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Friday, March 9, 2012


Mitchell’s Death
This is the text taken from the third and final performance trilogy that Montano did in response to the accidental death of her former husband and close friend Mitchell Payne. In 1980 Montano made a video of this piece. Mitchell’s Death was first published in Moira Roth, “Mitchell’s Death,” New Performance. 1 no.3 (1978): 35-40; reprinted in Moira Roth, “Matters of Life and Death: Linda Montano Interviewed by Moira Roth.” High Performance 1 no.4 (December 1978): 2-7 and Art in Everyday Life.Jennie Klein.

Friday A.M., August 19, I wake at 7 or so. Look at the clock. I wish that chicken would stop crowing. Preacher Man running around the yard, echoing himself into the adjacent meadow. Pauline goes out to find him, comes back. I tell her my dream. A new one. Instead of being bothered by the baby, I throw sand at it when it throws sand at me. Pauline says something about her dream…a dead foetus and bloody clothes. She then goes outside and tries to catch the chicken.At 10:30 I ask Pauline’s advice about selling a tape recorder, which belonged to Mitchell and me. Things from my past. Then the phone rings. It’s 11 a.m. It’s J. Hello Linda, this is J. I have some very shocking news for you. Mitchell is dead. From a gun accident. I scream, start to faint, call Pauline. Pauline, Mitchell is dead! I then ask J, why did he have the gun? Who was he going hunting with? Becoming very accusative and angry. Blaming. J said we were going skeet shooting. I said when? Wanting to place blame. Covering over my sorrow with blame and anger. I thank J. He says if you need anything let me know. We hang up. Not much information about anything. Pauline is holding me. I collapse in her arms. Jillene is there and looks on. Pauline carries me to the bed. I am shaking. Eyes open. Won’t close. Shock. Covers me with a fake velvet red cover with tassels. Pauline’s visitors are at the door. She leaves. Is open and effusive with them. Then tells them about Mitchell. Comes back into the bedroom pulled between two emotions, joy at seeing her friends and sorrow. Sweat is pouring from her face, which is filled with disbelief and pain. She looks down at me and I say what shall I do? She says I feel like calling my mother. Then I begin a series of phone calls which don’t end. Which go on and on and on. I call everyone. First Mildred. Not home. Then Henry. The phone rings for about five minutes in the shoe store which means that they’re busy. Dad, I have some bad news. Mitchell is dead. He died from a gun accident. Henry in his inimitable Zen style said, he should know better than to fool around with guns. He doesn’t know anything about them. Whatever he said released a whole big lump… it presented the other side. Laughter. Honesty. No emotion in his voice. Another perspective. I call K. Don’t want to hang up. We talk and talk and talk. Won’t hang up. She cries. We repeat it over and over so we can both believe it. Then B in Alaska. S, I think of everyone. M is in Greece. T is in the Children’s Hospital. M calls back. Again talking about it. Repeating. Wanting her here. Somehow the words make it real and not real. Make it credible. Mitchell‘s image in my mind. Pictures begin. I try to picture where he was shot. Was it the face, heart? Did he suffer? Died instantly? Did his face get blown off? Images. I see the room where it happened. See clearly. Talking. Pauline brings in some tuna salad and brown bread. Can’t eat, then eat. So hungry, yet not hungry at all. Feels paradoxical. Eating and mourning. Tears and tuna fish. Pauline’s friends visit. We all drink champagne. His brother committed suicide in a closet in Canada. Did Mitchell? Guilt. Did I do it? My fault? Was he despondent? Lonely? Miss me too much? I remember my feelings when he moved to Kansas City. I was very apprehensive. Pre-knowledge? I felt his trip across country. Saw him in Kansas City. Living in his grandmother’s house. Nobody living there now. Dark. Going from San Francisco to that life style. But his insistence on the move, on that pilgrimage lasted three or more years. He had to move back. Why? Then our last phone call two week before. I called, needed to talk. My life had large questions in it. I wanted his help. Mitchell, all I want to do is meditate. Meditate, he said, you know how you like to do that. No, Rose, your life seems right now, don’t worry, you’re not being selfish. Don’t worry, Rose.Last words. He tells me about his new house. One hundred years old. Asked the people living there if they wanted to sell. Mitchell so impetuous. What he wanted he somehow managed to get. Energy to make things happen. Always that way. Then he would be upset because he had too many wants, too many needs. His friend L, 76 years old. A Bromoil photographer. I am relieved. He’s found someone to work with. There was always a very old person in Mitchell’s life...his grandmother, Mr. Delpapa. Mitchell’s charm and grace attracted almost everyone. Then his trip to the Art Institute that day. He hesitates to tell me about changing his clothes there at the office, and then coming back to work, changing his clothes, going to work. Is it because I made him shop at thrift stores and now he’s buying expensive suits and shirts? Mitchell we’re friends, tell me. We don’t live in the same