There was a man. I knew him for over twenty years. I also knew his wife. She turned yellow and died. The first thing I said when he led me into his bed was “I am sorry she died. I am sorry she is no longer with you.”

“Perhaps there was a reason she died,” he said as our bodies closed in on each other he was dreaming seducing imagining as men do before and women do after.

This man, Paul, fought to find a reason. Even as she was dying touching a near stranger’s lips any escape any reason until six months later realizing he was simply insane with grief.

(On a ferry it was dark. They were traveling, he and the woman who turned yellow in the hospital. He needed a break, the smell. She was asleep. She was sleeping more and more. The fresh air. The dark night. Waves going deeper into the sea. Someone to hold. Someone to press his lips against. She was dying, it was hard just looking at her. How could he kiss her. Find someone else. In the dark water against the boat the waves striking its side.)

Paul and this woman, Jo, met on a plane. On their first date she was so nervous she went to her dentist’s office for drugs. She was living with a painter above a diner he was with his second wife – a doctor. Within a month he was divorced. Jo moved in, first to a small apartment where he opened cans of Chef Boyardee for his children then to a brownstone no one would buy because of its location.

When there were areas in the city no one wanted.

When Jo was alive I was with another man. In theory. This other man, Dean, flew in from Nebraska and showed up at Paul’s front door. Paul had casually told him in a hotel dinning room “you must come to New York.” Dean took these words as an invitation. Jo answered the door. She was charmed by the sketches he showed her, drawings he’d made to illustrate his compositions. She invited him in took his tape to Paul who listened to the curious sounds that were so different than his. Paul is as famous as a classical composer can be. Paul and Jo did not have children together. Dean slipped in and became their child.

I met Dean after Paul had connected him with a theater troupe who performed his work. Their main actress wasn’t available; the director asked me to be in the show. “Listen to this tape, this guy is a genius, I want you to consider being in this show.”  I didn’t need to hear the tape. I had nothing else to do.

The director had seen me scream into a microphone once. He had, to be exact, shown a flashlight onto my body from the ground while I screamed. It was a thin gallery full of paintings what I imagined I was expressing I can’t remember.

In the first show of Dean’s I wore a sequined aqua dress and fishnet stockings. I remember being lifted into the air. In another show I wore a flesh-colored skin tight suit and was the head. As Dean’s pieces developed, I actually spoke. I was the Night Nurse. I was a Manson Family Girl…which in fact I looked exactly like if I parted my hair in the middle and had spent the night with Dean arguing.

We thought well together, we argued well. Bums on the street were scared of us. He never hit me, I always hit him. Umbrellas. Those worked well.

Dean had recently left a cult, which was the most exciting thing to do in Nebraska. He had learned tricks from “Storm Alligator” on how to control people. Storm had a band tattooed around his eyes. He was an ex-marine who, along with his ex-prostitute “Flame” enticed young boys into their house. They would sit around all day studying their dreams then walk military style in a single straight line to the A and P for groceries. Dean said that Storm knew where he was at all times.

A photograph of Storm and Flame was one of the few things he brought to the city.

Dean watched me. Dean watched me dance in that first rehearsal and asked Paul if he should ask me out on a date. Paul told him I was very talented but he should not date me. Dean asked me out and bought me a hamburger which was the first and last time he bought me anything. I remember his thin body and sucking each other. I remember ripping the skin off his penis. Our sexual chemistry was non-existent but we were inches away from each other for five years.

We were both obsessed with work. I told him what direction to take his music; he put me in his pieces. Every time I tried to leave him he threatened suicide or would fire me.

I finally flew across the country, around the time Jo was dying, to get away from Dean. He made one visit out. He gave me lice and we went to Disney Land.

I see now that Dean and Paul were inseparable in my mind. I never knew who I was there for.

My father came down from New Hampshire for every performance – to the bars, the gas stations, the avant-guard theaters – we even made it to Lincoln Center. My mother doesn’t travel. She is nearly agoraphobic, which works well now that they are in an assisted living center.

I left for New York City the minute I could, because of my father, who had brought me to the city every year from the age of eight. My father, the mathematician who wanted to be an Opera Singer. Once a year he went to the “real opera singers” throat doctors. Some of the singers kindly invited him backstage. We would visit them in their dressing rooms, their large bodies, their tired faces, and their amusement for my dear Dad.

