I can’t remember exactly how I was introduced to him but I will never forget our first meeting. He lived in a small caretaker’s flat over an old Ford Garage in the heart of Dublin. I envied his set up. The entrance had a narrow staircase behind a glass door tucked away innocuously beside the huge windows of the car showroom. On weekdays the shop floor was buzzing with activity but this was late Saturday afternoon and everything was shut up.
When I rang the doorbell I had to wait a few minutes. I was really hoping that I would catch him because I was enthusiastic about meeting this man that I heard so much about. After a few tense moments his tall skinny figure appeared at the top of the stairs. His gate reminded me of a 1950”s movie star, a bit like Gregory Peck, tall with greasy jet black wavy hair, a bony face and an impressive smile. He wore a red leather biker’s jacket that was filled with zips and silver buckles and a pair of skin tight denim jeans that hugged his long lean legs. On his feet were pointed leather shoes that clapped as he walked down the narrow linoleum covered staircase. He looked very cool and a little absentminded because he stopped halfway down the stairs as he fumbled with a long chain of keys. He reminded me of a jailer as he gestured with his hand for me to be patient while he looked for the right key.
I was eager to meet him. I had been told that he was a really interesting guy and his art was supposed to be brilliant. I had no idea what to expect but the huge cut out hair comb on the wall at the top of the stairs looked definitely promising.
“Can art be this simple?” I asked myself as he finally snapped the awkward door lock open.
“David right”, he said offering me his big hand with a glowing smile.
“Yes, Antony I presume” I replied.
I followed him up the staircase. At the top we turned a sharp corner and proceeded on through a short hallway filled with paint tins, bits of timber, plastic and sheets of Styrofoam before we reached another sharp turn right into what I thought must be a store room of some sort. It was packed to the ceiling with items that on first glance looked like bed duvet covers except they were made from black plastic, the kind you find in refuse bags. On the well-worn floorboards were dozens of tins of domestic paint, mostly basic colors red, blue, yellow, black and white and loads of used tins of aerosol car spray paint.
The smell of cellulose oozed from everywhere in the room; it made me want to pick my nose but I refrained. Stacked against the duvets were a pile of polystyrene sheets with longhand relief words carved into them and then they were picked out in various primary colors with the paint. Against one tiny piece of bare wall was a disheveled red leather couch with heaps of paper, more bits of wood, still more tins of used paint and an overloaded ashtray on the seat.
All the time Antony was talking, apologizing about the clutter, while puffing on a cigarette and fumbling on front of a tiny scruffy sink. Beside the sink was an equally scruffy hot plate cooker behind the very narrow door.
“Coffee?” he said.
“I’d love some”, I replied.
He handed me an instant coffee in a dirty cup. I politely accepted it and put it on the floor beside the couch I was now sitting on.
Thus began our first meeting.
We talked and talked and talked. The hours glided by. When it was dark, I was smoking perhaps my tenth cigarette and he was offering me another coffee and still talking. I politely assured him I was OK. All the time my mind was saturated with urgent questions. I felt like a journalist anxious to get the scoop for the morning edition. Where did his ideas come from? Why polystyrene, didn’t he worry that his work would eventually fall to pieces? The materials were mostly flimsy found objects and scraps. I was amazed at the simplicity and confidence of his work, not to mention its originality. On one wall was a poster of a forest, a river and mountains and on the sky he had simply painted a wavy stars and stripes motif of the American flag. I loved the simple spontaneity of it.
The American flag featured a lot in his work. It was all so fresh, so Rauschenberg. This guy was the real Mac Coy. He was an amazing artist. I envied his originality and such a contemporary feel. His finger was on the button, he had the edge.
I loved too his personal image, that wavy black hair, with the Elvis like curl that drooped over his forehead. Now he started to remind me of Samuel Beckett, not just because he bore a great resemblance to him but he seemed as fresh and original as him too.
He asked me about my work and instantly interrupted me when I tried to articulate what my stuff was about. He”d break in using distinctive terms like
“I can plug into that, there’s a real buzz in this, I can see connections here”.
Even the way he constantly shouted “Yea” had a uniquely appropriate air about it. He told me how important he thought “Talking Heads” were and how interesting a connection it was that I shared the same name with its lead singer “David Byrne”. I agreed like a disciple, it was love at first sight, I was his total devotee.
