Nothing Dies

Chapter 14

February never ends. The old sycamore tree in front of the house has finally dropped its heaviest branch. The winter was too much for it. I heard the crash and went out to inspect. A few calls to the insurance agent, a few apologies to the next door neighbor for what that dead wood did to his brand new perfect white Grand Prix, and I’m back in the house warming up.

I’d like to just pack it in for a week or three. Maybe take a trip. The classes at the Institute have just started for the spring term. I could get someone to fill in for me. I’m giving this serious thought.

I guess I screwed myself with Dawn. Impatience, too eager? Not after two years. I wonder what will happen next? I haven’t called Mimi for a couple of days. I haven’t called anyone. I reach for the notebook in which I’d jotted down my recollections of the last dream I had about Keith. I had been up to about the fifth page of notes, typing them out when I put it away.

I can tell right off I was hung-over when I wrote the notes. They’re scrawled and run on for pages without punctuation. The pages I typed and printed out are fine, though. I’ll just pick it up from the point at which I left off.

The ideas that came to me in that dream have been growing, expanding into a kind of rationale for the irrational. The more I work with this material, the more sense it seems to make--a sort of alternate reality kind of sense, anyway.

I seem to have settled the issues concerning my grandfather and the mushroom farm. It’s clear to me now why my earliest lucid dreams took place there. It was the place of so much meaning to me. Losing it in the real world was like losing my spiritual anchor, so I sought to re-create it in my dreams.

Today, the mailman delivered my complimentary copies of Dreamstreets: The Big Book of Italian American Culture, in which my “Mushroom Diaries” appears. After the insights of the past few months, I see it as a parallel to “The Avatar of Art”, the eulogy I wrote for Keith during my stay in the ‘cide ward of the Reading Hospital.

In my dream, Keith indicated my grandfather was not in the same life-after-death place as he. He said Francesco had “moved on.” In his e-mail messages, he’s said that The Tibetan Book of the Dead is true. That’s as good a framework as any for understanding what could be happening. Keith could be stuck in some inter-dimensional Limbo, while my grandfather, with less mental “baggage,” would not have gotten hung up there.

And the Internet... As I have this thought, I have the urge to sign on and check my e-mail.

E-Mail Message From: KHaring To: ArtLong
Subj: the project
The dream in which I spoke to you in the Gettysburg cornfield, and from the hayloft of the red barn is the first of a series of dreams and messages you will receive concerning the working out of my part of our collaborative project.
I will be sending you several more messages pertaining to methods of communication and then some detailed plans for several projects. The time frame for accomplishing them will be on the order of three of four years.
Things are in place already, actually for most of this. You have connected up with the right people to make this work. I have already been in contact with some of them myself, in dreams, and more recently, in cyberspace. More later, man.

Reply From: Art Long To: KHaring
Subj: the project

What exactly, are you talking about, man?
Are we going to create some kind of inter-dimensional warp-drive to rescue you? Or are you going to be “moving on” under your own power? Or isn’t that what this is about? I’m asking because I care about you, Keith.
Also, I get the feeling that my old girlfriend, Dawn, and your sister, Kay, are also involved in communicating with you. Am I right about this?
How about some specifics regarding the new “projects” you mentioned?
Love you, man,

The reply appeared as I was sending my message.

Reply From: KHaring To: Art Long
Subj: the project

“inter-dimensional warp-drive”...funny...
Yeah, Dawn and Kay...
Be nice to Mimi and Sheila too, dude...
Specifics? Well, next time, OK?
Love you too, man,
P.S. Check out these newsgroups:

I sent my newsreader off to search for the listed message boards. In thirty seconds, I had located them.

The same two messages were posted today on all the newsgroups: “This newsgroup will receive current postings by Keith Haring pertaining to The Project,” and “Check out the latest chapter of Nothing Dies (my web site is listed) for updates on the supernatural collaboration between Keith Haring and Art Long.”

Both messages were posted “blind” from encrypted addresses. I searched back through weeks of postings and found several of the “scathing remarks” Kay had referred to during our meeting in the woods. Typical of these brief rants was the most recent sentence, posted only yesterday: “I hereby renounce the validity of the Keith Haring Foundation in matters of judgement regarding the continuance of my personal esthetic. Signed, Keith Haring.”

I’m thinking of “the project”... and thinking that it would be just like Keith to conceive of a thing like that. I have had the thought many times that his beliefs were always on the south side of the fence. He believed AIDS was an anti-gay conspiracy. He believed in UFOs... He was a believer. He tried to deny it, but it was in his genes. PA German superstition is rampant. His mother remains a near-fundamentalist in her beliefs.

I’ve also thought it was a real tragedy he died as a late-twentieth century artist. I think he’d have hated to be dated like that. I can believe if he had lived, he’d be conceiving of some turn-of-the-millennium blow-out along with about a million other dreamers.

As this thought forms in my head, I have the crazy idea to contact my friend Al Walentis, who puts story concepts together for the Weekly World News. I turn on my computer, compose a message, and send an e-mail to the anonymous address he uses for his SPAM business.