Jo never told Paul how much time she spent with Dean; Dean was troubled. Together the three of us were like wayward children living in someone else’s house. Paul was away often. He was happy Jo was taken care of. We distracted her from the inevitable isolation of being with Paul.

As a younger man Dean was seductive, elfish. As an older man he became heavy not in body but in spirit. Bitter. Paranoid.

When Paul returned from his tours Jo suddenly realized the house was hers, she was an adult. She would put on a sexy gray mini-skirt, she had found on sale at French Connection. Dean and I ran back to our walkup on Ridge Street. We stepped over the junkies in the hall then as quickly as possible opened and closed the multi-locked door. We warmed the apartment with pans of water and waited for the phone to ring. Paul. Asking us to come over for dinner. We pretended we hadn’t just been there.

We all loved secrets.

“We will get to know you.” Jo said, staring at me the first time I was over after declining several invitations. They thought I didn’t like them. I knew if I entered their house I would never leave.

The house has four stories. It is brick. It has black railings in front. A man broke in through the small window to the left of the door. Many changes have been made to the house since I knew it so intimately. The back wall in the basement has been knocked out, glass opens into a patio. But it has never had the light it had when Jo was alive.

The house was a movie, a fantasy of what it would be like to live in the city.

When Paul was traveling Jo took the subway up to her graphics studio at Carnegie Hall. She drew whimsical book jacket covers, smoking cigarette after cigarette pausing to change the radio station, staring off into space her eyes framed by her thick black glasses.

She preferred everything framed.

Dean had keys to the house.

We would arrive late morning and leave just as the sky was going dark. Jo smoked, so Dean’s cigarettes did not give us away. Dean smoked so much he clogged the wheels of the computer. We’d blast the music make cappuccinos; create soundtracks and listen to music.

Dean would say I was a worthless talentless pathetic piece of shit. Or was it talentless pathetic worthless? Then tell me little white birds were flying around my head. Why I thought he was charming I do not know, but I loved him.

We charged into the world of success as if it were a game of tag.

I don’t think he was with men at that point. I remember him being homophobic.

After I left him, Dean replaced me with a woman who looked like me but was shorter, then a woman who looked like us but had shorter hair, then a woman who was tall with long hair, then a woman who looked like him, then an Asian woman who looked like a boy and finally a boy from Thailand who dressed up like a girl.

Dean was adopted. He said his mother was either a whore or a stupid Kansas farm girl. After her parents divorce, Jo’s father put a gun in his mouth and shot himself in her mother’s driveway. They had dramatic stories to share. I grew up in a square white house built in 1777 with window seats in a small New England town so I didn’t say much.

Jo spent hours with a therapist so she wouldn’t bother Paul with her sadness. Dean smoked a lot of dope. When Jo was dying, her therapist said he couldn’t see her anymore. He was not a “therapist for the dying.”

Jo drew pictures of his box of tissues over and over again.

I have never seen a woman love a man more than Jo loved Paul.

The last time I saw Jo I was upstairs in the library next to their bedroom. She was on the couch watching one of her bad television shows, a dating game, a show that made her cackle. Paul ran downstairs to get ice cream as if this would turn the gathering into a party.

As Jo died Dean moved into the house to help take care of her. It was Dean who took her on unending walks. All she wanted to do was go outside. Dean was desperate for sleep, hiding in the basement behind the sofa; Jo kept calling for him. She was hungry for air, flashing signs, traffic, and oblivious to everyone staring at her. Her eyes were too huge for her body, wild grinning features on a collapsing body.

The teeth themselves can sing. That’s when you know it’s near the end.

Jo had two parrots, each with their own black cage. Jack and Jill. She asked Dean to take care of the birds when she died. If there was a guest she didn’t like she’d let the birds out. They would attack like dogs.

When Jo wanted Paul to herself, which was hard to achieve as he always surrounded himself with people even as he was also always alone. She would start up the stairs to their library. She would make the sound of a bird and he would follow without knowing why.

Paul and Jo got married 15 days before her death on my birthday. She knew it was my birthday. He did not.

Those last months she drew with charcoal – empty stages dark large urns.

After she died, Paul would regret not helping her more with her work.

Dean took care of the parrots, as promised, but it became too hard. They were finally sent to her mother whom Jo hated but who took excellent care of the birds.