Kathy Acker remembered (page 2)

In July last year, she arrived in London. She was working on the assumption that she was free of cancer and would do whatever was necessary to stay that way. She maintained a rigorously controlled diet — no dairy, no gluten, no alcohol — supplemented with all manner of herbs and pills and powders; frequent visits to a gallery of healers; and daily hours of yoga and meditation. Her interest in all things spiritual and esoteric — tarot, astrology, I Ching, shamanism — deepened daily. Her healers — the ones she was seeing over here, and the ones in California whom she consulted by phone for several hours a week — all told her that she remained cancer-free, though massively debilitated by both the aftermath of the disease; and the high-pressure detoxification of her diet and the various courses of medicines she swallowed daily.

Two things became apparent: one was that paying work was going to be a lot harder for her to find in Britain than we had anticipated, and that she was going to be short of money. The other was that the notion of us living together, so irresistable in theory, was virtually unworkable in practice. Even after she moved out of my tiny cluttered flat and into her own more spacious place nearby, we were caught in an endless cycle of breakups and reconciliations. Sometimes two or three a week. Our feelings for each other were far too strong for us to let each other go, but our inability to create a practical or emotional structure inhabitable by both of us kept driving us apart.

In the late summer of this year, there was one blowup too many. This time, neither of us made the conciliatory phone call which usually brought us back into each others’ arms. There was a month of silence, and then I heard that she’d sold the flat and returned to San Francisco. A few weeks after that, a mutual friend told me that she’d called him because, after checking into a hospital with severe back pains, she’d been informed that she was sick again and urgently needed to have one lung removed. My friend advised her to get a second opinion. A day later she called back to say that it was okay, she only had pneumonia. Pneumonia is a drag, but it’s good news compared to a recurrence of cancer. My friend asked her if she wanted to hear from me. No, she said, it was too soon.

I agreed: we both needed to cool off for a few months before resuming contact and trying again.

And the next I heard was that she was dying in Tijuana. She was in a clinic just over the Mexican border which pursues radical experimental therapies unlicensed within the US. They’d put her in Room 101. (Her friend Alan Moore said, “My Christ, isn’t there anything that woman can’t turn into a literary allusion?”) Nobody thought that she would last beyond New Year, except for Kathy herself. She was still fighting. I spoke to friends who’d spoken to her. They said she was too weak to sustain phone conversations beyond a minute or two. Instead of calling, I sent her a fax to say I loved her, and that it wasn’t over, and that we’d meet again. I later heard that she’d read it, and that she was pleased.

Last Sunday I got the news that she’d died, by all accounts peacefully. If I could magically have faxed back in time and let myself know that she had only three months to live, I’d’ve bitten my lip and hung in ’til the end. I would never have let her leave London. I’d’ve made sure that her last memory would’ve been my kiss on her big soft lips, that she inhaled my breath with her last. But I didn’t. That’s my blues.

So should she have listened to the white-coated devils rather than the psychics and the healers? Would she have lived longer, or better, under chemotherapy? Probably not. At least this way she had another eighteen months of writing, of exercise, of sex and looking fabulous and the company of her friends. She played the hand of cards she’d been dealt, with courage and elegance and style, and she played the game out all the way to the finish.

I have written down some of what has happened to me in the last eighteen months, though I as yet understand little.

<<< continued from page 1
Next >>>

Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4

Back to Tha Kulcha menu