This visit was satisfying, like drinking a cool Pepsi in a desert, he refreshed me. He wanted to see my work; we’d have to have a slide show next time. He wanted me to meet more people, friends of his that buzzed, that were plugged in. I was impressed. Finally I had met a real artist, one I could truly appreciate and be inspired by. Moreover he was accessible because his studio was just a ten minute walk from mine and best of all he loved talking.
We talked for fourteen hours nonstop on that first meeting. I left him as the dawn was emerging, very symbolic a new dawn on a new friendship. My eyes ached in the sharp morning chill, but I felt enthusiastic, something significant had just happened, life has pivotal moments and this was one of them.
A few weeks later he invited me around for the slide show we talked about and to meet the friends he mentioned. When I arrived two of them were already there in his studio, a guy and a girl. She was almost good looking. I took note of her great figure. She looked very serious. She had a shaved head and wore a black leather bikers jacket complete with buckles and zips like Antony’s one. She was showing her slides when I arrived. A lot of the slides were of her naked, standing on front of a brick wall having chocolate poured over her head from a tin bucket. Antony was sitting on a very small three legged stool hunched over like a giant spider and smoking a cigarette. He still wore his red leather jacket and pointed shoes. He introduced the girl to me as Julie. I didn’t want to warm to her because she didn’t smile once.
The other guy was introduced as Connor I think. He was more appealing. He also had a shaved head with protruding round ears like a monkey. He had a very squeaky voice. He wore a scruffy pinstriped jacket and tight jeans. He reminded me of a Chicago gangster from the 1930”s, even saying things like “Swell” and “Shucks”. He talked incessantly; he had opinions about everything and seemed to be very impressed by Julie’s chocolate spilling efforts.
I didn’t really relish the prospect of showing my slides to these guys but everyone looked very expectant so it wasn’t really an option to back out. Still I was curious as to their reaction. In any case when she finished her presentation Antony gestured to me like a school teacher to load my slides into the projector. Soon after I started flicking through them, quite quickly I might add because I have to admit I was nervous. His guests looked like a pretty unforgiving panel of judges. Very quickly Antony started to interject with a very loud voice that even the plastic duvets couldn’t muffle. He said that Julies work was important and she was plugged into something vital. I had no idea what he was referring to but I ended up saying,
“Yea, I see where this is going.”
It seemed the most diplomatic thing to say and besides if an artist as insightful as Antony, made a comment, then I was all ears in the hopes that the flattery would flow. His words were like nectar to me, they, to use his term, vitalized me.
Anyway he went on to say that he saw curious connections between her chocolate pouring and what I was up to especially around the idea of a “ritual buzz” that was happening in both our work. He made reference to the kind of religious alter thing that was happening in my stuff after I had shown them a piece I had done which comprised of a long black table with coincidentally, Styrofoam objects that were laid out in a carefully arranged pattern. Beside them on the floor was a pile of similar materials arbitrarily scattered. To my mind I was trying to say something about order and chaos and really couldn’t see any similarity to Julie’s chocolate pouring but still I zealously absorbed and logged every word he said in my mind. I planned to mentally relish them later. All the time Julie was looking at me with a vexed face. It was a look I had experienced in the schoolyard as a kid, like a bully who had their scope set on me. While she glanced at me she swung her knee like a pendulum and rubbed the back of her head. Still, I couldn’t help but admire her firm body as it sank comfortably back into the red leather couch.
During the show there were several interruptions with the doorbell. More people arrived and some left. This guy was popular his flat was like a university common room. After a while I got irritated because I wanted Antony for myself. I began to realize that our previous meeting had indeed been a rare private audience with this royal monarch of artistry. I really hoped that they would all leave but every time someone stood up to go the Connor guy sank further into his side of the couch like a cat intent on curling up on his favorite cushion for the evening. I was thoroughly disappointed and eventually I decided to give into the rival pet by announcing that I too had to go. Antony cordially walked me down the narrow stairs and said that he got a real buzz from my work, we needed to talk again he said. My heart immediately raced at the prospect of another private audience with my liege, lord of artistry.
One day some time later, a letter arrived at my studio. It was hand delivered by Antony. I was so upset that I had missed him because I really wanted his feedback on my studio set up. I needed more nectar of flattery.
The letter was penned in swirling longhand and written so large that each sentence made about four words on average. The letter consisted of many pages. It said that he had been very busy lately, he was mostly writing but also he was thinking about organizing a group exhibition with some artists that he admired and one of the artists he thought about was me.
