Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press
PJ described the hours and days that followed. “There was a terrible clacking noise beating on his eardrums. Loud. Sharp. Penetrating, like metal against metal, woke him. When it moved away it came back again, stronger, louder, more tortuous than before. How could he bear it? He cried out, ‘What is that noise? I can’t stand it. Can’t someone stop it?’”
A nurse answered, “It’s only a power mower. Someone outside is mowing the lawn.”
“Make them stop it,” he pleaded. “I can’t take it.” But already he could begin to take it. After all, it was only a power mower, a man mowing the grass. The sound became normal.
“What is this?” he cried out. “Where am I? What am I doing here? Who are you?”
With her calm and matter-of-fact voice, the nurse answered, “You were out yesterday for a long time, out cold. Now you’ve had three blood transfusions and you are alive again. Take it easy. Don’t worry, just rest.”
He thought, “How awful. Yesterday I was dead. My God, what a silly sentimental speech I made.” When he woke up and saw that he was alive, it repulsed him. “Why couldn’t they have left him alone? Why couldn’t they have let him remain dead?”
There was really no place in the world for him now. He was not a newborn baby. He had a man’s body, a man’s consciousness, a man’s load of experience, memory. How could he accept life?
He had died and those damned doctors were probably patting themselves on the back, bragging about how they had saved him.
Damn them. Why didn’t they let him die?
He hated with all his strength the life he would now have to begin to live. He turned his face to the wall. He was horribly shattered that he had to live again. His family could have taken more easily the consequences of his death. Now, he, himself, would have to live with them, while they lived with a man who was no longer a husband and a father, but a specter returned to harass them. He buried his face in the pillow. He did not weep, or mourn for himself, dead or alive.
“The Father and Husband died on the operating table forty years ago. I could not continue my former life, could not be the man I was before my death.”
“You said you’d lived past your destiny.”
“Yes. But I had to accept that I could not regain my death any more than deny myself alive.” He was a skeleton, but he was alive. “I had to learn to live again, and find new reasons to live.”
In “Tender Branch,” he quoted the Book of Job:
“For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down,
that it will sprout again,
and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.”
“So when I physically died on the operating table, I was reborn, innocent as a newborn baby, but with the memory of a grown man. But death had taken away all my guilt and replaced it with innocence.”
After that, I began helping him write out his paranoia. He poured it into his letters. It helped me connect with the passionate crisis of “Tender Branch.”
But what was this admixture of feeling and intellect?
When I asked PJ about the intense affection he had for Rogue, and for his wife in “Tender Branch,” he said these experiences differed from emotion. He acted as though emotion did not exist and I was deluded to think so.
PJ wrote to me:
The old man is scheduled to go into the hospital, clean sheets, careless nurses. Indifferent doctors, and Rogue worries that he will lose a relationship. The Old Man wants the writer’s book, “Tender Branch,” printed, bound and mailed before the hospital visit. The first few copies were mailed; the next day Rogue was upset at the prospect of the old man’s death in the hospital. Not much more than that (but not emotionally) was the old man.
Yet he was encouraged that the book had been completed, and when Rogue intimated that he would miss the old man, if he didn’t come back, the old man said: I’d miss you too. They laughed at this.
But the old man wrote a letter to his daughter. That was the sole last letter and it was not sentimental, not emotional, with not a word of apprehension. Then the writer began typing. Pages and pages of work. The old man was reminded of Hemingway’s Snows of Kilminjaro, for he would miss Rogue very much if he didn’t survive. He’d miss the young man’s presence, interest and attention. He’d miss the young man’s separation from him, to work elsewhere, seeing him develop into an artist (already distinguished) and the future they had to live for.
Rogue and I were repelled by the ruins of PJ’s garret and arranged to have our dinners outside by his downstairs door. The corner restaurant had tables on the sidewalk. We set up ours as the last in the row. The restaurant owner saw us, then PJ, and smiled and nodded, so we proceeded to load the table with chicken and potato salad, vegetables, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, coffee or soda, and dessert. PJ had either made the main dish or bought it at the Jefferson Market. We were an odd triumvirate, talking of morality and mortality with the flaking paint of generations creating an Escher wall behind us.
