, somehow I had made it to a beautiful beach with people that cared for me, and even though there were storms here and storms on the horizon, there wasn’t a better place I could think of to close my eyes forever.
All three girls came down with my breakfast and it even had a bowl of malt-o-meal that made it go down good. “You have to come upstairs for the OJ and wheat grass, Fuzzy, but you should take a hot shower first.” The dom said curtly. “You know I don’t go in for any of that role play horse crap, I am too weak to shower today. Maybe later in the afternoon.” I replied in confident defiance. “Don’t worry, mister, you have all the help you need right here. If I start smelling you over the weed smoke its not gonna be ok. Got it?” she looked just like Pam Grier at that moment and I had to laugh out loud because I felt like I was in some blaxploitation flic where the black panther chick cleans up the dirty street bum and makes him into her trained assassin. “You gonna get up and go take out the motherfuckin’ man when I tell you to, suckah!” was how I was imagining her line to go. It was working in my head, and I did have a head full of long dreadlocks, so cleaning might be all right. “All right, but not because you are forcing me, but because it just makes sense.” I said back with a strong conviction that I was completely in the right. My terms, dammit.
I was helped off with my thermals and ushered into the large stand up shower. My hair was thoroughly washed and my body scrubbed and then I was wrapped in a towel. It was actually a very pleasant experience in such a simple way, but I acted as if I was being put upon the whole time. Couldn’t let the guard down that easy. I was dressed in newly washed thermals and I put on some clothes over them. I was exhausted and went upstairs to the living room and plopped down on the floor with the toddler playing and being watched by one of his many babysitters who laying back on the couch. I asked if she would roll a joint out of the bag I handed to her. She sat up an obliged. She was 15 and lived in a house for wayward youths run by an old parole officer just across the way, but she rolled the most amazing joints. After smoking it I put on some old movie that I had on video. It was “The Mack”, ironically, and I pointed out to her that it was all filmed on location in Oakland. She seemed to like that. So I gave her a running commentary on the film as it went along. She didn’t seem to mind, or, at least, didn’t say she minded, and it took away the pain to talk to her. Afterward, she left and I commandeered the couch for a nap.
When I awoke, the house was quiet, my mouth was dry and my head ache was gone and for the most part so was the pain in my body. I could not take Tylenol, as it was too high of a dose of acetaminophen, along with the hepatitis and booze and IV drug use, that pushed me over the edge into liver failure and onto the long donor list that I was sure I would never make it to the top of in time. I was pretty sure I didn’t want a liver transplant at that moment, anyway. It was all too much to bear. Give it to the next person. I had already died peacefully on the beach the night before, and if that was all there was to it, I didn’t need to take someone else’s chance to hang around a little longer. Besides, when they found out I was not who I said I was, they probably would have knocked me off the list for fraud or something. I would just drink and drug a new liver away, anyway, didn’t really know any other way to treat a liver. I figured David Crosby was knee deep in hookers and freebase by now. Why wouldn’t you give that old critter Death the middle finger as much as possible?
I walked into the kitchen and there was an OJ and wheat grass all set up in a tall glass for me. I took the juice and moved over to the window and looked out over the field and the trees across the street. The rain had let up a little bit and was just a wet mist that came in heavy waves and blown by slight gusts. Too much to deal with to go up the road to the lookout. I walked down the stairs and grabbed some shoes and the chapbook. I figured I wouldn’t need a jacket if I was just going across the deck. I looked at the inscription inside the cover of the book. It made me shiver a little. Then I had the nostalgic thought that I should have signed them all. Maybe I should try to get a hold of Drew and have him contact everybody and I will try to sign their book if they bring it to me? Seems silly and impossible, so I will just chalk it up to something I still don’t quite get yet. I walk out the sliding glass door and scoot through the filmy mist and knock on the neighbor’s door. She opens and invites me in quickly, but I am still amazed at how much water had clung to me and that I felt the rain on me like I had been in it for a time. She immediately set about the task of making the tea as she talked to me about my condition. I answered the questions as simply as possible without discussing the seriousness. I just played it off like it was no big thing. I’ll be all right and back to the big city in no time was how I painted it. I wanted to get all the small talk out of the way and hear the story of the bard that I felt drawn to. I had asked the little delinquent to roll me another doobie before she left and I pulled it out and lit it and passed it. She accepted it as she put down the teapot and the cups, turning the cups out of some traditional habit, I imagined. I slide my chapbook over to her side of the small table. She looked at it with some pause and then picked it up. “I don’t think I would be quite as refined in meter, language and line break as your friend was, but I am comfortable that my own device of style connects with those I speak with, those who can hear it. The conversation of the words to each other being the most important to me. It seems to be the most important thing in what I like to read more than once, anyway.”
