READING LIES DREAMING
The call came on the day after the first day of summer.
"Art? This is Doc Filmore. They found Dawn. The police picked her up a few hours ago, on 422, just west of Reading. She was naked, with no possessions, no ID, nothing... standing on an overpass, looking down at the river."
I couldnít just listen silently.
"Is she hurt? Where is she now, Doc?"
"A state trooper brought her to the ER... some cuts and bruises... might have gotten them from walking through the woods... from walking around like that. Itís not clear how long sheíd been there. The first report came in on a cell phone around 8:30... a trucker... the police at Reading received a few calls from people who thought she was about to jump."
"So sheís still at the hospital? Which one? The Reading? Iíll meet you there, Doc."
"Not so fast, pal. She doesnít want to see you...says sheís afraid of you...doesnít say why. But she hasnít stopped talking otherwise."
"Talking about what, Doc?"
"Itís just ranting and raving... about being abducted by glowing men... flying saucers... on and on. They moved her over to ĎR Buildingí... you know... they start you off on suicide watch over there."
"Shit, Doc. This is crazy. Whatís happened to her?"
"No signs of rape or physical assault. Sheís obviously traumatized. Who knows? Berg was there to admit her... but because of his relationship with you... heíll probably pass her on to someone else."
"Thatís about it, Art. Just sit tight, will you? Thereís nothing you can do right now. Theyíre not going to let you near her. Iíll stay in touch. Just get some sleep if you can. I probably should have waited until morning to call you, but you have some right to know whatís going on. You were her last partner, as far as we know."
"This sucks, Doc. How about if I go over there and just wait until they let me in?"
"Art, take a Valium. Sheís being taken care of. Just take care of yourself. She left you, buddy. Sheís a big girl. Who knows whatís happened to her? Let it alone, Art. Iíll call back in the morning."
"Yeah, sure... Thanks, Doc."
I call Berg and leave a midnight voice-mail message. I call Dawnís mother... let it ring twice, then hang up. What good will it do? Itís been more than three months and she never once even hinted at where Dawn might be.
Whatís the use? The past is still conditioning me. My habitual responses are pointless. Iím on the outside of this one--looking in. Itís her trip. But I canít accept that. I down some Valium.
I call Mimi.
Her husband answers.
"David. Itís Art. Listen, Iím sorry to bother you... this time of night, man... "
"Right," he mumbles."Whatís up, Art?"
"Uh, itís about Dawn. Sheís in Reading--at the hospital."
"Dawn? I thought she left town...
"May I speak with Annamarie?"
"Sure. Iíll wake her. I hope Dawnís OK. Just a minute."
"Listen, Mimi, Dawnís in the mental ward at Reading. She was picked up naked on 422. Sheís delirious. She wonít see me."
She doesnít say anything. Neither do I. Shit. Why did I call her, anyway? I feel like an idiot.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Nothing. Iím sorry I called. I donít know what to do... how Iím supposed to feel."
"How do you feel."
"Like a jerk... "
"Art, Iím sorry, really... "
"Sheís talking about flying saucers...spacemen... "
"Poor Dawn. Art, can I call you back in the morning?"
"Sure. Thanks. Iím sorry."
"No. I mean... I understand. You have no one else, right now. I mean to talk about this with."
"Right... Mimi, I wanted to talk with you."
"I know, Art. Iíll call tomorrow, OK?"
"Gínight, Art. Take care."
During the past months. Iíve reviewed that experience countless times. I could have called any number of people. I could have called Manny. He would have come over to my place, probably would have given me a big bear hug, calmed me down. He was always close with Dawn. I could have called other mutual friends, Sheila or Tony...
But instead I called Mimi. Iíd known her for just a few weeks at that point. It was totally inappropriate. I knew it as soon as David answered the phone.
Annamarie (her childhood nickname was Mimi... Iíve resurrected it... it seems to fit her better than ďAnnamarieĒ) has transformed an utterly meaningless deluge of unhappy events into a cohesive current with some semblance of sense. In a very real way, she saved my life all over again--or at least--reminded me of why I decided, a long time ago, to save it myself.
Keithís sister, Kay, and her husband did indeed purchase our house. That was a fairly impersonal occurrence, however. By the time of settlement, I had packed, boxed, tagged, and moved Dawnís possessions into storage and was renting the residence we had intended to buy. The settlement on the old house was handled by my agent and Dawnís mother, so I didnít encounter Kay at all.
The first thing I did after moving into the new place was to buy a new computer. My fifteen year-old Commodore 64 was crashing constantly and the whole information (and interactive) superhighway was out there to explore--especially for a newly un-attached and very lonely guy.
At first, I thought Iíd just continue writing this journal. I re-typed all my word files into the new system, including hours of interviews with both Keith and my grandfather. Soon though, I connected up to an online service, then another. Hours passed in digital daydreams, days dissolved with no trace, save for long lists of e-mail addresses documenting the contacts and relationships I pursued obsessively online.
