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“Because of nothing we are together.”


Now, there were two biographers and a documentary filmmaker circling her fame like the moons of Planet Kathy, goddess of love and lust rising in flames like Rati out of the bodies of her naked courtesans. The documentary maker was in Germany, one biographer was in California, and the other was sitting across a table from me in a bar on Third Avenue. It was a cold, dreary day in late December. The city was like a tomb and the pedestrians walking outside like mourners, their heads bowed into the wind, drawn inside their coats, silent and solitary. The biographer was Jason McBride. He was a Canadian journalist and critic in his mid-40s, wearing jeans, a corduroy sport coat with suede patches on the elbows, a blue denim shirt, and an expression of barely concealed anxiety. He was in New York doing research.

I was drinking whisky; he was drinking Molson. We were making small talk about writing, and he was being deferential to the bald, old man across the table, until he finally got up the nerve to ask what was really on his mind.

“So, what about sex?”

“What about it?”

“You know, what was it like?”


“What was sex like? What was it like to fuck Kathy Acker? I mean, considering…”

“Considering she was a punk, feminist icon whose literary oeuvre consisted almost entirely of writing about her sex life, you mean?”

The biographer smiled and fingered the neck of his Molson, relieved that I understood why he’d want to know. It was a natural enough question, I suppose. But what was I supposed to say? A long-ago memory of sex is like the old bone a dog has slobbered over after every shred of meat and marrow is gone.

I remember the stubby hair on her unshaven ankles, the tufts of soft hair under her arms, and how smooth all the rest of her was.

I remember she used a diaphragm for birth control and a spermicidal cream that was bitter to the taste, so I hardly ever ate her pussy.

I remember her breasts were a little droopy, and her breath tasted like seaweed and anise when I kissed her.

I remember the pink and gray silk floral dress she was wearing, without underwear, sitting with her knees up in her chair, opening and closing her thighs. I remember that her pussy was also pink and gray.

But those memories were too private to share in anyone’s biography. I took a sip of whisky and swished it around in my mouth, enjoying the sensation of ice cooling the fire.

“You want to know what sex with Kathy was like? It was like hunger,” I finally said, as he leaned toward me over the table. “It was like starvation, like sex fed a huge void in her. It was so intense, it was frightening. As she reached orgasm, her eyes would roll back into her head, she’d thrash from side to side on the pillow. She’d be in a frenzy, her whole body lurching up and down, side to side, and then, just as she was about to climax…”

I took another sip of whisky while McBride stared wide-eyed, waiting for more. “Just as she was about to climax, she’d dissolve into a phantom sausage, convulsed and withering, then into a white, headless worm, and then, poof, nothing.”

He looked puzzled and then smiled weakly at the joke.

“Wyndham Lewis,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Wyndham Lewis, Demon of Progress in the Arts. That’s the way Wyndham Lewis described what happens to art when the extremists take over.”

“Is that what Kathy was, an extremist?”

“It’s what everyone was in those days, but she aspired to be more. She thought she could be this punk, post-modernist, structuralist, classicist, literary master, and almost succeeded, but got twisted into an impossible knot, like a side-show contortionist. Too many people only saw the freak, and she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t elected to the French Academy.” I tossed back the rest of my drink. “Of course, none of that happened as far as she’s concerned now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, because she’s dead.”

The biographer paid the bill and we left, he to write his book, me to catch the commuter train to my place in New Jersey and slip back into the shadows of passing time.

William James said that memories are like scars on the mind. I’ll show you mine.

* * *

It was snowing hard the next morning. There was already a foot on the ground with more expected. The street below my window was white and empty and silent. The plows hadn’t been around yet.

I remember the night Kathy and I bought cheap theater tickets and got stuck uptown in a sudden winter storm that swept the city while we were watching the show. A miraculous taxi churning snow clouds on Broadway picked us up. We went home together.