I was of course overjoyed to be included by him as someone worth his consideration. My heart raced with anticipation. Later I learned from him that Julie was his first choice but she couldn’t join because she was unavailable.
The show according to him was going to be a big spectacle. He told me that he once held a funeral for a dead sparrow, complete with a full sized casket he bought from a funeral home and a procession of fifty of his friends who were all dressed in black following the hearse through the city center in the middle of daytime traffic. The police stopped the event and he loved that controversy. Great publicity he said.
I had my doubts but still I wanted to be part of his show, so I said yes to his proposal. The final co-participants were Antony, me and two other artists, one a successful illustrator and the other an irritating self-promoting opportunist called Josh. Antony organized an exhibition grant from the National Arts Council and me and Josh ended up doing the bulk of the work to erect the final show.
Still the entire exercise was interesting and a lot of fun actually. We had several shows in different locations around the country and each show comprised of an opening night with lots of interesting people attending and usually followed by a great party afterwards. Our Arts Council budget also covered travel and hotel expenses but we did try to economize by sharing hotel rooms. After one of the shows Antony was sharing a hotel room with me, well actually not only the room but also the double bed because that was all that there was available in this particular town. To my amused surprise Antony stripped naked and got into the bed beside me. He said that’s how he always slept and hoped that I didn’t mind. I burst out laughing and said it was OK but please no hanky-panky, I have a headache. Antony burst into laughter but later in the night when I was still awake with his snoring it was no laughing matter. He snored like the horns bringing down the Walls of Jericho; I thought the room would collapse on top of us.
After the shows we got some reviews in the newspapers. The reactions were mixed depending on which papers wrote them. To my amazement I got better reviews than the other three. Still I couldn’t really enjoy it because they dismissed them as being unappreciated by a conservative establishment. I didn’t bother to object and say the obvious,
“Hey guys you’re just jealous, I bet your attitude might be different if they liked your work too”.
Never the less my admiration for Antony remained. I loved his spontaneity and the fact that he was constantly full of intriguing surprises even if sometimes they bordered on the plain crazy. One day, a rare occasion when I caught him alone in his studio, I saw a dying plant on his windowsill. Beside it was a carton of milk. I asked him had he watered it. He replied that he had been experimenting by feeding it with milk. Clearly this man was nuts I thought but in such a charming way, crazy actions like this made me think of the world in a different way even if that was basically ridiculous. I liked that about him.
He went on to tell me that he had been writing a lot recently. Intrigued again, I asked him to show me some and he proudly pulled out several cardboard boxes from under the plastic duvets. I felt like I was in a F.B.I. archive room looking at boxes of top secret files, there were literally hundreds of pages stapled together in bunches. He loomed over the boxes puffing on a cigarette and stroking his hand through his greasy hair. He talked incessantly as usual. I heard words like “plugged in, connected, vibe, vital, conduit, buzz,” and the like. I started to read some pages that I arbitrarily picked from a box and he put on the coffee while still talking, well actually shouting at the wall in front of him by the tiny scruffy sink. What I read was a kind of automatic writing exercise that went on for scores of pages, unrelated words that made no logical sense but were penned in his beautiful handwritten script. To me they were more like written scroll objects rather than having intrinsic informational value for their content. The documents were more like a prop for a TV play as opposed to something one might take the time to sit down and read as a narrative. Basically there was no narrative, not even one as rudimentary as an F.B.I. file on some suspect, i.e. basic information that might actually be useful in some way. This is what intrigued me about his writing and like the dying plant it too was fascinating from a pathological point of view, if I were his doctor.
Sometime later he informed me that he was “into” getting married. I didn’t know that he even had a girlfriend. He told me that he had recently started seeing six women all at the same time. These were apparently the shortlisted candidates. Needless to say again I was surprised, Antony certainly never failed to disappoint when it came to unexpected projects because that’s how this struck me; this was a project. It was the kind of spectacle one came to anticipate from him like his funeral for a sparrow. I asked him had the six candidates been made privy to his plans. To my amazement, he said yes.
“Actually you know one of them”, he said.
“”Julie?” I guessed.
“Yes”, he said with a smirk that belied his effort to look serious.
