In May 2010, one month after we were told he’d die, Tom and I traveled to a Xanadu overlooking the Pacific Ocean to be among his most beloved friends who’d gathered for him, and he was miserable.
He’d changed dramatically within that one month. Upon hearing our worst news, he began to snort opiates he bought on the street about a year before they were prescribed for pain, and bad juju from his past he was finally severing returned with a vengeance. He became distant and his eyes flattened to matte. He fell backwards into a dark hole, pulled into that vacuum he thought would be so hip. To revisit his past glory as a junkie before he died had been Tom’s plan for years. He thought it would be a blast, and, what the hell, he felt entitled to pull out all the stops. I doubt it was all that great before, and, this time, it snuffed out any inner light within weeks. He could put on a brave face, he could fake that he was pleased to see a friend, but, at least while he was still somewhat “right,” it was a false front.
He withdrew from his friends and closed himself off in a back room where he played a Les Paul he’d pulled from a case on the floor. He told me he wanted poached eggs. In our friends’ kitchen, I poached two eggs, a skill acquired the summer before during his radiation treatments. When I returned to that back room to serve him, he looked up from the guitar and seethed as he accused me, bitterly, “I’m missing the lilacs.” It was lilac season back home.
I learned lilacs were blooming on our friends’ property, and, with gracious help, I put together a vase of lilacs that I brought to him. Not good enough. When he agreed to come to the table, our hostess offered mashed potatoes as something he might find easy to eat. He petulantly pushed the plate away, then he retreated again. His friends who’d come to see him waited on the other side of the closed door, and lilacs were in bloom when we returned home a few days later, as scheduled.
Whatever was left of Tom’s spirit faded fast when he dived back into hard drugs, and then he disappeared. Mild cognitive impairment from decades of nonstop alcohol and weed, maybe radiation, certainly chemo, led to severe impairment after he returned to opiates and cocaine. Some cognitive decline can be expected from disease and, sometimes, “chemo brain,” from which we and his doctors knew he suffered – Tom admitted to it as early as 2010 – but I wish he hadn’t gone more quickly with the hard stuff. He blew his mind out through a straw.
He was helpless. It was sad, and it was sadder that he’d brought more trouble upon himself. Other than the one-year respite when we thought he’d dodged a bullet, when he seemed happy and secure during relative sobriety, Tom died as he lived: He resumed his determination to destroy himself. He’d taunted death his entire adult life. He claimed he always thought he’d die young. He didn’t expect dementia. He thought he’d die before he got old. It didn’t work out that way.
He was sick, and he hastened his decline. He knew he was losing it, and it freaked him out. He thought he’d simply die, but Tom set himself up yet again, and his dying became very confused and complicated.
Tom bragged about the years he was addicted to snorting heroin as if that were an distinguished chapter in his personal history. He thought he was so damned badass to have been a junkie, and he thought he was so damned cool to become a junkie again before he died.
He was so damned wrong. He wasn’t badass or cool at all. He became a self-consuming locust, fast devoid of any shred of his better self. He threw away that guy when the stakes could not have been higher. He became a hollow exoskeleton, clinging to whatever was most indifferent and injurious to his soul. I was shocked to my core by the cruelty he indulged, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Tom Davis and Lindsay Brice in Los Angeles
Photo: (c) Lindsay Brice 2010