Even so, at times, PJ’s wistful smile suggested he felt left out. One day, he wrote to me, “Rogue had mentioned marriage to Erin and she had responded with a little warmth that she had thought of it.”
Marriage? What? I tried to recall the conversation. We had talked about marriage, but not marriage to each other. At least, that was the way I remembered it.
Late that night on a Village street, Rogue asked me to stay with him, as if it were a matter of course. There was a passion burning just beneath the surface that I could glimpse, but I could not be sure, sure enough.
I said, no, I’d better go home. In my veiled consciousness, I knew or thought I would be just another of his conquests.
PJ, in yellow cut off shorts and ravaged wicker sandals, was sitting on the corner by the restaurant with his Fair Weather Gallery. People passed by and I heard one of them say, “Look, the Old Man of the Village.”
He would not put a price on the drawings and designs.
“Art is priceless,” he said. People failed to understand that when they took or received a piece of art they were supposed to offer a contribution to the artist, so the artist could keep on working. PJ continued to be mystified by people who took a piece of work and simply walked away.
I sat down on a folding chair next to him, picking up one of his paintings and resting it against my legs. Across Greenwich Avenue, where the Women’s House of Detention once stood, a garden was in full throttle. “I didn’t know if you’d be here,” I said. “I took a chance.”
“The fragile thread is woven from these intuitive acts,” PJ commented.
People sat at the sidewalk café. Again, the owner waved to PJ, who smiled back.
“Intuition is the motivating force behind our actions. It’s natural to respond and act intuitively, and unnatural to think about acting.”
PJ evoked many different responses on the street. Some people thought he was a bum, some thought he was crazy. But others, artists, printers and writers, Village residents, would stop to chat, recognizing him.
“I wanted to talk to you about The Document.”
“Do you want to ask me questions about The Document?”
“Is it a journal? What kind of thing is it, exactly?”
“The Document was begun one year and two months after he split with his wife. The purpose was to identify the ghost of Vivian’s husband because he had been reborn and didn’t have an identity. So the documentary writer decided to take this new born, fully grown baby and ‘make a man out of him.’”
“How do you identify yourself?”
“The first thing was that Vivi’s husband had an idea of one man and one woman. He didn’t know how he was going to get out of love with Vivi and he had just had a hot love affair with JJ and she had rejected him. The whole thing was a terrible mess.”
“You had an affair?”
“It was a big whoop-dee-doo affair that was supposed to take the place of losing Vivian. What it led to was a big deception on my part and on JJ’s part, too. She deceived herself that it was love and that I would marry her and things like that. The affair lasted a year and she decided she would reject me and give it up, it was a sudden thing. This was a tremendous blow to my ego. So that was when the document writer picked up and began trying to get me ordered in a line. He wrote for the ghost to read, that after all, a man could love as many women as he wanted to, as would let him and it didn’t have to mean sex in every case. That was the birth of the great lover.”
Over the years, he had created new identities, new reasons to live. He recorded all his “deaths and renascences.” Some identities were sequential and others simultaneous. Several of these identities were female. The most constant, perhaps continually renewed, were The Writer, The Artist, and the Professor of Love.
“You can die of an overload of guilt and hostility,” he summarized. “I died of an overload of guilt many times and was reborn with the innocence of a baby.”
“Didn’t N.O. Brown say something like that? About a new man, reborn into a second innocence?”
Yes, he nodded. “As one identity succumbs, a new one has to be created.”
In The Document he sought his motivations and evaluated the use of his time and the consequences of his behavior. “And in those early years I lived my life intuitively,” he said, “although I did not know it then, making choices which were completely unconscious, but which all together moved my life in a certain direction. We may not know it, but we make decisions based on what is valuable to us, and these small unconscious decisions cause us to go in one direction or another.”