I smiled. He talked as he paced the room stepping over things with his long bony legs. He continued,
“I decided to be straight with all of them, to keep them in the picture. Their all cool with it and to be perfectly honest it’s a great buzz. I’ve been seeing each of them one after the other. I keep them all up to speed and they know that at the end of the day I’m going to pick one of them.”
“Wow”, I said, “Really, and their all agreeable with that”?
“Basically yes” he smiled back at me.
I was flabbergasted.
A couple of weeks later I called into him again. While he was making the coffee I just couldn’t wait to ask.
“So any verdict yet?” I asked.
“Yea” he bellowed, “Funny you should ask, I made my decision yesterday and she agreed last night”.
“OK let me guess”, I said shuffling myself on his red couch to get a straighter view of him while he tinkered with the kettle beside the scruffy sink. “It’s Julie I bet”.
“Funny you should mention her”, he said, “She was the only one who dropped out of the running so to speak. She said that her plans had changed because she won an artist in residence grant somewhere in Germany so she decided to take that instead of me”.
He smirked again beneath the serious face and honestly I didn’t know if he was trying to be jovial or was just plain offended.
At this stage my jaw was hanging with anticipation, all this was just too surreal.
“OK, so don’t keep me in suspense for god’s sake, who is the lucky lady then”, I entreated.
He turned with a mug in his hand and breathing deeply, stubbed out his cigarette in the sink.
“Her name is Kaitlyn. You don’t know her, she’s a writer, well a poet really, she published a lot of stuff and she also writes articles for “In Dublin” magazine. We really bounce off each other, and we talk all the time, it’s a great head-space, and she comes at my work from a different angle, but still really plugged in.”
“Wow, you’re really that sure after such a short time” I said genuinely amazed, I really didn’t think he was serious about this getting married thing, frankly I thought he was nuts. In fact part of me suspected that he was making it all up, it sounded so implausible that six different women would be OK with a fiasco like this. Apparently I was wrong. Antony was a good looking man and interesting but honestly from a marriage point of view in the conventional sense I wondered who in their right mind would be seriously be interested in a Car Salesroom janitor who looked like he never took a bath and had little or no fiscal prospects. Evidently I was wrong; he won his prize on charisma alone. I suppose in a way I could understand that because after all I was drawn to him, I still thought he was a great artist in his own eccentric and charming way.
Soon after, I met Kaitlyn. Her face reminded me of a rabbit, she didn’t strike me as the literary type at all. She struck me as more of a pragmatist, a woman who was ambitious in the conventional sense. I thought she was bossy. She interrupted Antony all the time, in fact it was fascinating to watch him just smile and listen while she did all the talking. She talked even more than he did; wow he had met his match I thought. In the blink of an eye, they were married.
They invited lots of his friends to the wedding reception after a brief ceremony in the registry office. It was a “Bring your own drink” style budget party at his studio. I never found out why I wasn’t invited.
A month after they were married Kaitlyn called to my studio. I was really surprised. She asked me had I seen Antony. It seems he had gone A.W.L.(absent without leave) a few days earlier. It suddenly made sense because shortly before he had written me a letter, a posted one this time, informing me that he had met some younger girl at an exhibition opening and he was hanging out with her until he could sort out his headspace. Kaitlyn told me that she knew about the girl because he apparently wrote her a letter too. If that wasn’t bad enough she informed me casually that Antony had also dispatched a similar letter to Kaitlyn”s mother. My jaw was now lying on the floor somewhere, this was just ludicrous, and I had no idea what to say to her.
She begged me to tell her where he was if I knew but I said I didn’t know. I showed her the letter that he had sent me and as she read it tears welled up in her rabbit like eyes. At that moment I warmed to her, I really felt for her and I was angry on her behalf at Antony for his flagrant selfishness. What an asshole I thought, I didn’t say that to her for fear of upsetting her more and instead ended up saying something like,
“Don’t jump to conclusions, I bet he’s just panicking because you both met and married so quickly. It’s a case of belated cold feet and I’m sure when he comes to his senses he will appreciate the fine woman he married.”
She sniffled and smiled a little and said that I was very kind but Antony was just a fucking wanker. She asked me to inform her immediately if I heard anything about his whereabouts. Of course I assured her that I would.