] E-Mail From: Art To:
Subj: Keith Haring story idea
Dear Al,
Here’s a story idea for the Weekly World News:
Create a glowing photo of Keith--I have several black-and-whites I took over the years--Put heavenly rays around it and superimpose it over a pic of me sitting at my computer.
The headline could be something like: “Famous Artist Contacts Writer From Beyond The Grave.”
I would state that as I was writing a book on our project, Keith began contacting me, first in dreams and then through the Internet. It would follow the story-line I’ve been writing. You know about it, the first two chapters are on my web site.
What do you think?

The message is just about to whistle through the wire when my e-mail flag goes up.

E-Mail From: KHaring To: Art Long
Subj: good idea
The story in the Weekly World News is perfect. Way to go, man. This is collaborating!
That should just about do it. It will get things started just right. By the way, you know some things about me that no one besides the people involved are aware of. I’m leaving it up to you. Do whatever it takes to sell the story, OK?
Don’t worry about the foundation. Kay will take care of that if it becomes necessary.
Oh, yes. Listen, American Line is not as bullet-proof as some other methods of communicating. Use your other ISP from now on.
Let’s try IRC and Chat Planet for a while, OK? Smokin’, dude... Way to go!
I step upstairs and take a look at my trains. My little model universe is always complete, total, ready for history. There’s nothing left to do here.

I place copies of both “The Avatar of Art” and “The Mushroom Diaries” on the wall beside a photo of Keith and a photo of Francesco. I rush into my workshop and rummage around for a photo Dawn took of me, seated at my old computer, typing the first chapter of what would become this journal. One more picture to go. I have hundreds of photographs I took of the mushroom farm, some for the show I did at the Reading Museum, called Mushroom Magic.

There’s the perfect shot! A wide panorama of the whole place--rows of concrete buildings, growing rooms , tractors, dump trucks, the rolling hills in the distance, motley leaves on the trees, mid-autumn, just right!

I reach for my razor knife and do some cutting and pasting. There’s Keith hovering Christ-like above the farm. I place the cut out image of me--the writer--sitting at the keyboard in the foreground. The composition works fine, even without the rays. I run down to the computer and scan the image into my paint program, add some glowing fuzzy beams, and voila!--instant dreamscape. I send the image to Al via e-mail attachment.

I’ll drop off the original composite photo too, along with a few paragraphs of cryptic predictions. I take a short walk up the block and drop the picture in Al’s mail slot. Walking back home beneath the sycamore tree, I can see another bough is about to break off. Beneath it this time is the neighbor’s wife’s complementary mid-life crisis car--a shiny new black Eagle Talon. Kiss it goodbye, sweetheart. Meet the tree from hell!

I’m sure of it. I’m going to Turtle Isle! I’ve lived these years beneath the surface of ordinary life. I have lived my dreams, dreamed my life, was as good as dead, awakened from my sleep, and was reborn.

I have seen the oneness of all things, lost myself in it all, found multiple selves, layered around no center at all. I am still. I am spinning. I am all there is, was and ever will be. This upsets me terribly and yet, I am somehow, as well, completely at peace.

What I want now is to sleep on the island alone. I want to make my peace with my past and decide again, about the rest of my life.

By the next afternoon--the first of March!--February is actually over!--I’ve made preparations for a one month stay on the island. I’ve arranged for a substitute for my art classes. That will take care of it up through Easter. After spring break, I can make a new start, if that’s what I decide.

I also sent postcards to Mimi, Kay, and Sheila. I’m not turning on my computer. I want to get out of here!

One month’s supply of beef jerky in water- and critter-proof bags, one month’s supply of dried fruit, bagged and packed, peanut butter, rice, flour, coffee, other edibles, 25 gallons of fresh water, a water purifier, a big bag of dogfood for Hamlet, six gallons of fuel, camping and fishing gear, my manuscript and a manual typewriter, a wetsuit, lots of extra clothing, binoculars, hunting knife, an ax, tarps, extra rope, and an inflatable raft- I’m as ready as I ever will be for this time to be alone, under the bare trees, beneath the stars. I’m ready for the cold winds of March.

My gear is on the porch, and I’m about to load up the car, when Sheila pulls up into the driveway.

“Hi Art. Running away from home?”

“Exactly. I’m set up to camp on the island for a month. I want to finish my book, finish a lot of stuff.”

“Sounds radical,” she says. “I’m, not surprised though. I guess you found out about Mimi?”

“Haven’t heard from her lately. Is she OK? What was I supposed to find out?”

“Yeah, she’s fine. I didn’t think I’d be the one to tell you, though. I was coming over to see how you’d be taking it.”

Sheila’s jet-black hair is blowing in the wind. She’s looking off into space like she’s wishing she wasn’t here. She looks back at her car. Maybe she’s thinking about her part in all of this. I know I am. As I’m waiting for her to break the silence, Hamlet comes running up to her, sniffing excitedly.

“Hey, boy. Good boy, Hamlet.” she says. “He smells Dream.”

“Who’s Dream?”

“Dawn got a new dog,” she says, “a keeshond. His name is Dream. I was just over at her place. Russ is in New York... finally going to get the operation. It will be “Rose” all the way from now on.”

