Brigid was an Irish Stoic: you knew better than to ask what was wrong. For nine months, she had been triangulating between St. Vincent’s Hospital, the Village Nursing Home, and her walk-up on Bleecker Street. She waved away all concerns about a diagnosis, but process of elimination indicated Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. About once every two months, she’d recover from pneumonia or something equally grave, get out of bed, pull on her clothes, head downstairs, and wind up in the hospital the next day. Her health had stabilized in recent weeks, which was why she was back on Bleecker Street.
In 1985, when we met, I was a pup of thirty-five and she was my age now, fifty-eight. Brigid was there at my second AA meeting. Not drinking was new to me: the whole idea ridiculous, appealing, and terrifying. In a room full of stiffs in suits, she blazed like a comet of anarchy trailing great clouds of profanity. Cocksucker this: motherfucker that. And when I discovered she had run away and joined the circus at age forty, I adored her absolutely. She left her elementary school-age daughter with her mother in the Bronx and followed a one-ring operation around the Midwest for eighteen months.
She liked me, it seemed. I could make her laugh. I teased her about her preposterous opinions, while her no-bullshit compassion blew an enormous hole in my middle-class depressive’s complacency. She insisted I not take myself too seriously. “Booze. Now that’s fuckin’ serious.” Her love of beauty, acute sense of personal injustice, and heedless vulgarity could erupt into great, baroque rants. I would hear her out, every last cockamamie riff. And, man, could we dish.
She had the dazzling capacity to juggle as many as four trains of thought at the same time. A simple conversation might devolve into a breathtaking scramble up one side of the space/time continuum and down the other. You could find yourself entangled in an elaborate discussion of James Joyce (she called him ‘Jimmy’), Asian women’s alleged propensity for bossiness, and coleslaw, ingredients of.
Her passion for experience, to go and see and hear and read and do, was a quality I envied. I envied her contradictions and her chutzpah. One winter we took a trip to Rome and she initiated a willy-nilly treasure hunt to see all the Caravaggios in the city. We tracked them down – every last incandescent altarpiece and every sassy, naked man hiding out in a long row of sleepy women in gilded frames.
More than anything, Brigid loved words. She filled notebook after notebook with, I don’t know, notes. Notes, quotes, resentments, epiphanies, dialogue, scribbles. Fairly soon after that first meeting, she would let you know she was a poet of ‘The Beat Gen.’ One of her poems, ‘Daisy,’ is occasionally included in Beat anthologies. It’s a lovely little thing; probably included more on account of her gender than anything else, for you can count the women Beats on one hand. In addition to poetry, she wrote stage plays. She always had some project underway.