I called Eileen
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hundreds of poems, largely unpublished,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.