An Obituary - A Loving Tribute to Dead Dreams
And the man who was a dream himself.
"A writer of lucid power." We read the review in the window. And as I rubbed the sheet of newsprint between my fingers and paced up and down in front of the store where this writer was to give an "appearance" and signing, I thought about the art of writing…something he would be expected to know about. I had come to ask his advice on minor matters of composition - subtleties that I'm not sure any of the masses [Dostoyevky's majority, they were called] - would be able to recognize or even note as worthy of their concentration. I looked in the glass front, between the double doors that pierced the entrance, and thought about how I considered myself to be different from the mass man and how that thought marked me as a mass man. When I entered, in my mind, the scene ran as follows: a quick handshake [so much meaning in that touch, so many thoughts in that press of palms - our means of existence as writers - together], shouldering through the distracted, mumbling crowd, the book buyers milling about, watching them out of the corner of my eye distracted and dismayed by my rudeness [what did I care? I had my protection beneath my overcoat], a few whispered words, scattered webs of possible confrontation melting away…all of this, and then I would be gone. "Off into the night", as he was so fond of saying as conclusions to his narratives.
I had carefully chosen every word I would impart to him or the ears of his advisors [who would surely be nearby, if not in his immediate vicinity]. In fact I had researched and then repeated, practiced, my little speech over and over as I walked through the humid evening towards this interview. The clouds were the color of nicotine stains. But, oh…the words that I would whisper haltingly, full of regrets and remonstrations still, in his unguarded ear, the words that I rehearsed so many times, in the walking world and through my dreams. Words that would connect us in ways that would not be evident for so long to come…and that entire event in time, which would give my dreams something to hold onto, that would interlock our experiences and bring me another tone and taste of his past as I slept, as I walked in my own world…
Saint X's rival, what was he to me? And yet he must feel me, he must feel my heart beating.
Earlier that week:
"I write this now because there are beautiful reasons for you to understand who I am. What I am. What I consider myself to be. The beauty of the reasons was seemingly created overnight, they bloomed beneath my eyelids in black as I slept through the looming hours of the morning and into the stale heat of the Texas afternoon. The hours grew, their numbers increased in size and then faded away again. And when I awoke after my night, that period of unconsciousness which I knew to be horribly at odds with your own, I held only your image in my heart. All else was dessicated, dried to the dust of memories best forgotten. I will never…let you descend to that prison of forgetfulness, and yet I carry it with me…always? I will rehearse this memory of your face, your voice, every day that I am able to stand, to walk, to seek after you."
And then, this note left behind. Who wrote it? Who helped him frame the sentences, trace these last lines?
"With the coming of the night, the slow fading of the light from the pale blue skies, down the length of a flaring horizon, yellowed and sinking, the swollen sun seeking rest, I look out of my window over the artificial lights of the city and silently, perniciously question every structure within view, interrogating it to catch the echo of your presence. Which one carries the sound of your dreams? Where shall I start tonight? I can drift through so many doors…and yet, wherever it shall be, I know I will not find you."
The last testament of my only friend, his will and remainder. What he had left me I can not fit into any small description. Was it a message to me - to all of us? And yet the "us" never existed. I don't know, and what I do know about him leads me to hesitate when it comes to judging anything he would ever leave behind. If I pulled the thread of this note, and reality began to unravel…
Others who knew him - and there were not that many, even now, who knew him personally, although so many have come out of hiding and claimed a relationship with him - would, in their least discreet instances, under the abuse of drink or tipsy with own sanguine reputation, isolated as it must be, snigger and prance in the spotlight and label him an invalid. How cruel, the eulogies of our living friends! I know better. He was without "mobility" [excuse the small smile that comes to my face as I write this], that is a matter of medical fact, but I want to ask you, who are here before me today possibly to judge, and thus not understand: what is your meaning of immobility? How many run through the world while asleep inside? Are those who have the full use of their arms and legs [gifted with them, in his view] any more "mobile" than the "unfortunate" among us who do not? For what do they truly do with these gifts - these divine instruments of action? Prosthetic gods - or just cripples-to-be? Inevitably the legs of the weak lead them towards their weaknesses, and the arms and hands of the improvident only serve to suffocate through self-satisfaction. Hands are the tools of gluttony, and leave the world itself crippled. He never had this choice, you see, he never had the option to follow the innumerable lists of blackened vice and sink into the all-too-wearisome repetition of lusts catalogued thoroughly thousands of years before our late birth. He was a model fit only for virtue, and by his very handicap, this is what the world calls it, fit only for righteousness. Oh, "mobility" assumes an ability or desire to change location. Action may seem to be, at times, merely the change of locale, the area of temporal existence. How often do those who are truly "mobile' commit themselves to true action? I think that he was much more mobile, in a more subtle sense of the word, only because in reality he traveled - in his dreams - much farther that they ever could.