Annamarie--Mimi--was one of the first friends I met in cyberspace. I was sending out the first few chapters of this memoir, contacting people who had an interest in art or writing, or just making invisible human connections via computer.
I was lurking in a chat room on American Line, one of the few services offering users the option of invented screen names. I was signed on as ArtLong. Mimi had signed on using the name, Pandora. She sent me a Private Message.
>>Pandora: Hi. I just received your e-mail about your book. Thanks. I just checked out chapter 1. It looks interesting. Iíll have my husband print it out so I can read it in bed.
>>ArtLong: Thanks. I didnít know you were married. I was sending to single women... Iím recently separated, unintentionally, actually.
>>Pandora: Sorry, I lied on my profile. At the rate itís going, weíll be separated any day now... intentionally.
>>ArtLong: No problem... Iíve got all the time in the world. Not much patience, though.
>>Pandora: LOL... Me neither. Thatís why I lied on my profile.
>>ArtLong: So... Pandora, can we talk again, soon? Iíd like to know what you think of chapter 1.
>>Pandora: Sure. Iíll e-mail you. Who is Keith Haring?
>>ArtLong: A friend... was a friend. A local kid who became a world-famous artist in the 1980s. He died in 1990... AIDS.
>>Pandora: Iím sorry... David, my husband, says heís heard of him.
>>ArtLong: I get nervous when we talk about your husband. Should I?
>>Pandora: Well... heís a minister...
>>ArtLong: Thatís OK...
>>Pandora: ... and very jealous...
>>ArtLong: Thatís not.
>>Pandora: ... and heís just about to walk by and look over my shoulder. I should go. Talk again later, OK? By the way... my name is Annamarie.
>>ArtLong: Pretty name. Bye Annamarie.
>>Pandora: Bye for now, Art. Good luck with your writing.
The exchange seemed innocent enough--not so different from many of the other women I was meeting online. It wasnít long though, before the relationship turned toward one of intimacy and shared secrets.
I miss Dawn as much as I did last year at this time when she disappeared. I want her back as much as I did when I learned sheíd been hospitalized. I believe I have made progress in understanding what happened to our relationship, our mutual dream.
I am still stunned by the severity of her diagnosis:"severe multiple personality disorder with acute manic-depressive illness."
Iím as angry and lonely as I was six months ago, when I learned from James Carroll that she had moved in with the trans-sexual performance artist, "Celestial Death Rose"; aka, "Rose Killer"; aka, Russel Keller.
I lived with Dawn for years. If she had any tendencies that were not straight-ahead heterosexual, she kept them from me... or else, I was totally oblivious to what signs there were. Stranger things have happened I guess. This one though, felt like a blow below the belt.
Multiple personalities? Again, I didnít have a clue about this either. People seem so compartmentalized anyway. Of course, Iíve chastised myself for months over being so obviously unaware of the deep nature of the problems she must have been having, the nightmares.... Now, looking back, it seems, there were signs.
I know I was preoccupied, even obsessed with my own mental landscape. I see now that it must have taken a toll on our relationship.
I havenít lived alone like this for years. I feel like I did back at the mushroom farm--pumped up all day, horny all night, tossing, turning, masturbating, dreaming, waiting for the dawn. Wishing for Dawn.
In her absence, I have undertaken the task of recalling, reconstructing my experience of the past. Toward that end, I am organizing, transcribing, compiling my collection of recorded conversations and interviews of Keith Haring. I am also continuing a similar study of my collected recordings of Francesco, in which he recounts the entire history of our family.
