(Dear Reader, have you missed any earlier scenes? Catch up with this link: Stalker)
In 2009, I saw Stalker for the first time in decades; for the first time since 1970, in Patrick’s parents’ home in the Bronx, in their basement with the black-painted walls. The clubhouse, I secretly called it. Patrick was my boyfriend Dave’s best friend in high school, and he was Stalker’s close friend as well. And, after I graduated high school, Patrick was my own, private obsession.
That last night I saw Stalker, back in 1970, I guess I was the only chick at Patrick’s party — the token chick. Every band needs a groupie, or at least one chick who can pass as one! That party — I couldn’t wait until everyone else left. Then — by default — I would be left alone with Patrick for the rest of the night. Delightful!
The party was more than that; Patrick was conducting auditions for his fledgling Grateful Dead cover band. Stalker sang lead; he didn’t realize it was an audition. So, Stalker was drinking. It was a party, not a job interview, he thought. “I drank almost a fifth of hard liquor that night. Baby, that was the last time I drank Tequila. I got so sick, I switched to Vodka after that,” Stalker recalled.
I had watched Stalker lean over the basement laundry sink, then wipe his face with a white towel, sheepishly smiling at me when his head came up and found my gaze. That’s how I remembered him. Vomiting from alcohol. I should have taken that as a lesson.
Now, almost 40 years later, Stalker asks me — “Whatever happened to Patrick? He went to Portland, too, right? He was there first, before you — wasn’t he? How did he die?” he asks. “Write me an essay,” orders Stalker. Oh, must I go there? “Yes, you must. I need to know it all,” he says. He insists. So, I must. It will help heal me, I think. Surely Stalker knows best.
Assignment 29 from Stalker — What Happened to Patrick?
One of the toughest parts of Patrick’s passing away, for me, was my phoning his mother, Pearl. I left her a message with my condolences. For two months, she couldn’t even bring herself to call me back. And when she did, she broke down in tears. “I finally went back to work, this week. I thought I was ready to talk, to call you. I guess I’m still not,” she said. No apologies needed, Pearl. Please, no apologies. You outlived a son. He was only 42 years old! How can you bear it?
The next time I was in NYC, she picked me up at Williamsbridge Road and Waring Avenue in the Bronx. The old neighborhood. The streets that still glowed for me with Patrick’s smile. Streets that still carried his aura. I got in her car, and looked in her face for the first time in decades. My heart fluttered. Patrick’s eyes were staring back at me. They were from the Italian strain, not his father’s Irish side, after all. I hadn’t realized how much Patrick looked like her. After believing I never would see his eyes again, my heart clenched at the sight of him, staring back at me through her face.
She took me out to dinner. The plate they served me could feed a family of four in Portland. What was wrong with these people?
Pearl and I talked about his life and death. What did she know. What did I know. Where it all went wrong for her son, whatever that meant. I wanted to pour out my heart to her, how much I had loved him and how I missed him, but I did not want to upset her. I tried to keep the balance. I kept trying not to look into her eyes for too long. But, then I would want to, want to very much.
Pearl and Patrick’s sister Florence had flown to Portland right away to clear out his things and send the body back to NY. I spoke to them then, but didn’t see them. “He doesn’t have much,” Florence had said. “We won’t be here very long.”
He had an organ donor’s card in his wallet. Pearl honored it, to a point. “When I look at him, make sure he looks the same,” Pearl told the organ collectors. She buried him next to his father.
Pearl still lived in that house on Tenbroeck. She took me to City Island, for the seafood. She said she never was much of a cook; she would prefer to take me out. I remembered her bringing large trays of lasagna home from her mother’s kitchen around the corner, when Patrick lived with her.
I could barely eat any of the fillet of sole. Too much emotion filled me. I ate around the edges, and took the rest to go as a goodwill gesture of appreciation. But I couldn’t bring it to my parents’ kosher kitchen, so I dumped it. I hope no one saw.
Over dinner we reminisced. “Yes, your house was the hangout, Pearl. You were so permissive. We kids could do anything at your place.”
“That was on purpose,” she said. “I thought I could keep him longer that way. I knew he would leave as soon as he could, but I wanted to keep him home as long as possible.”
Patrick and I kept in touch on and off, over the years, I explained to his mother. Like any 25-year relationship, it ebbed and flowed. In 1994, while I sat in the study of our new house (yes, of course James wanted me to move with him, of course he wouldn’t leave me behind), I had thought of Patrick. I realized it had been longer than usual since we had touched base. I felt a wave pass over me. Perhaps Patrick is dead. My mind dismissed it. What arrogance! I don’t hear from him, and the best explanation I could come up with is his death!? Talk about being narcissistic!
I explained to his mother: He wasn’t dead then. Not yet. But I would never talk to him again.
“So you had a premonition,” said Pearl. “That would have made it even more poignant. No wonder it was so upsetting.”
Yes, she understood. Pearl, the clinical social worker, understood.
After the premonition of Patrick’s death had passed through me, a few months later, James stopped teaching at the University. A sabbatical of sorts. Perhaps a retirement; it was too soon to tell. Then Larry, a friend of his, suggested they take a three-week cruise through the Panama Canal. “Go,” I encouraged him. “I’m still working. Enjoy your retirement; travel even though I can’t go.” He was convinced. James took the cruise. I stayed behind, but the new, big house, the house he had me pick out for us — it felt so empty without him. His adult children were gone — in-between return stints living at home — as well. Empty house. Spooky house.
