Even though I don’t choose to express the loss in this way, I understand Leonard Bernstein’s having gone to bed and stayed there for six months after his wife died of cancer. But in my family no one would be so indulged. You have to get up, make an effort at normalcy, do your share, and how you feel doesn’t come into it … part of the working-class ethic, I suppose. But that’s where both Ray and I come from. Ray once said to me, speaking about the days before we met, ‘I never had time to have a nervous breakdown.’ The ‘iron will’ which he says in one of his poems is necessary for making art must, I think, have been forged during just such times when there was ‘no-choice-but-to-go-ahead’.
But Ray and I learned somehow to do more than just go ahead; we learned how to go ahead with hope. When we joined lives nearly eleven years ago in El Paso, Texas, we were both recovering from an erosion of trust and hope. Between us I think we’d left behind something like thirty years of failed marriage. We more than rebuilt trust. We got to a place where trust was second nature. But along the way, we had a saying that helped us. We used to say: ‘Don’t get weird on me, babe. Don’t get weird.’ And believe me, by then we’d both lived enough to know what weird was.
You probably know the story. Ray’d been off alcohol about a year when we began to live together. He was shaky. He didn’t know if he’d ever write again. He literally ran from the phone when it rang. He’d been bankrupt three times. I can still remember how his eyes lit up when he saw my VISA Card.