Weeks passed, I was busy creating a new body of work for a solo exhibition I was hoping to have. I was still high from the success of the group show with Antony and the others. Ideas were coming so easily to me and I found it difficult to keep up with the flow, I couldn’t make things fast enough. My studio became my sanctuary and I was spending most of my time there. My girlfriend called in a lot too and I”d get her to help me sometimes holding sheets of timber while I cut them out with a jigsaw and other similar tasks. I often worked late into the night and on one of those nights a knock came to my front door. Hey presto it was Antony. I was so delighted to see him and amazed that finally I had him here in my studio on his own. He had been here before but Josh and the illustrator were always there as well for our meetings about the group show.
I brought him up the two flights of dimly lit stairs to my rooms while saying things like,
“It”s great to see you, I was just thinking about you, actually you came at just the right time I’ve new stuff I”d love to show you”.
Antony was unusually silent but carried a broad smile on his face as he followed me up the dusty staircase. When we got in the room he pulled over a wooden box and sat on it. I had a fire burning in the hearth, the lights were switched off because I liked the shadows the flames cast on the blue walls and ceilings. Ivy from outside the old sash window had over time crept inside and crawled along the internal walls beside it. I liked this; I hoped Antony would notice these details. He didn’t.
Sometimes I noticed Antony had a sadness in his smile, like he wore it unconvincingly, a forced enthusiasm that lacked the momentum of real joy. He wore such a smile on this occasion. He knew my girlfriend and he greeted her with a nod. She was sitting in an old armchair that I had. I offered him coffee but he said he was ok. I made some for me and my girlfriend. As I did he still wasn’t saying much, but he did manage to say “Wow you’ve been busy”.
“Yes” I replied and I started to explain how I had been on a roll as of late and it was great that he dropped in at this particular time. He looked about smiling; he stood up with his long fingers squeezed into his pockets and walked about stepping over things with his lanky legs and making lame comments that were supposed to sound encouraging. My girlfriend asked him what he thought of one piece I had been working on that night. I had just begun. It comprised of a life sized image of a doorway with an image of a full moon outside the door. He ran his fingers through his greasy hair and raised his voice a little while saying things like
“Yea, I can plug into that, looking good Dave”.
“Thanks Antony I had hoped you would like what I’m at”, I replied.
Still, the usual energy was missing in his voice.
I came back with the coffee and as I handed it to my girlfriend I asked him,
“What’s the story Antony; you don’t seem your usual self. I might as well say it, Kaitlyn was here the last day and she was very upset. I know it’s really none of my business but…..”
“Really” he interrupted, “Seriously!”
“Yes, she came ………..” and I told him the whole story.
“Jesus Dave I’m sorry for bringing all this shit to your door, the last thing I expected was for her to turn up here”.
“No sweat Antony” I assured him, “I was just very concerned for both of you frankly”.
He followed with a lengthy explanation about how he just had lost the plot recently, how things were moving way too fast, how he just needed his own headspace for a while, and so on. Through his extensive account I really learned nothing that I didn’t already know, he had run off with some young one and Kaitlyn was very pissed off. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.
Then he started talking about his art, how he needed to make an impact, how he needed to plug into something vital like “Talking Heads” had. He wanted to reach a larger audience, really shake heads etc.
“In other words Antony, you want to be a pop star” I said with concealed irritation.
“Yea that’s it, why not?” He countered.
“Well for starters, you don’t sing” I laughed, trying to add some joviality to the somber mood.
“True”, he smiled back and I suddenly felt guilty with my cheap jibe.
He told us that he had been to the movies earlier. He had seen a film called “Flash Dance”. I had seen it too, it was a fun film I thought but it could hardly be described as profound art.
Antony leaned over on the box, his big hands clasped tightly and said earnestly
“How can I ever compete with that?”
Frankly I was shocked that this man I so admired could be so shallow. I argued the toss with him. It made me more and more depressed. For me something was really beginning to fall apart.
After an hour or so he stood up and said he needed to go. I said
“Are you OK?”
“Yes, yea”, he said in a raised voice. “Thanks guys, sure I’ll talk to you during the week”.
Something didn’t feel right, I walked him down to the front door and watched him as he paused smiled on the front steps and departed down the dark street.
When I went back upstairs my girlfriend asked,
“Is he really OK do you think? He sounds like a man who could go off the deep end”.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he sounds suicidal.”
“What?” I said. “Don’t be absurd, how do you figure that?”
“Couldn’t you see; it’s obvious?” She replied.
I really couldn’t see and began to feel very stupid. I even thought about running down the street after him but decided he was probably well gone at that stage.