I thought romance and remorse were long gone but that snowy morning, the old letters, photos, notebooks, and diaries were spread out on my kitchen table, the debris I’d carried around from place to place like a dung spider’s egg ball. That ball of shit is my narrative, as Kathy might have said, the story I tell myself about me. The living truth is concealed inside. On the outside is the dead truth like the fingernails and hair growing on a corpse. Like the manila envelope addressed to “Ms. Cathy Acker” from the lawyer, the envelope she’d given to me with a knowing laugh, knowing something I didn’t, when she left New York for the West Coast, after we’d broken up for the last time, after her mother killed herself.

“You take it, I don’t want it.”

Dead truth.

* * *

How am I supposed to remember what sex was like with Kathy Acker? At my age, the mind gets clouded with loneliness and fear; the body droops and sags and can no longer remember what it felt like to be young and beautiful.

What did McBride expect me to say? That Kathy loved to fuck? She said she did. She must have written it a thousand times in her books. But did she really? Love to fuck. Did she love to get fucked, or did she fuck to get love? She fucked a lot, a lot of different men, and sometimes women. She told me she liked men more. Women wanted her to be the man, and she wanted to be the woman. “Gender can so confusing,” she complained. “I don’t feel like a woman, I don’t feel like a man, I don’t feel like anything.”

The biographer already knew she’d worked in a Times Square peep show when she was just out of college and broke, simulating fucking with a guy who called himself Mr. Eight-and-a-Half and was gay. After she’d quit, she buzzcut her hair like a Buddhist nun. “I didn’t want to be pretty anymore,” she decided. But she was pretty. She was beautiful. Just not the way I’d have said was sexy, not in an animal-magnetism kind of way. She was too desperate, too insecure, too ambitious, too intellectual to be sexy. Of course, intelligence can be sexy—and Kathy was very intelligent. Kathy loved to fuck, and Kathy loved her books—she used to kiss them good night—and, apparently, she loved me, at least for a while, maybe more than I ever thought she did.

The biographer mentioned a letter Kathy wrote to a mutual friend saying she thought she and I should get married.

It sounded like a joke, like the time she sent me a telegram, “I’m a nice Jewish girl. Wanna marry me?”

Was I wrong?

Micky Spillane said love is like a pearl—the only way to tell if it’s real is to put it in a glass of wine. If it’s real, it dissolves.

* * *

Gusts of snow sliced across my window and left beads of ice on the panes. The oven was on for extra heat. The kitchen smelled of coffee and burnt toast. All the years between then and now. What was I expecting to find in those archival ruins of blue and red postcards, the drawings of her dreams and handwritten notes, the letters typed on a portable typewriter she loved because it had a correction ribbon; postcards and letters written from Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco, after she left New York and said she was never coming back.

“Dear Jeffrey,” (only she and my mother called me Jeffrey). “Best thing about Seattle is the rough old mariner feeling, Nelson Algren of the waters. Good for the blood if you know what I mean. Went out to a GOOD restaurant got very drunk decadence makes me feel home again…”

“Dear Jeffrey: These people are so bourgeois. I have to keep apologizing for acting irrational, and it’s really ridiculous because I’m always irrational. You’re never irrational, are you, Jeffrey? Be a good bourgeois boy and don’t go crazy…”

“Dear Jeffrey: You’re going to end up ruining your life by working working working. You should come for a visit. You and the guy I’m living with would like each other, he’s very quiet except when drunk, excellent artist, very political; I really miss you…”

“Dear Jeffrey: When will I finally learn my lesson about young guys? Already there’s been a violent outbreak. Lust not only is a bad basis for anything besides lust: it’s fucking dangerous…”

“Dear Jeffrey: I miss you so much I can’t bear it. I think I must be crazy escaping all over the place when we’re so alike and like each other it’s ridiculous and it’s stupid for me to be scared all the time…”

We’d said good-bye in the doorway of her apartment on 5th Street in the East Village. Her back was to the kitchen where the paint was peeling, and the tenement-style bathtub was under the sink and draining board.

“Stay in touch with me, please, sweetie. I know you understand why I need to go.”  She looked up at me and smiled. I stroked the bristles of her buzz-cut hair. She leaned her head into my fingers like a cat, then turned away. She handed me a large manila-envelope.

“What’s this?”

“You take it, I don’t want it. You’ll see.”

Then, she laughed, kissed me, and waited on the landing until I was on the floor below.

“You’d better write me, you boob!”

