Al Sullivanís journal


Death is dick


March 22, 1995


†Death is dick.

†For survivors of Hank Sterns, it was push and shove. I missed the funeral, choosing to mourn Hank by myself, perhaps a lucky thing after the resentment I felt at the wake towards Hank's sister and Hank's nephew, and strangely, towards Hank's mother, too.

†Garrick likes to think of Anne as more or less a saint. She has played the role of enduring soul for so long, we've all come to expect it. Yet day by day, she has managed to enslave the men in her life, by overwhelming them with services. George, her husband, succumbed to her constant attention. So did Hank. Now Danny, Hank's nephew slowly converts. She even calls him Hank in those moments when thought has lapsed.

†Yet under the grief, the old pattern remains fixed, the incestuous framework in which son replaces father and is replaced by nephew again, all of it swirling around in a pool of hate and self-loathing out of which Hank could not escape.

†He tried. For two years he left home for the wilds of Manhattan, living with Laurie on East 5th Street in the East Village. He had talked often about never going home, and yet, sweet and patient Anne came weekly, to deliver messages or food or just to make sure he was healthy. She constantly told him how dangerous living in such a place could be on him -- a man whose health was never good. She reeled him in with words and guilt, so that Hank eventually moved back to New Jersey -- and when Laurie left, back to his own little room. Except for those two years, Hank lived in the same house in which he had been born, and died there last week.

†Others tried to draw him out. Rona wanted to marry him, and for a time, had him coming down the shore on weekends. But Rona could not break the bond which Anne had so carefully tied around Hank's heart, and in the end, Rona came north, trying -- very briefly -- to live in the upstairs apartment with Hank. Then moved away when she realized she would never have Hank in the way she wanted -- not as long as Anne was alive.

†All this hit home hard when I received a call from Margaret, Hank's last lover and the one I never knew -- except for a mention during the mid-1980s. Hank met her in one the New York bars where he chose to hang out. She said he was a one-night stand at first in 1984, who called her up the next day and she didn't even remember him. Then, for a short time, they were lovers, and he made plans to bring her back to New Jersey to introduce her to us.

†``But then he proposed marriage to me on my answering machine,'' she said, an act that utterly shocked her. She didn't understand his humor or his desperation, how hurt he had been by other women, how hard it was for him to say outright just what he felt. She cut it off, and then found him staring at her whenever she came into the bar. ``I can't say he was following me. After all we hung out at the same places. But it bothered me.''

†If nothing else, Hank was persistent. He kept at her until she finally gave in again, becoming his lover for about seven months, before she wandered off again, and eventually married another man.

†Monday night, she called me up, crying -- feeling as guilty as any of us for killing Hank. She hadn't. But Hank had a way of making people feel that way. She said she had driven for hours to get to the wake, but had come too late to meet any of us, forcing the man at the funeral home to let her in to see the body. According to Anne and Daren, she hugged and kissed Hank's body, and then stuffed a poem him the casket.

†``I told my husband that I should have married Hank to make his last years a little bit better,'' Margaret told me over the phone.

†Why does Hank wind up with such strange women? Angel, his first girlfriend, is living in a room somewhere surrounded by 1960s memorabilia. Laurie is lost to some far eastern religion. Rona, strange from the start, gave away her house and fortune to become a carpenter in Germany, and now, this wild woman, screaming passionately about the loss as if Hank had been something more than a seven month affair.

†Anne and Danny had little sympathy with Margaret. They didn't owner the woman's mourning, but mocked her with slow shaking heads, asking what she wanted from the family. They even said Margaret had shown up at the funeral, a wild red-headed woman charging up to the grave to toss her flower in before vanishing again. But only Danny and Anne saw her, and Margaret apparently says she wasn't there.

†Then there is Darinís reaction to Pauly -- Pauly who seems to have become so guilt ridden as to insist upon taking up the banner of Hank's last wishes. Pauly and Hank apparently talked in January about what should be done with Hank's things, comic books, tapes, guitars, etc. Hank wouldn't write any of this down, but according to Pauly, left it all in Pauly's hands. According to Danny, Pauly has asked to be involved with going through Hank's things, to make sure these wishes are carried out, demanding his own paintings back from Hank's collection. He also, apparently, demanded that Danny leave Hank's favorite things in place in the old apartment, unchanged, some kind of perverted tribute to a man who will no longer need them.

†I think in all of this, Pauly has lost his mind, and Danny -- for all my dislike for him -- is right in wanting to go through and get rid of those things that no longer serve a purpose. He can't build a museum to Hank. Life must go on and since Danny will soon take Hank's place, moving up into the very apartment where Hank lived and died, it Darinís world, and his choice as to what does in it, and none of our concern.

†There are memories, of course, which I would like, tape recordings done with or by Hank over the years that I would like to hear again, and relive the moments with Hank through their sounds. But if they fade in this madness of death, then so be it. I'll be sad. Maybe a little angry. But Hank's memory is hardly served by infighting among his friends. But then Death is hardly clean, even when someone like Hank dies peacefully in his sleep.


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