Stumbled across this photo of Michal Overhulse, this little old lady I knew in the 1980s. She was a friend of Duncan’s which is how I met her. Duncan and Michal had the same shrink, they were members of the same therapy group, which is how they hooked up in the first place. She was around 60 when I first met her.
Michal was typical of a certain kind of person you sometimes meet on the fringe of society. Michal couldn’t find any purpose or direction for her life. Couldn’t find hardly anything to connect to or plug into. Mostly just existed in this void. She had no career, no family, no hobbies, virtually no interests. She spent most of her time just sort of existing, killing time in her apartment, sitting by herself on her bed, watching day-time television (game shows) with her two siamese cats, Mish and Mosh (who mostly just laid around like part of the furniture). Smoking endless cartons of menthol cigarettes, and drinking endless 6-packs of tall-can Budweiser, which she’d wash down with a chaser of a big glug of NyQuil cough syrup. By the end of the evening she’d reach some zonked-out state that would knock her out. And then she’d wake up in the morning and start the cycle all over again.
Michal had a great studio apartment on Bancroft Avenue on the second floor, with this big picture window that was like a solar panel when the sun hit it in the afternoon, and a great view of lower Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus. On the weekends the sounds of the Sproul drum circle would waft up to her apartment, adding this exotic, hip Berkeley soundtrack. The other thing I remember was she had these bookshelves with these dusty old books from the ’50s and ’60s. The most dead books you could imagine — obscure theories on Fruedian psychoanalysis from some quack you had never heard of, unreadable poetry books, sociology tracts from the ’60s. You got the feeling Michal hadn’t looked at any of the books in a decade. Everything in her apartment was like that. Like a mausoleum. Lifeless, untouched and covered with dust.
Duncan said that he thought Michal was an unpracticing lesbian. She had made this one attempt to hook up with this one woman she was interested in when she was a young woman. But when that didn’t work out, she just gave up on the whole thing. Which was sort of her life-long pattern. Periodically she would take a half-assed stab at dabbling at something, but it wouldn’t amount to anything and she’d pretty quickly give up on it. For awhile she dabbled in poetry — writing this string of words that didn’t make much sense or have a point. But quickly gave up on that. By the time I met her Michal had pretty much given up the ghost on everything. Just sort of quietly killing time as she waited for her string to play out. She had a phrase that she would sometimes repeat — “I’ve been waiting all my life” — that had a haunting feel to it. For you knew that whatever she had been waiting for in her life would never arrive.
Michal was also the first person I ever watched disintigrate right before my eyes (there would be many more later). She was a somewhat frail person to begin with. And the never-ending series of cigarettes, beer and NyQuil began to take it’s toll. But it was really the ennui that engulfed her and weighed her down and crushed out her life-force that really did her in. It was like everytime I saw Michal she looked worse than the time before. And she got locked in this pattern of staying in the hospital for awhile and then returning to her apartment. And the stays in the hospital grew longer each time. And the time she stayed at her apartment grew shorter each time. You could see she was locked into a downward spiral leading to an inevitable conclusion. At one point they had her on oxygen tanks for her failing lungs, and 12 different kinds of medication (that god knows what affect they had mixed with the beer and NyQuil).
The last time she was in the hospital they told her if she went home she would surely die. But she insisted on leaving. She had made her choice. She wanted to die in her apartment. I went to check up on her that night — I had a key to the building because I fed her cats when she was in the hospital. When I got to her apartment that night the front door was wide open. The apartment was dark except for the eerie gray light eminating from her television set, that was jammed between channels and squawking static. Her bookshelves and several other things had been knocked over. Michal was lying on her bed on her back, sort of vibrating and making weird animal sounds, still alive but no longer really there. I backed out of her apartment, shut the front door, and made my way out of the building .