"The shadowed alley that led between the two main thoroughfares of the North Quarter lay abandoned at night. The waning of the sun, its path through the lingering late clouds of the season, served as a resonant backdrop to the pace of wayfarers speeding from the glow of the gaslights. The sounds of the city faded in the distance as each voice in the chorus of day traffic was swallowed in their villas, their kitchens, their creaking beds. The merchants packed up their kiosks and rubbed their cold arms and eyes. A quick turn of rusted iron keys in well-worn locks and they were gone…"
- from a fragment of X's unfinished novel "Paris, 18th, Another Aceldama"
The, the, the, the, a.
And the quadruple repetition of "the" that led to its rejection by Allen & Unwin! Or this is what he offered to me, that one night, as I paced steadily through his apartment. With what terrible regret now I think about how I used to stride, back and forth, in front of him as he spoke! Every movement I made must have been an insult, a form of mockery to him. How could I have been so callous, so unfeeling? What pressed behind my eyes to make me so nervous in his presence? How beautiful was his patience with me, the paternal fashion with which he gently corrected my excesses and flights of fancy. How much I owe him still!
Later, as we sat on the terrace and I slowly sipped Irish tea:
"They will try to veil the horror of their rites. Even now a residual secrecy works behind their manipulative diffidence, the instinct of self-preservation, the inherited fear of discovery and extermination. It causes them to efface the strength of their convictions. They can not fool me, I have witnessed their actions, I see beyond their ritualized style of enshrouding. I have seen through the eyes of their sacrifice in the Taurobolium. They are doubles, each and every one of them. Duality is the keynote of their philosophy, it transcends their mystic apocrypha and descends into their most minute actions. Each has a secret self. I can see it in their eyes."
He spoke to me of his dreams, both the ones he had while asleep, that fell on him while he lay unguarded, and then the reveries that came from the sun:
"In my dreams the dark blood of the bull washes over the landscape, its malign infection stains the virgin purity of my enshrined hopes, and the sound of its dripping, drop by slow encrimsoned drop, rings throughout the clear glass hallways of sleep like funeral tones of a Sussex church bell. All of this between the suffocation of that slumber and the increasingly torturous light of day."
He motioned with a shrug of his shoulder for me to wipe his eyes. I did so.
"Only in the deepest of sleeps can I escape them - the ones with glinting knives, with roaring mouths and strained throats, the skin around their adam's apples cracking and rippling with their cries. And then the balm of - what? what should I call it? - these "narcotics" runs dry and bitter, like an acid under my tongue, and its own overwhelming spirit consumes my own. I have nowhere left to turn."
Before I left that night he motioned me close and told me, as he had before:
"Memories haunt me in so many ways…in two principal ones, however: they are haunting in the aspect that they present to me almost-forgotten [where do memories go when they are forgotten?] visuals, sounds, and ideas…and in the sense that having presented these miniature dreams, these penetrations of the ideal world into reality, my reality, they always hint at something beyond them. Each memory is a hand beckoning me closer, towards further ideas or dreams or happenings behind, in another realm impervious to the sweat and struggle of recall. How I struggle with it! My memories appear tinted or colored by my philosophy in life, this life, here between you and me, my mind summons up these images from my past to lend some kind of strength to the way I am living now - as if I have to justify to some unconscious Censor the reason for living the way that I do, or in the manner that I do. Who or what is this Censor? How can I live in any other way?"
He took a long, ragged breath, his gray tongue darted out from behind dry, thin lips.
"I will remember what I want: that seems to me to be the format. I forget, or have forgotten, what has come before where it will delay or cause me to question what I am doing now…and yet, at times completely unbidden, those contrary memories arise. They blame me with the voice of that implacable Censor. In this way memories tyrannize and seem to control my actions now…what I am driving at is this: that memories, by presenting only one picture of a life lived or dreamed, experienced or rejected, do not allow room for the imagining of a Difference. I am trapped, unable to bear the novel synthesis of discovery…memories come prepackaged with the added bonus [a hollow chuckle] of a secret thread, a crystalline bottle, labeled Regret'…'Drink Me' - you are familiar with the Alice and Grail legends?"
"That label, that bottle, to be drunk and then to descend into that twilight world where all memories then play upon one another to form a pattern of guilt, organically, a pall of remorse…but not all memories can be blamed - what is inherent in the visuals, as a sort of unspoken message, a sign, is the transition of time, the inability to grasp again what has already transpired. Even the most sugar-coated memory comes complete with this option of regret…that this too, no matter how sweet, will never come again…and then the feeling: are you even remembering it in the way it actually happened? Or is half of this memory synthesis? Dream?"
"Too many questions! Surely every doubt is resolved at last in Christ." I said.
He looked at me with reserved eyes.
"How much more I could tell you, if I only had the time…"
That was the last time I saw him alive. He took his own life, with the aid of a missing individual, on the night of the 5th of September.
Author's note: X was buried exactly a week ago [the proper rite would have been a cremation], following a long and painful struggle with Lou Gehrig's Disease, also known as ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He will be best remembered as he was in his few moments of triumph over what we could only regard as an encroaching darkness, at those times when he could forget his mortality and revolve, with those he loved and those who loved him, in the atmosphere of literary debate and discussion. His words and the memory of his strength, unalloyed to the last, will be remembered and cherished by those who truly knew him.
19 September 2003