* * *

The young man who wrote those diaries knew what she tasted like, smelled like, laughed like, fucked like, thought like, cried like. I no longer do. He is and isn’t me. I knew him when but now he was more like the ghost of someone I knew, as Kathy was a ghost among the ephemera on my kitchen table that winter morning. He and she were like two ghosts embracing.

She excited him and she scared him. She drew out his fears and insecurities like a siphon. She held up a mirror to all his contradictions—he was vain but loved neither his body nor his mind; he was rigid but wanted to be free; he was strong but afraid; he was charming but didn’t know what made him happy. He didn’t know what made her happy. He didn’t know what made anybody happy. He didn’t know why he loved her or if he loved her. He was a butterfly and wanted to go back into his cocoon of adolescence and be a gooey half-thing in the darkness. But she didn’t let him.

I was 29. She was 31, the older woman.

* * *

I was on the mailing list for the self-published pamphlets she sent out anonymously under the pseudonym of The Black Tarantula, but everyone knew it was Kathy. Her early works, The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec and I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac had already established her as an underground sensation. She was hard to miss at parties after the Wednesday night poetry readings at the St. Mark’s Church Poetry Project, with her buzz cut hair and wearing black cocktail dresses among the officiously bedraggled poets. At a birthday party for Bernadette Meyer, she crawled under a coffee table in the living room and popped her head up between my legs with a drunk, Kewpie Doll face smile. Maybe that’s when I fell for her.

We’d had lunch together a few times and she contributed pieces to Traveler’s Digest, an independent magazine I was publishing. The contributors were a mash-up of writers, artists, and musicians including William Burroughs, David Byrne, and Chris Burden, along with Kathy. For the first time, we all had enough money to travel, and the idea of Traveler’s Digest was to capture the rising stars of the Downtown scene in motion.

I was sharing an apartment on Perry Street in the West Village with Victor Bockris, as we tried to launch our careers as writers. We were determined to write important books—and would ultimately succeed—but in the meantime, we were supporting ourselves doing celebrity interviews for the gossip and sex magazines.

Kathy’s goal was to write literature in the black-and-white speckled grade school composition books she preferred—always with a fountain pen, and never revised. Our goal was to make money, and we were doing pretty well. I was earning enough to support Traveler’s Digest and had just made $5,000 doing a telephone survey in Playboy, asking a dozen A-list celebrities what “good in bed” meant to them. (Cheryl Tiegs: “a man with a nice ass”; Brooke Shields: “chicken soup when I’m sick”; Melvin Van Pebbles: “eating pussy,” etc.). The windfall had enabled me to spend six weeks in London that summer and still have enough left to live on for three months. In 1978, improbable as it may seem, it was cheap to live in New York.

Our rent at Perry Street was $750 a month. The apartment was on the second floor of a four-story brownstone. You could see the unfinished World Trade Center going up from a window by the fire-escape. It was a big space and might almost have been elegant if not for the floors pock-marked with cigarette burns, the kitchen sink piled with dirty dishes, and the dust and grime everywhere. It had what the Germans call klasse, meaning something luxurious with a patina of crud growing on it that makes it even cooler.  

It was Victor’s lease, so he got the master bedroom and the king-sized bed that had once supposedly belonged to Richard Pryor and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lee. I had a tiny backroom, just big enough for a desk and a single bed, like a monk’s quarters in a monastery.

* * *

Victor was planning a small bon-voyage dinner before he left on a two-week trip to London when Kathy called me to say she’d just gotten back from Mexico and was broke. “I’ve only got a dollar,” she laughed. “But I had a great time.” I invited her to Victor’s farewell dinner.

I roasted a chicken, served with small potatoes and baby peas, and we were on our third bottle of wine. The photographer Marcia Resnick was there.

Victor and Marcia had a close but fraught relationship. He’d written a punk peon to their love called Why I Hate My Girlfriend.

