She has the gift of writing exactly the way she speaks and speaking exactly the way she thinks. For years I have gotten letters from Barbara, and they are always fresh and clear and without any of the filters we generally use to guard our hearts. When she writes of her son's death, her words remain the same. Paul was not a surprise to her. She is an artist, her father was an artist, his father was an artist. And it has never been easy--art is not made by the easy, but it has been in the house for generations and felt as a part of life. She told me that's what she put on his tombstone: ARTIST.
At first she was very angry. Not at Paul, at least not in a way she was ready to say, but at the people around him who introduced him to heroin and then did nothing as the drug took over his soul. Shouldn't they have done something? Didn't they realize what they had unleashed? Aren't they responsible? And, of course, the questions were sound and the answers were deserved and Paul was still dead.
She works, she organizes his papers, letters, his art work. She revisits the studio, the pipe, the rope, a boy hanging there. She writes me, "Found out Paul hung for over 8-9 hours. That would not have happened had I been there. 8-9 hours after he was found. Fuck the criminal codes. My baby hung by his neck for as long as 14 hours. I didn't think there could be more pain."
They take away the mints because the case is metal. They scrutinize the carton of cigarettes also and then I'm allowed on the ward. Dick is puzzled by the shower, why the head is buried up some kind of funnel in the ceiling. It takes him weeks to figure out they are trying to prevent him from hanging himself. Of course, he cannot think clearly, what with the steady dose of electroshock treatments. He'd checked himself in after the suicide attempt failed. He had saved up his Valiums, taken what he figured to be a massive dose, and then, goddammit, still woke up Monday morning when by any decent standards he ought to have been dead. It was the depression, he told me, the endless blackness. He could handle the booze, and when he was rolling, that was a quart or two of vodka a night, plus coke, of course, to stay alert for the vodka. There was that time he'd checked into detox with blood oozing from his eyes and ears and ass. But he could handle that. He was working on the smoking, didn't light up in the house, you know.
But he couldn't take the depression, never tasted blackness like that. I'd go out in the evening to the ward and we'd sit outside in the walled yard, kind of like a prison, and for two days I tried to get him to pitch horseshoes. Finally, on the third night, he tried but couldn't make the distance between the two pits. The shoes, of course, were plastic, lest the patients hurt one another. But we worked on it, and he got to tossing okay.
We'd been friends for a good long time, business partners once, and we'd survived being in business together, so we must've really been friends, and he'd always been like me, riding a little roughshod over the way life was supposed to be lived, but he'd kept his spirits up. Not now.
When he got out, I'd go over and take him to the store. He could not move. I'd walk him from the car into the market and then walk with him up and down the aisles. He could not connect with food. I'd buy him bananas because his potassium was low, and lots of green vegetables. He couldn't abide this; he told me he'd never eaten anything green since he was five. Then I'd take him through the checkout and home. The place was a wreck. One day I showed him how to clean off one square foot of the kitchen counter. He watched me do it. I said, Look, you do a foot a day and if you don't do a damn thing else, you'll feel like you did something. His face remained passive.
I'd bring him over and cook dinner and make him eat it. Then we'd sit in the yard, he'd stare out at the cactus and trees, and his eyes would glaze at the twisting paths and clouds of birds. He could hardly speak. The blackness, he'd say by way of explaining.
My huge Argentine mesquite arced over the yard. Nobody believed I'd planted it myself, dug the hole and everything, and that when I put it in the ground, it did not come up to my knee. I remember when I planted it, a woman was over and I told her what this little sapling would become and she said, Nope, it ain't gonna happen. But it did.
I kept trying to get Dick to plant trees. But it was like the horseshoes. It came hard.