I first met Linda in 1982. I considered Linda kind of an “accidental friend.” Accidental in the sense that we were such different types of people, neither of us would have consciously sought the other out as a friend. Linda was good friends with this crazy chick I was going out with at the time. And most of our interactions were accidental bi-products of our mutual friendship with the crazy chick. But then after a couple of years, the crazy chick drifted out of my life. But Linda would remain part of my life for the next 25 years.
In truth, I don’t believe there are any accidents in this life. All our relationships are governed by the Laws of Karma, and the interactions we had with each other in past lifetimes.
Linda was about 10 or 15 years older than me. She had been part of that first wave of hippies in the late ’60s. Linda was an artist — a great painter in a classic, realistic Renaissance style. She was drawn to the bohemian lifestyle, in part as a rebellion from her conservative up-bringing in Louisville, Kentucky. But in many ways she was straight-laced, and had sort of a little-old-lady demeanor.
As a young woman, she took LSD at a party one night, was on the second floor of this house and was so high she mistook a window for a doorway and fell two stories to the ground. Her right arm was permanently deformed from the fall, giving her a somewhat freakish appearance. But she had a cute, girlish face.
Linda was one of those people who wore her emotions on her sleeve. She was often weepy, like she was on the verge of crying. But just as often she would bubble with laughter. She was both shocked and titillated by some of the crazy things I said and did. “Oh PETER!!” she’d exclaim, and then burst out with laughter. Now that I think of it, Linda was one of the few people who knew me as “Peter” before my identity got engulfed by the “Ace Backwords” thing.
Linda was bright, intelligent, had a lot of common sense, and was a pretty normal-minded person. Except for one oddity. For years she would constantly hear her mother’s voice in her head. The voice was as clear as a bell. To Linda it sounded just as if her mother was talking to her. Except it was all in her head. Her mother’s voice would constantly shout at Linda, berate her, harangue her, criticize her, tell her she was no damn good, that she was a terrible person. She couldn’t turn the voice off. Her mother’s voice would echo across her apartment at the Amherst. Almost like a haunted house.
The really odd thing was: by all accounts, Linda’s mother was a sweet person. And Linda had a good relationship with her for most of her life. Which made the voice in her head all the more baffling. Who knows what it was. Her imagination? A form of madness? Or some disembodied occult spirit that had taken root in Linda’s psyche? The voice was certainly real to Linda. And caused her much torment.
Around 2006 the doctor told Linda that if she didn’t get a liver transplant she’d be dead in 6 months. I was somewhat against the idea of an operation. LInda had so many other health problems, and was so frail in so many ways, I figured serious surgery like that would just put her through pointless torture while only prolonging her life for a few more miserable months. I urged her to get a second opinion, but mostly kept my opinion to myself. It was her call after all.
I remember my last interaction with Linda. It was a message from her on my phone. “Hi Peter. Why didn’t you stop and talk with me the other day when I passed you on the street? Are you mad at me? Give me a call some time.”
I spaced out about the message. One of my character flaws is that I’m a very self-absorbed person. And my life, and my relationships with people, are pretty haphazard. We’re all going in different directions and different orbits. When I finally did get around to returning Linda’s call, I was surprised to find out that her phone had been disconnected.
With a sense of foreboding, I rushed over to the Amherst Hotel. The front door was locked, so there was no way to get in. I used to call Linda from a nearby payphone when I visited her, and she’d toss the key out her window so I could get into the building. But I couldn’t do that now.
So I went to the deli next door where Linda regularly shopped.
“Do you know what happened to Linda?” I asked the guy behind the deli counter. “Her phone’s been disconnected?”
“Oh yes,” said the deli guy. “Linda passed away a couple of weeks ago. She was such a nice, sweet person. . . ”
I walked down Shattuck Avenue in a daze. I guess I wouldn’t be able to return her phone call now. I cried as I walked down the street.
It occurred to me recently that I’ve been in kind of a pemanent state of mourning for the last ten years. Mourning the deaths of so many friends. Mourning the death of the Berkeley that once was but is now gone forever. Mourning the death of my youth and all the promise that my life once had.
I’ve got to knock that shit off. If you really want to cry for yourself, there are no shortage of reasons you can come up with if you’re resourceful.