house but there is love. You can tell me about your new life style. Rose there’s an old woman here in Kansas who writes country western music and she’s ninety or so and I’m going to see her. She has a small toy piano and she gets up in the night because it’s real quiet then and she writes songs. I ask are you going to record her? I don’t know what he answered. He’s eager to go to lunch and the Art Institute. I have your Christmas present here from last year. I’ll send it. Good and put some food in it. Bye, Mitch. Bye, Rose. I love you. We hang up.Images. His face then. Does he have a face now? Is it blown off? Is he dead? I should go to Kansas immediately. I call Kansas. L answers. Informative. Mitch was getting a serial number from one of Fa's guns. He was in the kitchen. J came over to put some crabmeat in their icebox. Then Mitch invited J for breakfast. I wonder was he really lonely needing some friends around? J said no he had to go and be with his new baby. (That brought up the thought, Mitch really wanted children and I didn’t.) J put together a shotgun and they were to go skeet shooting on Saturday. Then he warned Mitchell, don’t put any bullets in it or be careful or something like that, it’s an old gun.And then one half hour later, Alice, the maid, who was Mitchell’s friend and nourisher, warm, generous Alice, found Mitchell with a towel around his waist, lying between the kitchen and dining room, dead. She screamed, ran out across the street. They were supposed to have lunch that day. He drove her to the bus stop the night before, and then went to Safeway. Probably his last act before going home. The doctor from across the street came over. Then two ambulances, police, detectives, people to clean up. I want to come to Kansas but I have this feeling that I have to be invited first. Mitchell’s parents are in Chicago on their way home. But call later if you want to speak with them. Intuition. Am I really wanted there? But I have to go there. I must see him. I have to go.Pauline in and out. Comforting and caring. Feeling everything with me. Vitamins every few hours. Then food, sleep, vitamins, foot massage. Pauline, lighting candles. I lie in bed with phone books, phone numbers, memories. His recent throat infection, sick for two weeks. Thought that he had his father’s throat cancer and would die. Called me that day and talked with Pauline. Then cut his mound of Venus on his hand. Stitches, distressed. Was he depressed? He died by the phone. Was that a metaphor for wanting to call somebody? But L said that he had made popcorn that morning. He always made it when he was happy.Family question. Clues. Little sleep. Up at 5 am. Phone Dr. Mishra, Ellen Swartz, Giotto. Giotto calls back. You’ve had a hard year haven’t you? I cry more for myself than for Mitchell. Don’t feel guilty Linda. That’s like telling a fish not to swim. But Pauline, Giotto, and friends say, don’t feel guilty. Guilt is one of the first emotions to come with death…then anger, shock, disbelief…not in that order. Finally acceptance. But being the ex-wife and Mitchell’s death possibly being suicide…accentuated and accelerated the natural grief.Pauline continued to counsel and prepare me. Reading from books, talking about her grandmother’s death experience. That first night Moira came over and we all drank. Do whatever you want…shout, scream, cry. Moira giving permission and advice. Go to the funeral. Yes, you must complete that cycle. You must do that ritual.Saturday, I call Kansas. Are M and N there? I still want to talk with them. To be invited. They aren’t there. Mitchell’s brother is. Do you think that Mitch was depressed he asks. I tell him about our phone call and about his optimism and new house. He wonders. You know, Mitch once hurt himself with a firecracker. Both of us trying to explain away any possibility of suicide. He was careless in some ways and always wanted me to examine something on his body. He tells me that he saw his body in the morgue today. “It was my brother.” N, the neurosurgeon, knows.I am sick from drinking, from shock. Sleep in Paul’s room with the phone. Pauline ministering and talking. Sunday a.m. I fly to Kansas. August 21. Where is Mitchell’s body? I hadn’t asked anyone. M and B call on Saturday and say I can stay with them. Feel welcome. We want you Linda, come ahead. Pauline drives Jillene and me to the airport at 6:30 a.m. and then waits in line with me. I am sinking fast. She had packed a food package for me, high protein bars, fruit. She steers me to the plane. My body shakes. I’m weak. She seems to get stronger than she already is. Is it the adrenalin that comes at the time of crisis? The plane ride to Dallas seems interminable, long, without end. Dallas. I call Sue Thornley. Good call. Supportive. Come and see me and spend time in San Francisco. I feel bolstered. Hang up. Eat two bananas. Get on the plane. Sit next to a man who looks exactly like Mitchell. I also see him all over the Dallas airport, Sue. What’s happening to me? I saw you all over San Francisco when you left Rose. O.K. It’s just loss I guess. I sneak looks at the man next to me. Can he see me looking at him? I’m spying. Mitchell’s neck, hair, eyes, face. But older. I talk with him. Want him to be Mitchell. Read Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. It’s not the quantity of life but the quality