The two women were doing most of the talking while Victor, always wanting to be the center of attention, inserted little bursts of impatient annoyance. Kathy was recounting her misadventures in Mexico. “I was almost stranded in a hurricane by this gay guy, who said I should come to his house and his mother would look after me during the storm. But we had a fight at a bar because this Mexican was hitting on me, and he yelled ‘You’re just a heterosexual pig,’ and ditched me. The streets were flooding, and the lights were out, and I was sure I was going to die.” She arched her eyebrows and scowled. “I mean, just because he’d convinced himself that the sexes were the same and couldn’t understand why I didn’t agree.”

“Excellent point,” said Victor. “As I’ve always said…”

“So, I said, ‘Leave me the fuck alone!’ But I was glad he came back to find me when the storm came in. I’d rather die on the mainland, you know?”

“Sure, who wouldn’t,” I said.

“I want to die in an avalanche in the Himalayas,” Marcia said. “Maybe in a thousand years they find me, frozen like a bag of peas.”

“I want them to mix me a nice Brompton’s cocktail: morphine, cocaine, and Xanax,” said Victor.

We laughed. We yawned.

Kathy was sitting on the floor leaning back against the couch, resting her head on my leg. I brushed her hair with my hand. She looked up at me with a dimpled smile.

She pretended to be too drunk to go home, but she was just making it easier for me.

“Stay here then.”


Through the pages of my diary (Fall, 1978), I see us again, in the glow of the streetlight through my curtains, on the little bed, her face cast in pale blue light.

“Your face is blue; you look like Krishna,” I tell her.

It's hard to remain strangers,” she says.

* * *

For the next two weeks, with Victor away, we slept mostly at Perry Street where we could make love on the king-size bed in his room. But Kathy’s place was more exotic, and I liked going there. In the late 70s, the West Village where I lived was a neighborhood of charming, cobblestoned blocks of brownstones, bakeries, and bookstores on the one hand, and on the other, a hub of gay New York City life, hourly hotels, leather bars, and sex shops at a time when the Stonewall was still a recent memory and AIDS had not yet arrived. The East Village where Kathy lived, was where the poets and punks hung out, a darker, grittier, and more dangerous neighborhood than mine. But rents were even cheaper, and it was just a few blocks from the twin Downtown Meccas of the St. Mark’s Church Poetry Project and CBGB.

I was a punk manqué at best. In a photo Marcia Resnick took of me for her book Bad Boys, I’m wearing a clean white shirt with a starched collar and a wide striped tie. I was already balding and had what some might call a broad Shakespearean brow, but which only made me look more like the egghead I was, not the rebel I wanted to be. Underneath it all I was still the nice Jewish boy I’d been brought up to be, and Kathy liked that about me even if I didn’t.

In my diary’s pages I see her bedroom, the light-brown Cape Cod shingles on the walls, a pastel bedsheet separating off her “closet” space, her shrine of religious artifacts and food offerings to Muktananda, feathers, paper birds and butterflies tacked to the wall, a foam rubber mattress on the floor, fresh sheets and blankets covered by a gold silk spread, a color TV at the foot of the bed, and books everywhere.

I see her wearing only a man’s dress shirt (probably mine) and black panties, on her knees, carefully sorting the books scattered on the floor and bantering in a butchered foreign accent: “Ze poetry I need—Oh, I luf Pasolini, Pas-o-leen-ee ees ze most poetique of ze directors of ze cinema, oh, oh, oh,” rolling on the bed and laughing, pulling at my tee-shirt and kissing my shoulder—"I keess ze shoulder of Pasolini, I adore ze mythologies, I sing ze age of Keynes.”

In the diary’s pages, I watch as he watches as she sheds her stockings and panties and plops in a chair in that pink and gray silk floral dress with her knees in the air, her pussy a gray and pink clump beneath the edges of the hem. The young man who is and isn’t me is sipping tea and gazing at her sideways, trying to be aloof and cool, thinking he’s cultivating the right attitude of punk love, the proper dialectic of antagonism with which to court Kathy Acker, when in fact his mind is overflowing with resistance and self-conscious insecurity. He wishes his hang-ups would take a powder, leave the room, get some air, but instead they keep tapping his shoulder, wanting to cut into his dance with Kathy, cluttering the simplicity of almonds and tea, tripping over chairs and tables, investing the room with colonies of bizarre, winged-insect words commanding his mouth to speak.

