I was preparing for his death for so long that when he died I wasn’t surprised. A bit relieved. I shouldn’t say that. But I knew it was coming, and I always worried about it, waiting for the phone call, then worried I wouldn’t get one. When his step-dad died, I knew his mom would die soon. She did, and then I cried for days because I knew it was only a matter of time until he gave up living. All his friends knew what that meant. Friends for over a decade, we knew.
I just loved him so much. It was too painful to watch him die slowly, drink by drink, day by day. And yet, all I feel is regret. I don’t know what I could have done. He was having delusions, with all the booze, solitary living, unhealthy food. In every possible way he was poisoning himself.
This blog I have is for books, readers, writers, and the love for all three. Clay was a great writer. He wrote brilliantly weird surrealist plays. Short stories that were hard to decipher, but if you could, you saw something that you’d never seen before. Poetry with wicked declarations. He used to type for hours, that’s what I remember, me falling asleep to the tapping of keys, the slow draw of cigarettes, the clinking of ice in the glass as he took a drink. I’d wake up to typing, he’d turn and give me a crooked grin.
He read a lot. So much. He loved reading. He’s the only person I know that’s read Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel (I’ve tried twice and failed both times.) He read my copy. He borrowed one of my Anne Rice books, he just took it, placing it in his bag so I could see it was there, so not technically stealing. And I don’t know what’s happened to his stuff, but I do know that that book is with his stuff. And that missing book, that ordinarily would upset me because my Anne Rice collection is now incomplete, brings me some solace. He mentioned it once a year or two later, saying, it’s here somewhere. He was a bit of a hoarder when it came to sentimental things. And I’m glad it was there, and I haven’t tried to replace the book, that missing book reminds me yet again of him. I don’t want to replace it and wipe away that moment, that stupid physical link that I add to the others I have. I’ve hoarded these memories. And I’m writing them now because I worry I’ll lose them if I don’t.
I tried tough love. After years of drunk phone calls, with incoherent slightly insane conversations, I couldn’t anymore. I was tired of watching him slowly die. It was too painful. I didn’t know what to do. He was in Arizona, I was in San Francisco. He lived in the desert, with two trailers, a corral of feisty attack birds, yes, that’s right. And a herd of kittens. He owned two guns. He lived in the middle of nowhere, most people living in the desert own them, mostly to scare off coyotes from their property, so the wild dogs don’t take off with their cats and chickens. He had a well installed, that cost a lot, so he could take showers outside his trailer. He didn’t have electricity, no refrigerator, only canned foods. No oven, so nothing heated. He was always Jack Skellington skinny when he lived near food. . .
One night he called me, actually, one morning, around 4am, and he told me he needed to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. He’d been drinking all night. All night. After his accident (he was in a coma for 28 days due to his friend’s car being T-boned by a guy driving under a suspended license) he started smoking pot, legally. Probably one of the few things he did that was legal. So a drunk, stoned boy wanted to see the sunrise, he was packing his guns, loading up his hearse, and driving to see the sun, so he told me. I cried, I pleaded, please don’t get in the car. Please don’t drive. Please don’t die. He passed out before he could leave.
One day he told me he was wandering in the desert, shirtless, and he grabbed a rattler and danced with it under the sun. He said that he and the snake understood each other. (He was not referring to himself being a parseltongue.)
Living in the desert he became paranoid, that’s what happens when you’re in the middle of nowhere, talking to no one, with your nearest neighbors being speed freaks (or meth heads). He thought they were trying to get to him. Everyone was trying to get to him. Demons were everywhere. Talking to him was like being in a magical realism book.
He came to visit and stayed with Randy and me a few times. He had started smoking a pipe. There was nasty gross tobacco leaves everywhere, on the couch, my bed, Randy’s bed. It was a month after my accident, and he was there to take care of me, but really, he drank all our booze. Randy and I had discussed hiding it but we didn’t want to insult Clay. We wanted to trust him. We wanted him to be who he was before. He got mad at me for not paying attention to him when he was being particularly morbid. It was after I saw Bauhaus. I was tired, I just wanted to be happy for a few minutes. Clay had unwittingly brought a cloud of doom over our apartment when he was there. I went to my room and left him on the couch. Randy was at work. Clay loudly rummaged through our kitchen drawers. And Clay cut himself. With our kitchen knives. More precisely, with mine. And I knew it was happening and I didn’t know what to do. So I sat in my room in the dark, not knowing what I would find in the kitchen.*
When he went back home, he sent me some photos he’d taken while he was visiting. Included were photos of his bleeding wrists.
But these memories, these are the dark ones. There were so many good ones. So many. Like when we would watch horrible horror movies with Randy. Or when he and I spent the weekend with Fawn at her Aunt Gail’s. Or when he stayed up all night consoling my friend Kathleen about some dumb boy. There was the time he walked me through the entire process of my grandmother’s funeral because he was a mortician and my mom didn’t know what to do with the cards and flowers at the funeral. And then he hung out with Fawn, and someone knocked into him, so he knocked into her, and knocked her beer bottle into her face and she chipped her front tooth. And I came home and he hugged me because I was so sad my grandmother died. Or the time he stayed up all night painting me a fat black cat with pointing ears and skinny legs. The times we’d go to Cats and dance and he danced like Jarvis Cocker. The late night phone calls. The sound of typing. The messy a-line hair cut. The crooked smile. The day drinking with Randy in bear bars in SOMA. Playing the Buffy the Vampire Slayer board game. I wanted to be Buffy, he of course, wanted to play the vampire Spike. There were so many letters sent, more on his end than mine. So many phone calls. So many visits, to see him while he was in a coma. His little toe moved when I played Interpol for him. Randy had asked the nurse if she would remove the restraints from his arms because he’d been scratching himself. Randy left for a bit, and Clay kept trying to get up, he was still in a coma, and I was gently pushing him down, saying, please Clay, we’ll get in trouble if you get up. That didn’t help. I was panicking, I didn’t want them to restrain him again, I said, Randy will kill me if I let you up, and he calmed down immediately.
He was a good person. He was a kind person. He was also a jerk. We all are. He was a great writer, a great friend, but he had an addiction and he was living with a vengeance. He lived that writer’s life people romanticize about, the one that’s really unhealthy, and terrible, and actually not funny to those who love them.
I miss him still. I missed him while he was still here, but it was a different sort of sadness. This one just seems to echo out there, without ever stopping.
*I’d already been through this with another friend, but that’s another story, and she survived and moved past all that.
Here’s what I wrote about him last year, C.D. Wofford, writer, friend, and love is gone.