I called Eileen

 

by David Trinidad

 

 

to tell her Tim had died.

 

We’d both visited him on G-9

 

in the weeks previous,

 

part of the sad procession

 

of friends and family who came

 

to sit vigil and say (without saying

 

it) goodbye. One of the last

 

things he said to me was

 

“Will you look after my work?”

 

“Yes, of course,” I replied. “You

 

don’t even have to ask.” Jane,

 

who was with him when he passed,

 

said at one point Tim said to her,

 

“Can you please remove this torpor?”

 

meaning the numbness of the drugs—

 

he wanted to be conscious

 

of what he was experiencing.

 

Jane had been there when he learned

 

he was dying. “Oh, so my lifespan

 

is weeks instead of months?”

 

His female doctor had cried.

 

I couldn’t, three days after he died,

 

sitting next to Ira in the second-to-last pew

 

in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin

 

on 46th Street, as a multitude

 

of gay men filed in. One queen

 

feigned shock at seeing all his

 

tricks in the daylight. I refused to

 

laugh, though there was truth

 

in it: a palpable sense that most of

 

the mourners had spent time with

 

each other in dark, clandestine places.

 

The service I endured by staring

 

at the back of the head directly in

 

front of me. For months I was numb.

 

Sat, late at night, sifting through

 

Tim’s papers. (Christopher had

 

promptly delivered them to me.) It

 

seemed so little—his whole life

 

reduced to four or five cardboard

 

boxes. And yet those boxes contained

 

hundreds of poems, largely unpublished,

 

and his whole life lay hidden in them.

 

Poems painful to read, to handle,

 

spread out across the floor then put

 

in order by year. Some—the ones

 

he wrote at the end, his death sentence

 

imbued with such hopefulness—

 

I retyped and submitted to magazines.

 

In the midst of this process, Eileen

 

published an account, in her column

 

in Paper, of her last visit with Tim.

 

She’d complained to him, once again,

 

about not being in High Risk, the anthology

 

that all but ruined our friendship.

 

(She turned on me when Ira, whom

 

I was dating, flatly refused to include her.)

 

“Oh Eileen,” said Tim, “let it go.”

 

Infuriated, I dashed off a note

 

telling her how disappointing it was

 

to hear that she had troubled our

 

dear friend on his deathbed with

 

her petty resentment. She sent my

 

note back. On it, she’d scrawled

 

a message, something to the effect

 

that I wasn’t very intelligent. I

 

tore it to bits and returned it to her—

 

an envelope of furious confetti.

 

Our quarrel made it into a poem

 

of Tom’s, “Collateral Damage”:

 

“Eileen and David are still fighting.“

 

Four and a half months later, we’d

 

patched things up enough that

 

 

Eileen called me to tell me

 

Jimmy had died. She sounded

 

almost gleeful. “Well, I have

 

more people to call. Bye!”

 

We’d both visited him at St. Vincent’s

 

the week after his stroke,

 

part of the procession of poets

 

who came to pay him homage.

 

I ran into Douglas Crase

 

in the lobby: he was leaving

 

as I was coming in. He made light

 

of our meeting like this, perhaps

 

because I looked so frightened.

 

At the desk they handed me a visitor’s pass

 

and directed me to intensive care.

 

A shock to see Jimmy: rotund

 

in his hospital gown, unable to talk,

 

eyes searching mine—for what?

 

No hiding the distress in my face.

 

I didn’t know what to say—no different

 

from the hours I’d spent with him

 

in his room at the Chelsea Hotel

 

(to which he would never return).

 

My eyes kept gravitating toward

 

his bare feet, his several missing toes.

 

Darragh leaned against the wall

 

the whole time, arms sternly crossed.

 

Why didn’t he leave us alone? I

 

might have felt more comfortable

 

without his watchful presence, been able

 

to speak freely to Jimmy. As I was

 

leaving, Anne Porter, her white hair

 

pulled back into a grandmotherly bun,

 

came in. She was, in fact, Jimmy’s

 

last visitor. Darragh sprang to life:

 

“Oh, Anne . . .” Fairfield’s widow—

 

how perfect. As if he were a director

 

and this the unexpected scene he needed

 

to finish his film. He ushered her

 

to the side of Jimmy’s bed. Cut to

 

the exterior of the Church of the

 

Incarnation on Madison Avenue,

 

after Jimmy’s funeral. I tried to hug

 

Darragh, but his stiffness rebuked me.

 

(Later I learned Ann Lauterbach

 

had the same experience I did. In

 

the wake of Jimmy’s death, Darragh

 

locked himself in Jimmy’s room

 

at the Chelsea and drew everything

 

in it, even its absent tenant. This

 

led Doug to dub him “the widow

 

Park.” Darragh’s own death awaited

 

him eighteen years in the future:

 

blind and starting to lose his mind,

 

he, as Tom described it, “blew his

 

brains out.” It made me sad, though

 

not for the reason one might expect;

 

I never understood why he took a dislike

 

to me. How many, when my day

 

comes, will have such mixed feelings?)

 

Eileen and I, face to face, in front

 

of the church. Did either of us

 

attempt a hug? “I can’t believe

 

Jimmy’s gone,” I said. “Yeah,”

 

she responded, “it’s our turn now.”

 

I knew in that instant that we

 

would never again be friends.

 

Suddenly we were alone—where

 

did everyone vanish to? But

 

it had always felt like that when

 

I was with her, that feeling

 

reserved for lovers: like we were

 

the only two people in the world.

 

We required separate cabs. She was off

 

to a post-service supper (invitation

 

only) hosted by Darragh. Who

 

else had been invited? Raymond?

 

Tom? It didn’t matter, not really.

 

I was going to have to learn

 

to be alone with my grief.

 

She took the first taxi; I watched

 

it drive up Madison and make

 

a right on 36th Street. Then turned

 

around and, to flag the second one,

 

numbly held out my hand.