As James cruised through the Panama Canal, I went to work at the University.
But one day, I came back to my office after a meeting, and I saw something different. I can’t explain why, but that particular time, when I saw a pink “while you were out” notice left on my desk, my breath went shallow. (Yes, it was that long ago — no voice mail! 1994. October, 1994.)
“Mitch called,” the pink slip said, with his phone number. Mitchell Weinberg. Good friend since 1973, from CCNY.
Mitch had never ever phoned me at work. I knew immediately it was about Patrick and he was dead. How did I know this? I can’t say. I can imagine people saying, who should tell Baby? Baby, who followed Patrick 3,000 miles to the West Coast. Baby, who would have followed Patrick anywhere; done whatever he said, anytime, anywhere. And Mitch figuring: he was the closest to me. Let it come from him.
I called Mitch back and I almost said “So Patrick is dead,” but I didn’t want to freak him out. I waited and let him tell me.
He gave me the phone number of Patrick’s apartment mate. I phoned right away. He felt so guilty! “I should have told him not to stay on that high protein diet. It’s my fault, I didn’t tell him to get off it. It causes heart damage.”
I told him it wasn’t his fault. I don’t think he believed me, though I tried to comfort him.
The roommate had been watching football on TV with Patrick. Patrick also wore earphones, listening to a second game. Some team scored and Patrick stood up excited, cheering! And collapsed. Just fell down. He was gone. Just like that. The roommate administered CPR. Right away. If Patrick could have been saved — he had got CPR right away — if he could have been saved, he would have been. Someone was with him. But he never was revived.
“The autopsy showed nothing,” said Pearl. She expected a heart attack. But no damage showed up. Nothing showed up. “His heart just stopped. No reason. No reason they could find.”
Patrick had told me on his 30th birthday, “I can’t believe I made it. I always believed I would die young. I never expected to live this long.”
He still had a few more years, though not many. We didn’t know.
Perhaps that is why he never planned for the future. Lived day-to-day. Never kept a job longer than he felt like. Never saved a cent. Never completed anything. Lived like he had no future.
“He was so much more productive the last few years,” said Pearl over dinner. He was writing poetry again. He had always kept at the music, played guitar. One band after another. One woman after another. For one night, or a few weeks. Yes, a brief, loveless marriage in the 1970s, what I call an arranged marriage, suggested (directed?) by the Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists. (How did he get me involved with that?!) Sasha, the great love of his life — he stayed close to her until the end. But she “didn’t like him that way.” I know. She and I had lived together. Roommates. She confided in me.
And she confided in a room full of Patrick’s friends and acquaintances at a Portland memorial service at the local Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist Community Center. James’s daughter went with me; James was still sailing on the high seas. I was in a room full of people (including Sasha) I had not seen since I left the group twenty years before. I went to say goodbye to Patrick; nothing less would have brought me to that room.
More emotion welled up in me than I had expected. People read his poetry aloud. I remember it now.
Note to self — never let Sasha Silverman speak on my behalf!!! I wanted to strangle her! She got up and told the audience every freakin’ detail of his life! How a few years before he had been so depressed, he went back to stay with his mother in the Bronx for months. How he wrote Sasha pages and pages every day, phoned her and poured out his heart. Until one day, he said, “I’m not going to write you anymore.” And how happy she was, because that meant he was better.
He was fucking confiding in her and holding on to her like a life raft in the middle of the ocean he was drowning in and she told a roomful of people this? I felt for him. His embarrassment. His shame.
She said people should not feel sorry for him because he died happier than he had been in years. He had happened to phone her the night before he died and he was so happy and excited, because he had found a new “chick singer” for his band, a chick who had a “fucking amazing voice.”
And we all needed to know this? Bitch.
Pearl told me — in private — how he had been in trouble. She told him to come home for a while, and he did. Then one day he said it was time for him to leave and go back to Portland. “I want to be on my mountain.” Mt. Hood. She was sad, but she couldn’t stop him. She loved him so much!!
He came back to Portland and — what?! — started studying to be a drug and alcohol counselor. Patrick back at school? Wow. He had changed, I thought. “Don’t talk to me about school, Baby,” he would say to me. “I hate when people talk about school.”
And James still sailing the high seas.
I phoned Sasha Silverman. We had not spoken in 25 years. We had things to sort out.
We talked about Patrick for two hours. The meaning of his life. How he was so charismatic, so brilliant, so talented, and so incapable of functioning, so exploitive of people. He died owing me money. I did not mention that.
I felt only sadness for him. “The one thing I feel sorry about,” said Sasha, “was he never got to be a father.”
That was the least of it, I thought.
When James’s daughter and I had walked out of the memorial service, an old friend of mine and Patrick’s came over. He shook his head and said to me, “Patrick was the unhappiest person I ever knew in my life.”
That was what I felt the most sorry about.
Would Stalker understand? Or would his jealousy burn a hole in his heart? I waited for his reaction to the essay. And, once again, he surprised me.
. . . to be continued
Also — Stalker, the Soundtrack
© Barbara E. Berger, 2011, all rights reserved. “Stalker” is a work of fiction.