that we’re interested in. That helps. The quality of Mitchell’s life was incredible. He loved light. Pups, look at the light on this face. Lying in bed for hours surrounded with photo books. Looking at light, people in light, rooms in light. My eyes are open very wide and have been ever since Friday at eleven when I heard the news. I arrive in Kansas. L meets me. We drive to M and B’s. I talk and am hoarse. Can’t talk loudly. We go to M and N’s for supper. Then walk into the house that I was sure that I would never enter again. He died there at home. He died there. I walk in shaking, no life left in me. I walk past the phone. Stand on the spot where he died. I’m glued and can’t move. People pour out of rooms, doors. It looks like a party but we all have the same thought, Mitchell is dead. We’re from different classes, races, backgrounds, countries but unified in death. I hug Mitchell’s mom who walks woodenly around the kitchen, using the phone, greeting me on the spot here he died. I walk into the front room. N and I hug. P and I cry. Warmth coming out of him. N seems tired. Everyone there. I go upstairs. Where’s grandmother Alice? She’s on her way down. No words. We’re gripping each other’s hands. I have no words. The vulnerability of grief is already a language. It was an honor knowing you, Linda. I’m surprised at her words. You have contributed to my life. Dinner a party atmosphere. M talks about donating Mitchell’s eyes so now two people can see out of them. I’m surprised at her bravery. His corneas. His kidneys were not able to be used but they tried giving them away also. No talk of where he is…the funeral. He should be here. I pace between rooms and stand on the spot where he died. Monday I wake up wanting to see Mitchell’s body. Wanting to see Mitchell. Where is he? Nobody mentions him. He is missed. It’s as if he’s there but he isn’t. Or is he? I want to see him. Am desperate. Must see him. I must tell B. She calls the funeral home immediately and we make plans to go. I start pacing. Restless. Not able to believe it. Wanting it, not wanting it. The drive interminable. We arrive. I run in and ask where he is. A somber, sad man says, you’ve just missed the body. The casket is closed anyway by request of the family. The body is at the crematorium. We go away. I can hardly walk yet adrenalin is high. Paradox. Drive back again, I must see him. Call the crematorium. Go over. I expect to see smoke stacks but it’s just like another funeral home. Large. I run in. Wait one half hour. I am breathing with difficulty. Internal combustion. Insides searing. Eyes wide open. Like a drug experience…seeing hearing all…At high intensity. Highly motivated. A man of about thirty, Midwestern coloring and hair comes into the room. Signals. I charge out of the room. Energy propelling me. I hear him say that he is lying on a table, sheets over him. Warning. I run in. The room is 20 X 40 feet. Mitchell’s body is lying on a hospital table which is chrome, silver, antiseptic, institutional. Not in a slick coffin. Not in a suit. But is lying on a table with a sheet. He is so available. Not dressed. I can get close. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. His face bloated a bit, certainly distorted. A hole the size of a silver dollar on his right cheek. His face intact but so changed. A pink putty fills the hole. Little pieces of it in his hair. His eyebrows ruffled. Not neat. Everything impassive. Not mobile. Like sleep but too still for sleep. Are you asleep, Mitchell? I touch his arm. Feel it cold and hard through the sheet. Must touch him. Eyes not there but donated so two people have his corneas. Somehow I’d like to meet them. Lips tight, nose funny. Left ear destroyed. The bullet still in his head? I pull the sheet down. Shocked by black stitches. Autopsy. Reminded of his hospital pictures in Rochester. Preparation for his death. Remember days when he would come home from the hospital pale and silent…talking about corpses and Sears clippers used to cut ribs. I remember the description and see it mirrored in his body. I talk with him in whispers, wanting more time with him alone. Ask him how he is. How did it happen, Pups? Why? What happened? Shock, disbelief. Wanting to stay with him. Hold him. No repulsion, no fear. His nipples erect. Feet cold and non responsive, even when I massage them. Blood stains on his toes. I arrange his hair. It’s clean but needs fluffing. Then remember the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and whisper in his ear. Don’t be afraid Mitchell. It’s okay. Go on. Don’t be scared. Surrender. Whatever fears you are experiencing are only illusions. Go on. Don’t fear. Don’t worry. No more worry. I whisper and tears fall on the sheet. I blow my nose on it, not caring about the smell, the decay setting in. A strange smell…not his. Hard to identify. Wanting to lift the whole sheet…I can’t get my eyes off of him…a blend of curiosity and love. Wanting to be close. Wanting to participate in some way so that it can be tactile and real to me. I know best by touch, by contact, by closeness. M and I stand there. So glad for M. Right there. He and B were responsive and kind. M leaves. More time alone. Then T says we’re leaving. I go reluctantly, unwillingly. After that there began a whole series of events.

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