Sunday, August 2, 2009

Alice in Wonderland

So, this is a story about Alice. Alice is an artist I know through my husband's long-time acquaintance, Don. We traveled to visit Don and Alice on the small, dreamy Caribbean island they used to winter on, some 7 or so years ago. The tropical island was spectacular and Don was a charming and wonderful host. Alice used to complain about my husband, Ken's, cigar smoke as it drifted up onto their waterfront deck from the beach below. Once, on that trip, my husband pointed out that Alice was filling up a mason jar with fruit and then topping it off with rum from the rum punch container that was always on the counter. Having grown up with an alcoholic mother, my husband pays attention to these things.

Alice shared a beautiful art studio on the other side of the island from where they lived. The studio was an old sugar cane factory that she shared with a French potter and her mason jar full of rum. When I was on that wonderful little island, I loved floating along in the salty bay while the cool ocean enveloped me. Or laying on the white sandy beaches, soaking up the heat of the tropical sun as it browned my white New England skin. Often I would just spent my time daydreaming in the clean, cool Caribbean air as I looked off into the distance, far out to sea. I remember one afternoon the 4 of us sat at a bar on swings, munching toasted coconut, drinking some sweet drink, peaceful and happy as we watched the boats in the harbour. Honestly, in that lush and beautiful place I have no idea why so many people drink so much. In the evening, maybe a couple of drinks at one of the outdoor bars or a glass of wine at lunch. That I get. But to numb myself with alcohol in that paradise, makes no sense yet I saw it all around. I remember once, a bunch of friends were at dinner at a local restaurant here in New England. It was shortly after I met my husband, some 15 years ago. I wondered and asked why Alice was under the table, no kidding, she was under the table. I was told that she was throwing up.

Don and Alice have had many really great parties at their waterfront house over the years and we have had a lot of fun there. Alice was always gracious, very self-effacing, and actually kind of shy. However, I never really felt like I knew Alice. I wanted to but we never had those women-to-women talks where you get to know who a person is. You would think there was nobody because you couldn't find her to and yet her art was full of life. I remember she used to be a horrible house keeper and made no apologies, hanging a funny magnet on the refrigerator that poked fun at women who spent their day cleaning. From the outside, Alice led a wonderful, lucky life spending winters in the Grenadines and summers in France. While in New England, where I knew her, the best I could figure, she would either spend her days kayaking along the river with her dogs riding on the bow or she'd pass the time in her basement, creating, sculpting, painting in wood, metal, and glass. Once when my husband's mother was hospitalized for a fall she'd taken after she blacked out, her sister, Ken's aunt, reminded a surprised Ken that his mother always had a glass sitting on the window sill while he was growing up, a glass filled with her own kind of "rum" punch. I spose it was the same for Alice.

Alice used to be a tall, lean, blue-eyed, long-legged beauty with blond hair falling down her back. She never seemed to do much to her hair yet it was beautiful; neither too straight or too curly, gently framing her face. At 57, I am sure to her surprise, she had lost that siren's beauty that once captivated men to take care of her. Some time ago, maybe 2 years, her long-time companion, Don, grew tired of Alice's drinking. I heard that he paid thousands of dollars for her to go to rehab somewhere in California. She went but wouldn't engage. Rumor had it that he sent her to another rehab facility. That didn't work either. Don left her and nobody asked why.

Every now and again I would think about that talented artist, Alice in Wonderland, with the sky blue eyes. She packed up her furniture, clothes and her dog and moved to Montana after Don gave up on her. I found her this past spring on Facebook. She was living in a traditional adobe home in New Mexico, doing her art. She seemed happy and I felt a little envious of her artist's life. It appeared that she had created a life for herself, surrounded by other like-minded souls. I was surprised when she e-mailed in May to say she was moving back "home" on June 1, to Cape Ann, an east coast artist enclave. Several e-mails went back and forth. In some she sounded very sad. In others she appeared optimistic and happy. I tried my best to provide ideas and suggestions. In one e-mail she was clearly angry that nobody, apparently, had come to her aid. "Relying on the kindness of others," I would think to myself. It was an odd e-mail and I didn't respond to it. One Sunday morning, at 7:30, the phone rang. It was Alice. In all the years I had known her she had called no more than twice and only then to relay messages, never to actually talk with me. She wanted to know if my husband and I had a rental she might move into. We didn't. The conversation was pleasant but short. I wished her well. A 57 year old woman without skills to earn money easily and no idea how to take care of herself, she was running out of money. She has family in Texas but wanted to move here, by the ocean. She missed the ocean.

Recently I checked Alice's website to see what she was up to since I hadn't heard from her in a while and I now felt a part of her world, in some small way. "She seems to have finally landed on Cape Alice," I thought to myself, still not clear why she had returned to the Northeast where so no long had a life.

Not two hours ago my husband got a phone call from his friend, Lance, who lives at Don's house while Don is away on business in Europe. Don is away a lot these days. Lance had just arrived home from work and was greeted by Alice's brother, James. The last time James and Lance spoke was under very different circumstances. James showed up at the house, on that occasion, to warn Don that Alice was threatening to burn his house to the ground. Lance, not Don, answered the door. The police were called and nothing came of it, but I wondered, "What has happened to you, Alice in Wonderland?" On the phone this sad day, Lance told my husband, "Alice was found dead in Cape Alice this morning."

Alice died almost two months to the day of her arrival "home." Apparently, as her brother tells it, she died from alcohol poisoning or maybe suicide. Who knows? My husband and I somberly talked about the tragedy of it all and wondered, "Could we, should we have done more for her?" Ten minutes later the phone rang again. It was Lance. "Oh my God," I heard my husband say. Hanging up the phone he told me, "Sookie, Don's dog, also died this morning." What are the chances of that? What is the meaning of that? That dog knew Alice all it's life. What are the chances they'd both die on the same day? Sookie was found under a bush where she used to sleep, still and lifeless. What are the chances, I ask again, of that?

You are in my thoughts and prayers dear Alice. Peace to you and to sweet and crazy Sookie who used to stand in the river waiting for anybody to throw a stick. May you both be back on the islands you loved, painting to your heart's content and enjoying the cool, clean Caribbean air. Peace and freedom at last.

I am moved to remember how wonderful life is.....

"Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle. "
Alice in Wonderland

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