Sunday, November 14, 2010

EARLY TIMES


Friday I went to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale for a memorial of Andrew Rafferty. I'd seen Andrew around for years. We weren't close friends but we'd chat now and again, exchange pleasantries. When things got bad and he sat in front  of the Tropical Cafe panhandling, I'd give him a buck or two here and there, as many of us did. In and out of sobriety, he seemed caught in that shivering-denizen netherworld  that the rest of us knew we'd escaped--were escaping--for only a single day, a single second, at a time. You couldn't look at Andrew without being reminded of your own extremely precarious hold on sanity, on the way the difference between light and darkness, despair and hope, life and death hangs by a thread: a kind word; a mind that, lightning-quick, by the sheerest grace, opens just long enough to "hear." 

Cypresses stood sentinel.  The sun shone. The minister recited the 23rd Psalm. A childhood friend, Eric, sang a blues tune a cappella. Andrew's brother Richard, who you knew had been through hell, stood up and thanked everybody and said he wasn't really in any shape to tell stories about Andrew at the moment, and made your heart bleed for all brothers, especially the brothers of alcoholics. The mother was too sick to come so someone took a picture of us afterward, the green lawn a backdrop, some of us in dark suits, some of us in T-shirts and jeans, and some in 2-inch hemlines and 6-inch stilettoes because, after all, this is L.A. 

Andrew was so energetic, people said afterwards. He was witty. He was smart. "We all have our demons," the minister had said. "You have yours, I have mine." Everybody politely refrained from mentioning why we were there: Andrew had relapsed again and committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. 

For those of us who have grown up with, suffered from ourselves, and/or loved those who have suffered or are suffering from alcoholism, the pain sometimes seems infinite. Interesting that the antidote for pain seems to be not more booze and drugs, but surrender. Interesting that the "answer" is not an answer--but poetry. 


EARLY TIMES

Under an umbrella of Brazilian pepper
my mother drinks and dreams
draws deep on her Phillip Morris
floats smoke rings above her head
while clouds of insects 
halo a citronella candle.

Wax drips down rippled glass,
withered olives drop
pocking the pavement
around her patio chair. 

My urgent questions
drift off with the smoke,
ice laughs in her glass.
She stirs her bourbon
Early Times 
her drink. 

I grab the candle 
to smell the lemon deeper.
The pads of my fingers burn
against the boiling glass.
Painprints code my panic--

My hand in a glass of cold water
I listen for the click, click, click
of fresh ice
Early Times
after midnight. 


--Anne Kennedy, from a collection entitled The Dog Kubla Dreams My Life. 
(Reprinted with permission of Salmon Publishing, Dublin, Ireland, 1994). 

8 comments:

  1. I did not expect the line about how Andrew died. His must have been quite a horrible personal demon! It seems to me, and correct me if I'm wrong, that to jump in front of a train isn't just about ending the pain, but about inflicting a terrible punishment or penance upon himself.

    A few days ago, a Umass student ended his life by mixing chemicals in his car to create a deadly gas. In both cases, it seems they wanted to make sure there would be no mistake and that death would happen.

    It is hard for me to imagine so great a pain that anyone would aim for so certain a death. Which only means that I have not endured such pain, and I can only pray for those who have, and for their brothers and mothers and friends.

    I'm very sorry.

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  2. I knew Andrew as you did, but have stopped going to all memorial services, unless I really knew the person well.
    I am so ambivalent about suicide. On the one hand, it infuriates me for what it does to those left behind. I know of this quite personally after my own brother's suicide.
    At the same time, it seems like a rational response to repeated--incessant--attempts and failures to achieve a modicum of serenity. Why would I wish life on anyone who experiences it as an affliction?
    Still, I feel much for Andrew's family. I knew him just well enough to have seen glimpses of someone who was once a bright light.

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  3. Ron Rolheiser writes something on suicide for his column every year.It is something he is very close to ; not sure why. This link may help/may not ;it's just a thought.

    http://www.ronrolheiser.com/columnarchive/?id=526
    Blessings

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  4. Thanks so much, Philomena, yes, I have read some of Fr. Rolheiser's columns over the years on suicide...my own thought is pretty much There but for the grace of God go I..all you can do is bow your head in communion and grieve for the family...

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  5. I'm so sorry to Andrews family. Drew was my friend in DC and Boulder...what seems like yesterday but was actually about 15 years ago. Im so sad to hear of his decline. I suppose we all were, at one time, headed for the same fate, and I am sure none of us are exempt from the possibility of following him. Love and prayers for the Raffertys. ---Leslie H.

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  6. Thanks, Leslie...his memorial was well-attended and Andrew was cared for, sympathized with, noticed and mourned...and no, none of us are exempt. There but for the grace of God go I...may he rest in peace.

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  7. Heather:
    I am Andrew Rafferty's cousin. I just found out yesterday about Andrew's passing (5/16/2011) Our family has tragedy woven throughout. I cannot explain how deeply I was touched by your words about Andrew and how much it means to us that you touched him with kindness. He had a big, irish catholic family, but was unreachable for complicated reasons. I'd love to talk to you personally about him....maybe you can contact me or leave me your ph #.....My name is Ann Rafferty Chapman Leesburg, VA singha08@hotmail.com P.S. he was an adorable, highly intelligent young child the last time I saw him...he had two cats he named blossom and frazzle....he had one blue eye and one brown eye...he was loved, but the family fell apart in the mid seventies....long story....God Bless you, Annie Chapman

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  8. as ann said-just heard yesterday-he was family-may we all take a moment to reflect-cousin richard plz contact me (marw8151@yahoo.com) good thoughts and wishes (andrew was the cutest little imp!)love-mary ann rafferty wilson

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