A year later I got another letter from him. It was an invitation to the opening of his new exhibition in a shopping mall; it was to feature all his plastic duvets. The space to be filled was huge and I was truly amazed that he had enough work to handle it .It was impressive, the show went on for hundreds of yards along countless passageways and into nooks and crannies all over the shopping mall. Not many artists were capable of dealing with such an enormous space. If nothing else he was prolific.
A couple of days after the opening he invited me back to his studio and to my amazement it was bare except for the cardboard boxes that were stuffed with his written material. He talked a lot about the writing, he was his old animated self once again, and this made me happy, once more I was privy to the charming and eccentric doer of crazy things. Still I refrained from volunteering to read any samples this time I preferred to simply listen to him talk. He described his latest writing in detail to me anyway. He spoke about finally being able to plug into the right headspace, how he had connected into a vital buzz, all the terms were still there even if at this stage they were becoming clichés. His words still gave me butterflies. His momentum was back and energized to full charge.
Then he said that he was thinking about going to America for a while. My heart immediately dropped, the thought of losing my artist friend saddened me and I suddenly had a terrible feeling of abandonment. I knew this was selfish of me that I should be bigger than this and wish him well but instead I asked,
“What about Kaitlyn?”
“We`re thinking about taking some time out”, he replied casually.
“I know she and other people won’t be happy but sometimes you just got to go with it and sometimes that means leaving people behind. I know it sounds tough but that’s just the way it is”.
It struck me that he spoke about his plans as if they had nothing to do with him, that he had no part in the decisions he was making, that somehow all this was orchestrated by some divine book of fate. I was flabbergasted at how he absolved himself of all accountability. To be honest I also envied his apparent freedom and his fortuity in knowing the right people to make such trips possible. He was plugged in all right, plugged into the right connections that could bring pleasant opportunity his way. I was jealous.
Then the doorbell rang. This time it was his brother. Antony introduced him as Bobs the actor. He looked a bit like Antony, but not as impressive, somehow more ordinary but his accent was similar and he used the full range of buzz words that I had learned from Antony. Bobs didn’t stay long and when he left Antony came back upstairs.
“You know I’ve been seeing a shrink”.
“What” I said. “You mean a head doctor, a psychiatrist? “
“Yea”, he shouted with his old enthusiasm, his smile now was broad and self-satisfied.
“Are you all right” I asked?
He told me he was great now, but things had been bad a few months previously.
“Remember the last time I called to your studio, it was a Sunday night I think, must have been several months ago now”
“Yes almost a year ago Antony” I said.
“Well” he continued, “I didn’t go home when I left, instead I went for a long walk and ended up beside the canal”.
I could imagine what was coming next and he didn’t disappoint me.
“I stood there for a long time and before I knew it, I jumped in” he said. “I can’t swim so I expected it all to be over fairly quickly, but like, it was ridiculous, instead I found myself standing waist deep in the water. That brought me to my senses pretty rapidly”, he added with a smile.
“Anyway I eventually arrived back here drenched to the skin and I just fell asleep in my wet clothes”.
“Jesus Christ”, I exclaimed in sympathy.
“No, no it’s all OK. When I woke up the following morning I rang St Pats (local mental hospital) and said I needed to see someone. They told me to call in and they would try and get someone to see me. I did and I met a really cool guy called Dr. Brody. I’ve been seeing him on and off since.
“Are you still seeing him”, I asked.
“Funny you should ask”, he added, “I just got a letter from him today, he couldn’t make it to the opening of the show but he did call around a few days ago and I took him about it”.
Then Antony handed me a letter typed on a single page. It read:
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and work with me today. I was moved by your art and in it I see a clear road to your recovery. I wish you all the best and your continued success with your endeavors in America.
Dr. Michael Brody.”
The letter read like a brush off. Somehow I wasn’t convinced. St. Pats I knew was a public hospital on the national health and it sounded like they were just trying to race him through the system. I was sure if he had been paying for a shrink his treatment would have been much more thorough and would have probably lasted a lot longer. Still I was happy for him, at least he was still alive and that was certainly something to be very grateful for.
I gave him back the letter and he continued by saying that Brody had helped him enormously. He said Kaitlyn was pressurizing him and wasn’t going with his flow. He felt empty, his achievements were vacant and his buzz was really wrecked. That’s why he needed to see Brody.