She knows he’s flustered. “You’re cute,” she says. “It’s cute watching you discover you.”

The silky gray and pink floral fabric swishes back and forth across her thighs. She absently picks her nose and rubs her forefinger across her upper lip and says, “Shall we eat fish tonight? A fish that is not too oily, a freshwater fish. Shall we eat an eel, stuffed, and broiled, a lamprey that has sucked its last shark? You must buy it alive and knock it unconscious by banging its head on the floor.” She’s been reading the Larousse Cookbook with its beautiful pictures of food.

In the fish store, some of the lobsters are still alive,  crammed beside a pile of dead sardines in the crushed ice, making tired sweeping motions with their feelers, their little black eyes staring hopelessly out at us. Even if they were to make a spontaneous evolutionary leap becoming air-breathing creatures, they’d still end up boiled.

We were happy together, as happy as two self-centered people can be.

Kathy brought home bags of tasteless bran muffins and molasses cookies from the organic bakery in the East Village where she was working at the counter to make extra money. We went to the movies and saw Death on the Nile. She fell asleep halfway through. We took the A-train to the Cloisters, standing in the first car and watching out the front window as the lights flashed past on the 40-block express run from 59th Street to 96th and from there to 145th.

One night we scored a gram of opium, and Kathy showed me how to chase the dragon by heating a wire on the stove, then putting it near but not touching the opium on a piece of aluminum foil. “It’s desirable not to burn the opium. We don’t want to waste it,” she explained. When the drug began to melt and smolder, we inhaled the smoke through a straw.

We walked holding hands to the Christopher Street pier while disco pumped and bumped out of the doorways of the bars and leather queens cruised along the Westside Highway in the late afternoon.

We cooked nice meals and drank wine.

“Because of nothing, we are together.”

Of all the things she said to me, I don’t know why that’s the one that resounds most clearly in memory. I see her standing in front of the mantle of the boarded-up fireplace in my bedroom at Perry Street. I can hear her voice: “Because of nothing, we are together,” and emphatically, “because of No Thing.” Like she was offering up a piece of friendly advice but with the profound finality of an oracle’s proclamation. Did she mean there was no logical reason we were together, no material advantage to be gained? That no quirk of destiny, no kismet brought us together? That all is Buddhist emptiness and ever-changing flux? Because of not knowing? That I didn’t need to do anything to make what was going to happen happen? All of the above? I never understood and didn’t ask.     

It was September and the days were getting cooler.

That was the beginning.

* * *

About a foot of snow had fallen. It was light, fluffy snow and it piled up in drifts against the fences. The cat was pacing around my feet, looking up with a sorrowful expression and puckering her mouth in a pitiful silent meow. I was out of cat food and needed coffee, too, and decided to take a walk to see if the grocery store was open.

It wasn’t frigid but the gusts of snow caught in the stocking cap I’d pulled over my ears. It was quiet except for the low whistle of the wind. I walked the long way to the store, past the pond in the center of town where snow drifts piled against the Tony Smith sculpture that looks like the tail of a plane that’s crashed into the ground. I could hear the voices of children and laughter from the sledding hill across the road.

I noticed footprints in the snow. I wasn’t the first one there. Two sets of footprints circled in opposite directions around the sculpture and then came together forming a heart. Maybe they’d kissed when they met.

* * *

We broke up the first time after Kathy did a reading at Bard College  in upstate New York. Everything had gone well. The train ride along the Hudson and the countryside were beautiful. The students fawned over her, there’d been a reception after the reading, and we made love in a dorm room on a tiny bed. But now we were standing in the lobby of Grand Central Station, and she was in tears in her black leather motorcycle jacket. I was trying to console her, but I wasn’t going home with her. I’d thought about it, I told her, and I needed to check-in with the rest of my life, figure out what I was going to do next to make money. Victor was back from London and might have some leads. But beneath my excuses, I’d found the role of being Kathy’s companion when we were at Bard confusing. She wanted me to stay with her and felt disappointed and hurt when I wouldn’t, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a supporting actor in her movie.

