the eclipse: a memoir of suicide

By Antonella Gambotto-Burke

My every effort to curb his substance abuse failed. It was too difficult when his work involved so much high-level socializing and peers considered drunkenness and drug abuse to be great fun. Certain associates were more than happy to supply him with forgetting. (Hart Crane, who killed himself by jumping overboard in the Caribbean, wrote: "Forgetfulness is white, - white as a blasted tree,/ And it may stun the sybil into prophecy,/ Or bury the Gods.") He was slipped bottles of Scotch, black blocks of hash, big bags of grass, and, in later years, cocaine. (John Belushi, dead at 33 of acute cocaine and heroin intoxication, decided in The Blues Brothers that Navy glue was "strong stuff".) I intercepted certain gifts. A society type interviewed about cocaine abuse shrugged: "You're not doing anything good for the world at all ... what's true or important in the world, you don't worry about."

To them, Michael was no more than a creature in the zoo, a front page in the making: the amazing self-detonating man! Cruel tricks - the stuff of playgrounds - were played on him. "And then I will take myself off somewhere down south, to get away from the sight of so many painters that disgust me as men," van Gogh wrote. I was considered controlling, a harridan. (Love the dress, darling.) Why would they care?

I was alone in this struggle and growing angrier.

After a terrible fight - the usual hell of lies and accusations - we caught a cab to the Groucho Club. A journalist of Michael's acquaintance stood drinking at the bar. As if nothing had taken place, as if he had "the world by the tail" (as his younger brother told a newspaper after his death), Michael ordered a stiff drink and launched into an anecdote. The fluency of these emotional shifts was schizophrenic. I stared at him and at his friend, who knew nothing. Michael disguised all deep feelings with lethal ease. (The Loud American - "overpaid, oversexed, and over here" - was the role he preferred: buffoon.) Beginning to cry and without explanation, I left.

There were other difficult occasions. Bill Macy and his fiancée, Felicity Huffman, did not understand when I (vituperative, agonized) used the ex-girlfriends who rang Michael's apartment as a conduit for rage. "One of them asked me if I was the maid, and then there is the Euro-moron who uses any excuse to call." I cleared my throat and adopted a thick Italian accent. "Michael, how do you spell 'clock'?" He slapped his knees and honked at my joke, but Bill and Flicka only exchanged looks. How could they know?

They did not know he fell asleep, drunk, in the bath. They did not see him on the sofa, quickly blinking, shaking, fists bouncing on jerking knees, near-hyperventilating as he struggled to be sober for twelve hours. They did not hear him slur or see him stagger. They did not see that single letter in each sentence scrawled over itself, and then again. They did not know that in describing the allure of Ecstasy, he cried: it makes you tell the truth! as if truth were a marvelous thing, as rare as rainbows, accessible only through this new drug. They did not know he longed for death. Uncoiling, for him, was impossible. Death must have seemed beguiling, so serene. Forty two kilos heavier than he had been with me, he took increasingly loaded risks: drinking binges, foreign prostitutes, deadlines and circulation figures, heroin, cocaine. The drugs and alcohol and constant kinetic expenditure muffled the voice that said his only value rested in achievement. He had shaken the magazine industry awake. There was little else to do. Being Michael was tiring and as he aged, that which once constituted pleasure for him faded.

* * *

At core, he was a glimmering thing, and infinitely sensitive. His great, hurt heart could deeply love. In bed, his grating tones softened to a deep purr and he would hold me and whisper: I love you so much. If I desired a thing, it would appear. His hair at midnight was the spark of van Gogh's stars. Did I mention that he started his death-convulsions in the bed we used to share?

Copyright © 2003 Antonella Gambotto-Burke

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