Today, I composed a tribute to my grandfather, called "The Mushroom Diaries" and sent it to my friend, Larry DiStasi. Heís working on a book about Italian-American culture. Writing it has been cathartic but I am beginning to see my life reduced to so many words on so many pages. I am writing to dispel my sense of aloneness. I am living only against death. I read my essay for the fourth time:
The Mushroom Diaries
"Between wars, Francesco leaves Maria, his wife, and first son, Giuseppi, in Ascoli. He intends to secure work in America and his emigration ends near Reading, Pennsylvania. Immediately he goes to work: as a quarryman, railroad trackman, and later--when owners allow the hiring of Italians--a steel worker. He returns to Italia, then returns to America, followed by Giuseppi (soon to be called Joseph), and new son, Leo. All have life in the new land. Francesco continues loving Maria and soon son, Ezio, daughters Alvia and Ida come to him. Maria tosses a knife out of the house when thunder and lightning are in the sky. She is superstitious and does not believe in outer space. She believes only what she knows... "
"Since he is already poor, Francesco is not depressed by the Depression. Defiantly, he throws his last three cents into a field of tall grass. He rolls boulders, builds WPA walls on Skyline Drive, and buys the big white house on the first hill above the railroad bridge in Temple. Eventually, he buys the field of tall grass containing his pennies... "
"For an unknown reason; he decides to grow mushrooms and shares this idea with his friends who share it with his enemies. Carpenters, builders, workers, people of the soil, they erect giant structures with borrowed tools and hopes of future harvests. Bare chested, with red and blue kerchiefs tightly wrapped above the eyes, they fork hundreds of steamy tons of hot manure into tiered canyons. Sweated and fog shrouded, families and friends fill the shelf-beds, periodically running out into cooler air to draw clear breath. Then the heavy doors are shut and sealed with mud. The ooze is packed into cracks while the manure burns with inner life. Teeming swarms of microbes and bacteria digest and metabolize, seething for a half month or more, curing the sour mass into a musky sweetness. Impregnated with spawn, covered with topsoil, soaked with misty spray again and again, finally night-wind chilled to the temperature of cool caves, the chalky tissue yields harvest after harvest of fruit since the spawn does not die of old age... "
"Not magically, fifty lean workingyears later the mushroom farms sprout Francesco & Maria, Inc., core stockholders of a group of local growers canning and distributing more than two million pounds of mushrooms per annum, immigrant dream success story..."
"After World War II, all the children of Francesco and Maria go to college, while I, firstborn of a new generation, bounce beside Francesco in his Chevrolet panel truck delivering mushrooms to market, endlessly checking operations on his several farms, buying tools, visiting and organizing an extended family of friends and growers. In memory I continue to ride with him as, today his heirs--sons, relatives, new immigrants, strangers--run their farms by calendar, clock, calculator, computer... "
"I have lived thousands of days with the mushrooms, sensing their slow meandering of invisible mycelia penetrating tons of compost; later, seeing colonized spawn forming millions of primordial foci upon damp peat moss; nurturing their development into white pinpoints of succulent flesh; and finally witnessing the urgent surge of growth in which each crop springs forth. I remember prodding heaps of loamy night-chilled topsoil; caked mud clinging to shoe soles; sun-baked insights; nocturnal scenery; cinder-block farmhouses on windswept hillsides, hand-built worlds of endless scent, sounds of wet soles on cypress scaffolds, whirling blades of whirring fans, turmoil of steam-drenched atmospheres, black manure stacked up to dripping ceilings above cavernous interiors, yellow incandescences illuminating bright mycelial masses of respiring fungus, damp white nightfruit."
"Mushroom universe--rooms black as moonless nights, heat filled with rolling steam, or chilled damp with flowing air, dream worlds, alien and all-enveloping where white caps pierce the dark like points of secret consciousness. The ancient plants create, contain, and release a billion spores, each one a messenger of evolution... "
"When the mushroom grower leaves the farm, he can not shelve the smell. His hat, kerchief, pants, shirt, and shoes retain it. Standing in line at American Bank, the blind identify him before he speaks. As farmers do he bets his life, counting on the crop to redeem his risk... The cultivation of mushrooms is a complex man/plant symbiosis combining physical force, mental acuity, experience, perception, intellect, instinct. The farmer of mushrooms creates and maintains, under wildly varying meteorological conditions, a stable, yet flexible artificial ecosystem, a micro-world adapted to the life forms it perpetuates. Anticipating the momentary requirements of this sometimes inscrutable, intermittently invisible crop and its interdependence with its environment is the constant and total preoccupation of the grower. Because it is nature, he survives, or else, because it is nature, he does not. Finally, things continue because it is now. Things die for the same reason... "
"Time shifts as it is this century and there are new farms and new farmers, new ways of farming and making money. But the human being is more than this. Francesco has a life spanning time on earth from horsecart to Lunar Lander--the only moment in history this occurs. During World War I he dodges bombs and bullets. He never realizes Il Duce is not a great man. He mistrusts the Catholic Church, yet he builds St. Anthonyís for his community in America and does not attend Mass. His brother is an anarchist; never comes to America; so Francesco returns periodically to argue over disputed family property. He eats spaghetti, drinks vermouth, smokes some cigars. He is born in 1901. He does die in 1984. What he lives in his life can be lived by a man so he does live it. We live, remember, and do what we can do now. We can not do what he did. We continue and die, as he died. But the spawn does not die. Mushrooms, like us, are instantaneous, fruit of eternal trees."
I let the pages fall as I read them. They are leaves of my life. Bleached white blanks with ashen markings. I step out on the porch, make a pile and burn them for no reason other than to see them transformed in an instant into the ash and dust of the inevitable future.
The present, for me, is filled with so much absence. Seeking meaning in the past has given me neither solace nor consolation. The farm is gone forever. The memories linger and the dreams intensify. My grandfatherís death marked the death of my bond with my entire family. Without him to connect us, we have no center, no focus. I see my people less and less....