Though the diary’s lens, I see my younger self waking the next morning in his little monk’s cell, in the narrow single bed wedged against the wall. Gray light peeks through the blinds of the window, as he reaches for his journal and the cigarette pack on the desk next to the bed. He has an erection. He was dreaming he was feeling up the ticket agent in a train station in a small western town.

He smokes and writes down the rest of the dream:

Some of my clothes are missing. I don't know how I lost them, but I think this is good. I will say I was robbed, and someone will give me the money to get home. Then I notice my things in a pile on the floor along with my wallet and some change. I purchase a ticket to New York. The price is $11.00. I ask: ‘Why? I only paid $6.50 for the ticket here.’ The clerk laughs and says that it costs more to get back than to come here. She’s pretty. I embrace her. She unbuttons her blouse. People are milling around the lobby. She says, ‘Can you come in a minute?’ I reply, yes. She lifts her skirt and feels for my cock.

He welcomed the chance to be alone, in his own space, but he missed her. In the night, he’d heard a woman laughing outside. The laugh sounded like Kathy’s laugh. He got up and went to the kitchen. He made coffee and smoked another cigarette and began writing her a letter, contrite and charming, about the woman laughing in the night and how hard relationships were for him, but that he genuinely cared about her and wanted to be together. He mailed the letter at the post-office.

Although he and Kathy both lived in the city, they often wrote each other letters. He couldn’t have called her anyway because he hadn’t paid his phone bill and the service was turned off, so he didn’t know that she’d tried to call him during the night because she was lonely and wanted to talk.

She wrote back accepting my apology because I’d written it, she said, so it had to be true. Writers can’t lie when they write.

I stayed in the apartment on Perry Street, and she stayed in her apartment on 5th Street, and we stayed together until we broke up the next time, when she asked for a short-term loan of $1,000 to run through her bank-account so she could claim income. She said it was for tax purposes. I had the money, but her plan seemed flakey, and I said no.

She didn’t cry, just got cold and distant. “You’re tight. That’s your problem,” she said. She put on her leather jacket and left me at the entrance of her building, saying she was going to fuck someone else to get the money. I stammered some excuse. She didn’t look back. That breakup lasted about 10 days.

The last time was in December 1978 during the Nova Convention, a 3-day festival honoring William Burroughs. Kathy was on the program, and I was the Press Liaison for the event. It was a more demanding job than I’d anticipated, making sure the hundreds of reporters and photographers I’d invited got into programs taking place at several venues throughout the city, and making sure anyone who wasn’t on the list didn’t get in. On the last night there was a reception at Micky Ruskin’s restaurant on Washington Square. I’d cleared Aaron Kaye an editor at the Yipster Times and he’d thrown a pie in Timothy Leary’s face. The producer of the Convention yelled at me for letting him in, but I thought Leary deserved it. I was exhausted by the time I got to Kathy’s and fell asleep as soon as I crawled into bed. The next morning, she sent me packing with a curt dismissal: “You’re boring. You bore me. Go away.”

If I tried to get her back that time, I didn’t try very hard. Yet, some sort of healing was necessary. Neither of us wanted to lose the other’s friendship. We began to meet for coffee, go to movies, and splurge on meals neither of us could afford at Da Silvano’s, with wine, dessert, espresso, and Kathy insisted, Sambuca with a coffee bean floating in the clear aromatic liquor.

It was December 1979, holiday season. A year had passed since the Nova Convention, and Kathy and I had grown closer as friends than as lovers. So, it wasn’t surprising when she asked me to go with her to her grandmother’s apartment to drop off a Christmas gift. I was the nice Jewish boy she could take home to meet her German Jewish grandmother on Christmas. I enjoyed the role.

She’d told me the same stories about her childhood and family she wrote about in her books: how she’d grown up rich, but how her mother didn’t want her, how her father abandoned them, how her stepfather was abusive. In a cab, riding downtown she showed me the block on Sutton Place where they lived in the same building as Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. She’d see them riding around the neighborhood on a tandem bicycle. She laughed. “As a child I learned how to shop, how to be dependent, how to be bossy—and how to read Latin and Greek.”

