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