“That’s nice. Is that why you drove over here--to tell me about Rose and Dawn’s new dog? What about Mimi?”

“I hate to be the one to tell you, Art.”

“Out with it, Sheila. Will you please? It’s freezin’ out here. Would you like to come in?”

“Thanks,” she says. “Could we have a glass of wine or something?”

“Sure, Sheila. If you promise to help me pack my car before you go. Each one of those gallons of water weighs over 8 pounds, you know.”

This feels like Catholic school for some reason. I never noticed how much Sheila resembles my second grade teacher, Sister Francis. She’s great looking, but intense. Her eyebrows seem stern when she’s immersed in thought. It occurs to me that whenever I see a serious look come over a woman, I think, “Yes,, Sister,” and I feel like a bad little kid, trying to redeem myself by becoming an altarboy, just to get on the good side of this impossible-to-please, unforgiving task-mistress, who I’ll be stuck with until June.

“So,” she continues, “this morning I pull up to Dawn’s place, just to shoot the breeze. I figured Russ is in New York, she’s lonely, I’ll stop by for a visit, maybe even crawl into bed and snuggle for awhile.”

“You’re beating around the bush,” I say. “Would you like another glass of wine?”

“Thanks, Art. Anyway, this dog--looking just like Hamlet--runs up to my car. I actually thought you were there for a minute. But Dawn comes to the door and tells me his name is ‘Dream.’ She named him that so that when she dreams of him, his name would remind her that she was dreaming.”

“So she’s still having lucid dreams,” I say. “I wonder if she’s still dreaming about Keith?”

“She still does believe in all that, Art. She has talked about Keith a lot lately. Dawn feels that she is a clear channel for Keith’s messages to the world.”

“He’s becoming a real broadcaster,” I say. “Soon he’ll need a license from the FCC.”

“That’s funny, Art. It’s good to see you still have your sense of humor.”

“I’m just filling up time here, Sheila, waiting for you to get to the point.”

“Art, this is hard, OK? We’re sitting in Dawn’s kitchen and Mimi walks out of the bedroom!”

“I figured that out when we were on the porch,” I say. “Just been watchin’ you squirm since then. Pretty fucked up, huh? Pretty typical of my fucked up life, though too.”

“It just blew me away,” she says. “ I didn’t know what to say to her. She came out in her nightshirt, stood behind me and started strokin’ my hair!”

“Chicks have a thing for each other’s hair, I guess. So now I know.” I say. “I’m glad you were the one to break it to me. We’ve been through a lot of intense scenes. You may be the only real female friend I have. Maybe that’s because you’re the only one I haven’t slept with.”

“Anything can happen, Art. I’m learning that.”

“So help me load the car will you,” I say. “I’m itching to get out of here.”

We load the supplies. I bring Sheila up to date. I tell her everything and give her a spare key to my place.

“Thanks, Art,” she says. “for everything. I really can’t wait to see you again!”

“Anytime, Sheila. Just not this month. I want to be alone more than you know.”

“You act like Hamlet doesn’t count.”

“Yeah, man’s best friend,” I respond. “See you on April Fool’s Day. I’m outa here. C’mon, Hamlet, let’s get in the car.”

I start my engine. She drives off. I’m fooling myself. I’m not ready yet. I turn off the engine, roll the window down halfway for Hamlet, and go back into the house.

I’m just reacting now. I want to do something, say something... to Mimi. I decide to send her a message.

I sign on to American Line. My mail flag signals new mail... It’s from Mimi.

E-Mail From: Pandora To: Art Long
Subj: no subject

Dear Art,
Sheila was here to visit this morning. I imagine she’ll be over to see you today. I want to tell you this myself. I think I owe you that much.
Dawn and I were in touch with each other online enough to have formed a real bond between us. We planned a meeting for last night at the Scarab Bar. We hit it off right away. I guess I knew we would.
To make this as brief as possible, Art, we ended up at her place. She is someone I want right now. I don’t know what this means for us--you and me. I know I still love you, but I’m taking this opportunity that has presented itself--to be here with Dawn.
I want to tell you something else, Art. You may do what you want with it. I do trust you.
This morning, I awoke before Dawn. She was pretty hung over and out of it. I thought I’d take the time to go online and check my mail, etc. When I turned on her computer, intending to sign on to American Line, her list of screen names came up.
Art, Dawn is KHaring !!!
I love you,

Numbed now, and stunned, I compose a new message.

Reply From: Art Long To: Pandora
Subj: no subject
Dear Mimi,
I am not going to respond, right now, to anything. I am going camping alone. I want to spend one month sorting this all out. I don’t have anything to say now--maybe in a few weeks I will.
I want to meet with you on March 30, Easter Sunday, to talk things over. If you want to see me then, please hike out on Thunder Trail--about a mile in from the road, where it first crosses the Schuylkill River. I’ll be waiting on the stone bridge for you at noon. If you don’t show up, I will understand. Right now, I don’t want to say anything about love.
Goodbye for now, Mimi


to be continued....

Nothing Dies, Chapter 15
is currently available:

Nothing Dies - Chapter 15


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