Her grandfather Albert Weill was a wealthy New York glove manufacturer who died in 1950, and her grandmother Florrie managed the family fortune with an iron fist. Nana doled out an allowance to Kathy’s mother Claire and small sums here and there to Kathy and her stepsister Wendy. (When her grandmother  died in 1981, Kathy would inherit an estate worth nearly half a million dollars.)

Nana was a small, white-haired, woman, nicely dressed and wearing tasteful jewelry, with the refined bearing of Upper East Side Jewish aristocracy. She lived in a large apartment, glittering with crystal and polished old wood.

Kathy put her present under a small Christmas tree in the living room. She and the older woman seemed to have an affectionate relationship and were chatting cordially when I overheard her grandmother mention that Kathy’s mother Claire had put her dog in a kennel.

“That’s strange,” Kathy said. Neither of them had heard from Claire in several days.

On Christmas Eve, Claire was found dead in a hotel room, an apparent suicide.

Kathy called to tell me. She wasn’t crying. She sounded like someone in a trance. She didn’t ask me to come over, but I went anyway to console her. She said she wanted to go to a movie. I thought she was in shock and tried to dissuade her. She insisted and when I resisted, she started to cry and threw me out. Six months later she left for the Coast.

“You take it. I don’t want it.”

Dead truth.

The envelope addressed to “Ms. Cathy Acker” was from the law firm of Blumberg, Singer, Ross, Gottesman, Paradise & Gordon, and contained a 15-page inventory of Claire’s assets and debts. From the list it was clear that Kathy’s mother had lived lavishly, wore diamond rings, brooches, and pins, gold bracelets and necklaces, and lived in an apartment furnished with period-style walnut armchairs, mahogany tables, and rare antiques. But she had only $24 in a savings account and $83 in cash when she died.

“She depended on Nana for money,” Kathy told me when we finally talked about what happened. “When Nana wouldn’t give her anymore, she put her dog in a kennel and killed herself.”

She spoke with the same disdain and exasperation she usually reserved for politics, bad writing, and most men. Claire’s suicide was the ultimate rejection for Kathy. If she was grieving, she did it in private.

Someone named Frank Morgenthau paid $340 for a black seal coat, mink jacket and Russian sable boa. Someone named Wallace Friedman bought the carpet and air conditioner for another $300. Leo Interiors bought most of the other bric-a-brac and odds-and-ends for $735 plus the cost of removing everything that was left and cleaning the apartment. The silverware and all the expensive jewelry—the diamond earrings, brooches, pins, and rings, including her wedding ring, and the gold earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and wrist watches were bought by a Mr. L. Elliot for $3,500. Christies auctioned off the furniture—the mahogany drop-leaf Pembroke tables, the Ormolu-gilded consoles, the dainty walnut davenport, the hulking mahogany liquor cabinet with room for shelves of glassware and a full bar, the antique walnut side chair and armchair, the 150-year-old Hepplewhite barometer, and the 100-year-old marble and gilt metal clock that graced the mantelpiece and looked like it belonged in a palace—the palace Kathy grew up in and fled.

All the beautiful, rich regalia of elegance fetched $3,900. Together with a Prudential Insurance Company refund of $55 and the $83 she had in her purse, Claires total assets were $9,629, which just covered funeral costs, debts, and legal fees.

Kathy took some costume jewelry and clothes for herself. Her stepsister Wendy took some clothes and chairs.

She’d never asked for the envelope back, and I’d kept it in a file box in my closet along with the rest of the postcards, letters, and diaries.

After New York, after Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco, she’d gone to London, to fame, to cancer, and to death. We saw each other from time to time but she didn’t come back to be with me, and I didn’t go to find her. And 20 years passed.

Victor Bockris called to tell me Kathy was dead. He didn’t want me to read about it in the newspaper.

By then, I was married, with a three-year-old daughter, living in the suburbs of New Jersey, and working in advertising. It wasn’t until that night after my wife and daughter went to sleep that I opened the manila envelope. That was the dismal denouement. One last memory, one last scar. Two ghosts embrace and fade into the silence of the night and the grief of moonlight on drifting snow.

* * *

Photo: At the Mudd Club c. 1978. L-R: Kathy Acker, Diego Cortez, Jeff Goldberg. Courtesy of Stephen Mass.