Funny the World...


Paulsm.jpg (22712 bytes)April 20, 2000

Dear Paul,

A year ago today you called me, all excited about the new house you and Audra were going to buy and you asked me to call Grandma to see about the stock she was going to sell for you to make the downpayment. It was good to hear you sounding so excited, though we talked about how different it would be with you living in Southern California. I remember when you asked me, some months before, "Am I Mama’s boy because I enjoy talking to my mother?" We agreed that no, you were definitely not a Mama’s boy. We just shared the same interests and enjoyed each other’s company, and that was cool. I told you when you moved to So. California I’d miss our daily chats and having you stop by unannounced to shoot the breeze, but we would always have the telephone.

A year ago today we talked about your plans for the new show. How you were looking for a "hook" because you didn’t quite have the kind of "grabber" that you liked to use to get an audience’s attention. A year ago today at the end of our conversation, we both said "I love you," the thing we always remembered to do ever since David died.

A year ago today I went off to a meeting and while I was gone, you came over and talked to Dad about borrowing something or other (I can’t remember what now) so you could fix something around your apartment. Dad was on the telephone and didn’t have much time to talk, so you just took what you needed and left.

A year ago today the phone rang at 11:30 p.m. I could see from caller ID that it was you calling. You were the only person who ever called at that hour, because you knew I’d be up working and you always called if you had a problem, or if you were wondering about something, or if you’d seen something funny on TV. I picked up the phone and said "Hello!," figuring to hear your voice on the other end. I wasn’t ready to hear someone say "Mrs. Sykes, this is Officer so-and-so. I’m here at Paul and Audra’s apartment, and Paul has hung himself."

The rest of the night is etched in my brain and I wish it weren’t. The frantic drive to the hospital, waiting with Audra in the waiting room, hoping against hope that she’d called 911 in time, knowing in my heart of hearts that she hadn’t. There were the "why?" and "what if..." and "if only’s" Audra was half an hour late getting home from the vet hospital, where she was on call. You'd cooked her dinner and it was sitting on the stove waiting for her. If only she’d been on time, would we be sitting in that damn room? I remember the doctor coming in, looking like he was terrified. The look on his face told it all. He stood as far away from us as he could while he told us they had not been in time to save your life. I told him I wanted to see you. He took time to prepare me for how you’d look, like he was afraid I’d collapse. I don’t collapse. I do crisis great. I have a lot of experience.

We went to where you were lying. Except for the tube down your throat, you might have been sleeping. You weren’t even cold yet. I stroked your hair--that damn gunk you put in it came off on my hands. In my heart, all I could think of was "why?" Why when everything seemed to be going so well? Why did you do this? I leaned over and kissed you goodbye and I whispered in your ear, "Say hi to Dave for me." I left Audra there, holding your hand, looking like her whole world had just collapsed. It had.

The coroner says suicide. As we started putting the pieces together, nobody in the family believes him. But he says I’m just an hysterical mother and don’t know what I’m talking about. He didn’t know you. He didn’t understand that when you were preparing a show, as you were that week, you were at your happiest. He didn’t believe Dave Anderson when he told him that you explained just that morning that you’d decided that you were going to do a bit about the stupidity of suicide and that you thought maybe you’d hang a noose on stage and make the audience nervous, as you did when you talked about your Aunt Karen’s murder and fired a stage pistol during your last show. He didn’t listen when I told him that the way you rehearsed a bit was to sit in a chair and go over it and over it until you got it right and that you had a big heavy hangman’s noose upstairs, so why would you wrap a little bit of twine around your neck and sit on a chair if you really intended to hang yourself? The doctor at the emergency room said that it was possible to cut off the circulation to the carotid artery very quickly, causing a person to become unconscious, and if nobody had been there to revive you, you would just have passed out and slowly choked to death without regaining consciousness. The coroner wouldn’t accept that. He saw the noose, he figured suicide and he would only listen to bits and pieces that confirmed his already made-up conclusion.

But we know different.

But then what does it matter. Suicide or stupid accident you’re still dead.

You’d have loved the hoopla. Boy, for someone who lived his whole life in the spotlight, this was one grand send off. You were the biggest story in town every day that week and there were few who didn’t attend the memorial. Even in grief we know how to put on a show. Were you there? Did you sit in the back, get bored, and go across the street to eat a snack? (Steve’s song gets me every time).

We buried you next to David. You missed him so much, and now you two are together forever. Well, what’s left of you is. Are you also together "somewhere"? I visit the cemetery every week, even though I feel nothing there. I just somehow have to go there.

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It’s been a hell of a year. Tom said, during the days following your death, that he hated it that we knew what we were doing. Yeah--we were still in grief mode following David’s death. And now the same people were turning up on our doorstep with the same food and the same sympathy. "How’re you doing?" "Oh, hanging in there..." Ironic phrase this time around. I tried not to use it, but it kept slipping out.

We seem to have gone our separate ways since you left us. Ned’s still so angry and he knows that he’s difficult to be around, so he tries not to inflict his anger on us. But he’s working so hard on the videotape he’s going to run when the city dedicates the plaza to you on Saturday. Tom’s busy with his new job, Jeri’s busy becoming a first class musician on the other side of the country. Dad and I keep coming across bits of your life...or bits of David’s life...and we wonder what to do with it. How can you throw away your "merry fucking Christmas" letter--but what do we do with it?

We saw lots of movies since you died--I kind of hid out in the theatre a lot. You’d have liked some of them. Robert DeNiro made two, and I missed both, unfortunately. What do I do with all those Robert DeNiro tapes I made for you? And all the 90210 tapes? At least I don’t ever have to record that ever, ever again. I wish I could have talked to you about Sixth Sense, though. Especially now. Audra got to talk to David Byrne and she told him about you. I don’t think he was impressed. (sorry) But they did take Happy up on stage and had his picture taken with The Talking Heads. You’d have loved that.

Life goes on. And I’m determined to make the most of my remaining time here. You and David proved to us that you can’t count on tomorrow. There’s only today and what a shame it would be to waste it. People ask me "how do you do it?" How do you survive losing two sons? It’s a no brainer. What are the choices? We can curl up in the fetal position and figure that life is over, or we can look around, cherish our remaining three children and realize that we have the power to make the world a better place in whatever time we have left. Nothing lofty. No Mother Theresa here. But helping a little bit where we can. How better to honor you guys than to vow never to let pass the chance to do something positive in the world.

A year ago today I told you I loved you for the last time that you could answer back. I miss you so much. Today I will spend the day driving home from Santa Barbara. I’ll have Lawsuit music on, for the first time since you died. I expect to have a real catharsis, but I’ll be alone and I just really kind of want to be with you today. And when I get home, Dad and I will fix a martini and offer one more toast, "to martini time."

I love you, Paul.


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created 4/20/00 by Bev Sykes