Anyway that was that and it was time to move on, he explained. He applied for an artist in residence in New York and they accepted him, it was to last a year. I now realized the real reason the studio was empty, he was moving out. I felt a hole in the pit of my stomach at the thought of him leaving. I guess I was to be one of the people he needed to leave behind and frankly it felt a bit like an insult. In my mind I could see the dust trail behind him as he sped away like the Road Runner in the cartoons and me like the frustrated Coyote left standing there on the dirt track. My feelings were conflicted but part of me was glad for him too. Still I couldn’t but help feel sorry for Kaitlyn, she was genuinely cut up that time she called around to my studio looking for him.
“Well there’s no point saying I won’t miss you because I will Antony.”
He walked me for the last time down his linoleum staircase to the awkward aluminum door at the end. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes as he offered his huge hand and said,
“I’ll keep in touch by letter and keep you up to speed on my antics”.
At that I walked down the street with a lonely heart, that feeling of being marooned when someone you know is going off to a brighter more exciting place while you have to languish in the humdrum of the all too familiar.
Sometime after that last meeting I heard that he got back with Kaitlyn and they were going to have a baby in America. Later still I heard that they all three had come back home and were living in and artists in residence in the countryside here. Sometime later still I heard that they had finally split up permanently with Kaitlyn and their daughter going back to America. Apparently because of her poetry Kaitlyn landed herself with a cool professorship in some college over there.
On and off over the next two decades I would either hear about him or from him directly usually by letter. He had moved from Dublin to Limerick and for a time was teaching in the art school there. Later on I heard from his brother Bobs that he lost the teaching job and was working in a factory on the night shift.
I got a letter where he said that he had met someone new while he was teaching literacy as a volunteer. They connected he said. Later still I heard that they had split up.
His letters were wonderful. I really grew to appreciate his huge swirling longhand with four words to a line, they always included pictures and small drawings and he decorated the envelopes beautifully, like abstract expressionist paintings. I kept all of them. They were works of art in themselves. He always included small sketches he had drawn and he would decorate the envelopes with charming motifs and eccentric references to his current feelings like smiling suns and the like. Sometimes he would paste magazine photographs of landscapes and retouch them with his own contributions like his proverbial American flags painted on the skies or on rivers. I could imagine the rivers flowing like those semi-animated pictures you see in Chinese restaurants that are doctored to make waterfalls look like they were flowing. He was a master of Kitch; he did it in a way that made it look sophisticated, a Kitch beyond Kitch.
In the letters he kept promising that someday soon we would surely meet up and have a good chat. I kept promising in turn that I would make an effort to visit him in his studio in Limerick. Both of our declarations sounded like a verse from the song, “The cat and the cradle” where the lyrics went, “We’ll surely have a good time then son, we’re gonna have a good time then”.
I learned that his brother the actor was mostly a taxi driver because one night I got into his cab by chance. I was glad to meet Bobs because he would update me about Antony’s whereabouts and antics. Over the ensuing years I often bumped into Bobs and I would invariably ask him, “How’s Antony? “
On one such occasion I came across him in a coffee shop. I asked my stock question. The answer I got was a bit of a bombshell but it did explain a lot too. Antony had gone back into therapy and told Bobs that a memory of his father sexually assaulting him suddenly came back! I was wide eyed and aghast. Then Bobs said that he had a sudden memory recall of similar stuff happening to him too! Furthermore Bobs told me that their other brother had the same experience. I had heard about things like this, suppressed memories too traumatic to endure, eventually surfacing when the right trigger finally stimulates them. This was incredible. Antony sleeping naked in the hotel room with me all those years before now made sense.
“Wow” was all I could say.
He spoke a little more about it, not going into too much detail but enough to horrify me. Then we said our good byes and I said to him if he or Antony ever needed to talk I was willing to listen. He thanked me and we parted company.
Perhaps a year later I was walking through the shopping mall that hosted Antony’s show twenty plus years before. To my astonishment and joy I saw Antony standing in the mall with a girl maybe in her early twenties. She looked sweet and innocent. She was dressed very plainly in a grey woolen winter coat and thick scarf. She looked sincere and friendly with white skin and red rosy cheeks. She was dwarfed by Antony’s tall stature, and he looked so emaciated. His clothes hung on his skeletal frame like rags on a scarecrow. In fact he was so thin he reminded me of a bird, maybe a buzzard of some kind. He had the same smile though. I was so happy to see him and immediately said “Have you time for a coffee?”
