We married in a July heatwave. I said I do in the presence of katydids, our mystic green witnesses. I danced barefooted in the backyard and I was too light to crush the worms. Hand-fed Michael sloppy portions of wedding cake as if I were some wet nurse with bare skimpy legs and cabaret foul-mouth. In the shade of Hale Haven peach trees, I fancied myself a maiden of a Cancer Moon. I would grow crazy and self-indulgent as the nights made our sticky skins twitch.
Michael and I met some four years after my last Andy Warhol film. After a disagreement about not getting paid, I left Warhol and his circle, and tried to make it on my own. But I couldn’t pay for my drugs. I went on the skids, wound up homeless, fell in love with strangers who gave me bad acid and disappeared by the next morning. They didn’t remember who Edie Sedgwick was. Or they said they never heard of her. Was she some kind of actress? some asked. Was she talented, others inquired. I told them that I was Edie Sedgwick. The one and only. Now I’m Nowhere girl.
But Michael was a natural high.
I promised Michael that I would stay straight, and for three months, I was. This way when it rained I could catch it without tremors, without crooked fingers. But I warned him: I can’t operate a vacuum cleaner properly. My hotcakes resemble tiny fat men without legs. I can’t dust for shit. The dust would only consume me. He said if we only live for three days, it’d be worth a whole lifetime of missed beats. We once made love, stop and go, for 48 hours straight and I didn’t need to break an egg.
We drove in his old convertible, top down, to some cliff that could shelter us from the gathering clouds below. There was a bay and I expected the ducks to perform tricks for us. They turned out to be abandoned toy sailboats, drifting. The engine overheated and we got out. Michael forgot to put the damn car in park and it rolled backwards, jetting off the bluff. It crashed, exploded into flames. For a moment, all we could do was laugh. Our lives, up to that point, were that flammable.
I’ve learned to laugh at what I’ve lost. But I never laugh very hard.
After an extended honeymoon between somewhere and somewhere, I was at a party and a stout woman with pillbox hat, red jacket, matching polyester dress ending midway down her thick calves, insulted me. She said that she remembered seeing me on TV interviews, that I didn’t belong there, that I was a heroin addict. I wanted to slap her, to tell her Do you know how many hells I’ve been in and out of? Do you know how many mental wards these crazy doctors sent me to? Do you know what electric shock treatment does to you?
I wanted to say Well, let’s see the devils under your unmade bed. There was never a time in your life when you danced with too many panthers? Father-panthers. Brother-panthers. Fashion-freak rip-off panthers. Silk-screen panthers mocking you in the best galleries of Pop Art. Instead, I called Michael to take me home. I said, Michael, I’m really down.
And Michael would never want to lose me. Despite my mood swings and my screaming fits when I told the whole world to go to hell, he said I was his lifeline. Maybe he still saw me, as some people once did, as larger than life, as the impish model gracing the covers of magazines like Vogue. Maybe because we were both in and out of rehab, we were on each other’s wavelength.
He rescued me as he did too many times before, and back home, he gave me the prescribed B-vitamins, Dilantin, Thorazine, Nembutal and Tylenol. Some were meant to calm me; others were meant to keep up my strength. He slipped downstairs to watch some of our homemade movies of the wedding. He said he’d never tire of seeing how beautiful I looked on that day.
Wobbly, I rose from the bed and lumbered downstairs. I said Michael, when are you coming to bed? I can’t sleep next to shadows. He said in a minute which could have meant fifteen or thirty because with Michael everything was in multiples of threes.
There on film was the girl who was me, laughing and smiling in her lacy wedding gown and flowing train, as if she were some reborn virgin, so many Egyptian lives, so many denials of ugly mummies with a faint heartbeat. The girl who was really me had aged sixty years since my last Warhol film. She had gotten breasts implants and her hair was now long and a natural brown. Yet, she still smoked, could barely keep her weight up. I didn’t deserve to be anything but thin.
Skinny was in. Twiggy was in. My bulemia lingered.
On screen, the girl who was me turned and blew shapely white phantoms into the eye of the lens. But Michael wasn’t watching. He was already asleep and soon, I’d be joining him. We would sleep past the buzzing alarm clocks. When we’d wake up, we’d feel clean, refreshed. We’d wake up from a dream where no one ever heard of Edie Sedgwick, the girl who crashed for years. Michael and I would wake up and we’d find each other.
I’d tell him that even if I lived for another day, a week, it all would be worth it. I’d tell him that he and I were this beautiful island.
And he would hold me. He would keep holding me.
Kyle Hemmings has been published in Wigleaf, Storyglossia, Elimae, Match Book, This Zine Will Save Your Life, and elsewhere. He lives and writes in New Jersey. He loves cats and dogs.
This story is sponsored by
Clarion West Writers Workshop — Apply now through March 1 for 2014’s six-week workshop with Paul Park, Kij Johnson, Ian McDonald, Hiromi Goto, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Crowley, June 22 – August 1 in Seattle.