“I love you. I’m sorry. Goodbye.”
Tony was a word-person, like me. He crafted words so carefully, and worked such magic with them. His dialogue, in particular, was stellar. Other writers always commented on it when we workshopped our scripts. He had a knack for making each character’s voice completely unique, of knowing how this person (a person we created out of thin air) would speak, what they would say in a particular situation. He often said, regardless of whether any of them ever saw the silver screen, that the scripts we wrote together would be his legacy.
In the end, though, in the final moments of his life, he wrote nothing. He said nothing. He left no words behind for me. The six words at the top of this post would at least have been something. It’s not that having words, having a note, would have made it easier. No, nothing could have done that. But it would have been something concrete to hold on to. Some indication that he cared, that he thought about me, that he thought about what that moment when I found out what he had done would be like, for me.
He left other things. A locked deadbolt – and for that, I will be forever grateful, because it meant I didn’t find him dead. I couldn’t get in, and had to call 911. A briefcase with some old work papers. Next to that, a screenplay — one we didn’t write — open on the bed. A mug that I bought him for Christmas a few years ago. Two terrified cats. A bedroom full of broken glass from where the police had to break the window. A scared, lonely and bewildered wife standing in the wreckage, wondering where it had all gone wrong.
I know, of course, that he could not have been rational in that moment. That he was not thinking about anything other than ending his own pain. I know, too, that if he had put pen to paper before he ended his life, what he wrote might not have been a comfort at all. The grass is always greener, and the words are always the right ones, on the other side of the fence.
The screenplay he left open was for one of our favorite movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He left it open to a particular page, and that night, when I went into the apartment and hugged his still body through the body bag and found that script, I had my first moment of fury. It was open to a page where the couple at the center of the film, Joel and Clementine, take turns pretending to smother each other with a pillow. It’s a playful dynamic between the two of them, but my grieving heart interpreted it as a slap in my face. I threw the script across the room.
The truth is, I will never know what he meant by that script, that page. It may have nothing to do with anything, and part of my healing process has to be accepting that there is no way for me to know what he meant. Part, too, is allowing myself to embrace an interpretation that heals me. To be continued…