“Well, he was a proponent of the most natural language to the soul, so he would have welcomed your idea there. It would definitely be close to his own doctrine, closer than most get.” She said, as her gaze cast over the first page and she began reading. I sat quietly, sipping tea as silently as possible. All of a sudden I felt like I was in a strange little beatnik Buddhist library with the librarian right in front of me. Nothing to do but quietly sip the tea, I suppose. The joint had gone out because I didn’t keep my end up on the puff-puff, pass. I didn’t want to disturb the moment so I just sat there with the dead joint in one hand and carefully sipping the tea as slowly as possible. It seemed like it took her an eternity to read the damn thing. I had just drank most of the pot of tea by myself. When she finally finished, I interrupted anything she might say by asking for the way to the bathroom. She pointed me to the right door, as it could only be one of two, and I went to give the tea back to the sea. When I came out of the toilet, she had lit up the hardly smoked spliff and was pulling at it and coughing. I sat down and I saw that she had put an old box on the table that had metal corners on it but was old cardboard. I had seen boxes like it in lawyers offices, they were for files and had metal squares for holding labels on the end. She seemed a little shaken by something, not just the weed making her cough, but it seemed like she was holding back tears. As she began to speak and the water drops rolled down her cheeks, my observation was confirmed. “I have not shared this with anyone in ten years. I thought that I should share it with you now. Your words touched me…” she was obviously affected by much more than my words. I don’t even get like that about my writing. She was going through something crucial, I could feel that, but I was uncertain what exactly it was. She took the lid off the box and pulled a sheaf of papers out. She handed me the papers as she wiped the tears away. “Here, please, I would like for you to read this.” She went to the window over the kitchen sink and attempted to light the joint again. This time she coughed harshly on account of taking in what I imagine had been the biggest pull on a joint she had done in a long time. I realized she was doing her thing so I turned my attention to the papers.
As I read I noticed that the papers were crisp and aged. The writing was all over the page, with lines crossed out and edited right there, as if it were notes or a first draft. Then, as I read further I realized this was not her writing. It was his. The language and the rhythm began to follow a familiar pattern. The line breaks and style were being assembled as I read. Exacted, measured lines that drew sharp images in my mind’s eye. There was so much of nature in it, blue herons, sea gulls, red tailed hawks, all circling the same lagoon, searching for the same salmon smelt as the seals lay burning in the sun on the sand bars and the breeze spread the scent of pine, oak, redwood and sage all across the vision. Wildflowers blossomed, blueberries burst with flavor, a chimney on a loan beach shack colored the air with the smell of driftwood. Whiskey quenched the thirst of fear. Love drifted n the current towards Japan and back. Life maintained itself in the highest rays of light above the mountain peak and the sullen eyes of the Great White shark in the dark depths below the reef. It was dizzying with metaphor and description of all that he saw in that last season before he took his own life. The shallow faces of busy people thronging through the city, lining up at terminals, exiting through internal desires and strategies. He described modern architecture and light, shadows and urban decrepitation, sounds and smells of life as a streetcar that yearns to be a ferry terminal or a lonely island that yearns to be a ferry full of passengers. Then the women he spoke of and the loves he felt intertwined with, the people who had affected him, his fear of love and being forsaken by his inabilities, his limitations, how it worked its way out in the words, in the reading of other writers, his notations on Basho, his disdain for mock counter-culturalism, as he called it. Then disconnected prose as if the writer were searching for a gateway to a new idea, the next level of consciousness. I was reading his personal notes and musings. I felt like an archeological cartographer mapping a new path back to a wellspring of forgotten knowledge. I kept reading and reading. I must have read for several hours. Finding pieces that seemed to match something from a previous page and then sifting back to make the connection, shuffling the papers, but always careful not to lose the original order of them. I took it all in and my heart beat fast and hard and my mind became like a focused beam. I read it all forwards and backwards and sideways. I looked at her and she said nothing with her mouth or eyes for the longest time.
Then, I had a revelation. I had the most serious epiphany. I was feeling better than I had ever felt in my memory. I was being healed. It was strange and comforting at the same time. “It seemed like the right thing to do, after reading your words. It seemed like you needed this, wanted this, without realizing it.” She finally said as she collected the sheaf from me. I impetuously looked into the box to see what more could be read. “Please, most of what is left is just personal correspondence between us. This bit of it was what you needed to read. I knew you would get something out of it.” She said as she put the papers in the box and put the lid upon it. She put the box away, but on the table I noticed the presence of a .44 magnum round. Its brass jacket with the lead ball protruding was unmistakable. I realized how close she had been to him at that moment. It was his ammunition as well.
As she sat down, I looked into her eyes at the weary features of life that surrounded them. They had a brightness to them that spoke of love known and lost. Her brow was furrowed as if she was saying good-bye to him in her mind all over again. Then I began to realize that she did this every day. She said good-bye, to his presence, his memories, his things, his way out of here. Out of her life as well. She had hung on to it all every day for over ten years and let it go every day as well. Like the movement of the tide as it came in and out every day and night. It was heavy and forceful and she needed to share a little of it with me today. Just enough to make it right for the day as it came upon her. This day I was a part of her ceremony, her ritual. I was a fellow devotee at the shrine, a monk in training. I was a desperate pilgrim to a source of life and meaning that was obscured by insanity and words that seemed like code or jibberish to most people, but reached out eternally to spirits like ours. She was right, I needed every last bit of it if I was going to survive much longer.