All the time his girlfriend was smiling and looking up at him, clearly she adored him.
In his familiar loud voice he said,
“Yea, great to see you Dave, Jesus you caught me at a really bad time; I’m racing to catch a train back to Limerick.”
My heart sank, I was so disappointed. I asked him a pile of questions that I can’t remember now because I was overwhelmed at just meeting him, like a long lost lover, I couldn’t articulate, I was just dazed with feelings of sadness and regret. I was actually really taken with the depth of my reaction.
Two years later I received another letter from him. On the first page was a drawing of a smiling sunrise. On the next page a big picture of his now grown up daughter. On the next pages were more pictures and brochures of various art projects he had recently completed and was working on. The letter spanned several pages but his longhand had become more compact and intelligible.
He spoke optimistically. He told me about his happiness at having spent the summer with his beautiful grown up daughter and how proud he was of her. He mentioned upcoming projects too and how he planned to visit Dublin very soon. He really wanted he said to finally hook up after all these years. His words were warm; they filled me with sentimental pleasure, I vowed to myself that this time we would meet for definite. I could feel the rich evening glow of amber sunlight touching my skin as I admired the sun he drew on the envelope.
A couple of more years passed. I was walking down O’Connell Street in Dublin early one morning. This was unusual for me because lately I was in the habit of working late into the night and sleeping in the mornings. Like fate had ordained some synchronistic event, a tap came on my shoulder and when I turned around it was Bobs.
He was with a woman whom I had not known. She looked somber as did Bobs. He introduced her as his sister.
I said “Wow, fancy meeting you both here. Antony mentioned his sister to me many times it’s amazing to finally meet you. How’s Antony?”
“Well he actually died this week.” Bobs said with a matter of fact tone because knowing Bobs he had no other way of saying such things.
Stunned, I tried to process this news in my mind; I searched for my feelings and couldn’t find them. Instead I said,
“By his own hand?”
“Yes” replied Bobs. “How did you know?”
“I’m shocked but not surprised.” I replied in my matter of fact way, but still trying to be sensitive by using no nonsense honesty. They both seemed to appreciate that. His sister listened to me attentively as if hoping to learn some revelation. I had none but I told them both that he had spoken to me about such a scenario many times before. In fact he had only spoken about suicide that one time but somehow I remembered it as a multitude of conversations, like recurring Deja-vu.
I asked them tentative questions about the circumstances and the like, I didn’t want to press the issue but Bobs told me he had money problems. I didn’t believe that was his motivation and tried to offer some sensitive insight by saying that Antony was a complex man, delicate and caring and in many ways lost in his own wilderness of dissatisfaction. He had given so much to so many and yet couldn’t be kind to himself. I wanted to cry but didn’t want to upstage Bobs and his sister. I talked about his letters and immediately his sister smiled and said she so loved his letters too, his “Amazing letters” she said. I knew what she was talking about. I asked them about the funeral details and said I would see them the next day there.
As I walked on down O’Connell Street, I kept thinking how flabbergasting that I should have been on this street at this exact time so that I could bump into Bobs.
The universe sometimes seems like a deliberate conspiracy, contriving our lives into meaningful strands that mingle with such connotation that it’s hard to believe it’s all arbitrary. I never believed in god, purpose or cosmic validation of any kind but just as we join the dots in starry constellations our lives on this ground might be eloquent. In my mind, I felt again the amber sun on my skin. I felt your total absence and I felt like the Coyote standing in the trailing dust of the Road Runner.
It’s true Antony, sometimes you really do need to leave people behind, and I don’t know who I am sadder for, you or me. Who needs to leave who behind? I ask myself because as I write this chronicle I certainly can’t leave you behind. Neither I am sure, can your daughter and all those others you have touched. Our lives are a creation, we create them together, we don’t leave people behind, we abandon them and we abandon ourselves. Your death in some kind of twisted irony makes me feel alive. I am surprised that I miss you as much as I do.
Sometimes I think of your end as a project, like the funeral for a sparrow. “What’s the buzz; I’ll plug into that.” I hear you say.
The funeral was disappointing; somehow I had expected an amazing performance or surprise, instead while Kaitlyn recited some Emily Dickenson from the pulpit children giggled at the back of the church.
“The world belongs to them now”, I thought as I bade my farewell to you. “The world belongs to them”.