I'm putting on Bobby Mc Farrin whose music brings that first meeting back, to get in the mood because I owe those who read the first this 2nd. Here goes:
At the time of Heath's death, announced officially at 3: 36--January 22nd, '08 I was in South Beach, Florida while my 'greatest love' was in New York helping my daughter. I was sick. I was sleeping when at about 2:30 PM, I, who never watch TV, went to the living room and turned it on. I cannot stress how rare this is. There I learned, in short order, that Heath had overdosed, maybe, then more maybes, and then he was definitely dead.
This was on a Tuesday which I remember because that is my favorite day of the week, and this news was impossible to digest. I didn't call anyone. I went to my bed and sobbed for a while, then went back to the TV with its shots from Heath's by then many films. Showing his baby daughter Matilda and her mom Michelle, bios made on the fly. Photos. His dad talking to press; his mom standing beside him.
I went back to my bedroom and wrote to a great friend, a novelist about what had happened. He well-remembered our joking back in January '02 via email. I wrote him that very day I'd returned from LAX. He wrote back, " So let me get this straight: You met Ami, met Heath Ledger and love the CD 'Bang Zoom' and you say the three combine and matter in EQUAL measure? We used this "in Equal measure" as a running joke for years. Now, I emailed him.
Julius wrote back: "It was his Saturn Return," and then I rememebered about that thing , known in astrology, that hits between 28-30. If I hadn't been a psychologist treating many in that age group, after just living through it myself, I would never believe that everyone's life gets upended or upturned during those years. Cracks right open. Not fun. Julius described two of our mutual friends whose kids also died at 28, both boys. "Boys should be so careful at that age." This did not comfort. Nothing did. I turned off both the computer and the TV. Got back to bed.
I was not used to being alone but I was glad that I had the next five days to myself because I was already grieving in a spooky way--too intense. On Wednesday night I was still more or less sleeping and crying when at nightfall which is early in Miami in January, I woke from a dream and right on my bed lay Heath himself : Smiling & whispering to me.
He did not look precisely as he did in real life and only a greater writer could find the mot juste for his subtle alteration. It was as if he was translucent, though that is not the word. He was pure presence and I could, yes see him, but I could hear him better. And I felt him most of all. He was a form, his own form--at first dejected as we never saw in his films. Nothing like E in Brokeback. Himself under stress. I saw him but felt him more viscerally. He was a delicious presence-- all love.
Yeah, who's gonna believe this? I have a little proof ahead. And it's not something I would want to share.
Okay I also want to state this as fact: I never hallucinate. I never imagine that things are present which are not. I am far too normal for such things. I had been sleeping and grieving and so maybe I was a bit altered, but I have had other deaths, also famous people recently dead, or non-famous, all arrive quickly in dreams, and however vivid, are without question: in dreams.
Health reminded me of specific things we shared or that I'd said, trying to get me to believe it was he. He, by the by, was lying in my bed, at first both of us shy, looking up at the ceiling as we spoke. He was still fun but it was Heath in, as said, a subtly different way. I turned on all the lights as he laughed, a beautiful laugh you can imagine from his photos. He was very tender with me. Also careful:
"Wendy, I know this is weird but it's me."
I said, "But you are dead."
He said, "Yes I most certainly am."
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday by day but more vividly each night --we both loved staying up late--he stayed with me. He reminded me of things we talked about, remembering in more detail than I. He said that I taught him a lot, that I'd explained to him about how my dad made money late in life, how if he ever had money, philanthropy was the best thing about it. That we joked, "except first class."
That was true but I did not remember saying this to him. He told me that I suggested he tell his parents to see him while together, because the back and forth was too painful for him. Sounded like me though I had lost the memory as we do about so much we say that another quotes back to us. You know?
He was at times sad, yet once I trusted him, he was equally ebulliant, also relieved. I asked him what in hell happened?
He said, "No it wasn't only insomnia, and it wasn't that combination of pills they talk about me talking." Me: "What then?" He: "I have high tolerance for relaxants. That wasn't what killed me. I got into a rough spot since making Candy by doing heavy drugs, intravenous. He showed me the way he shot in places no one would check--his thighs, or on his rear end, never lately in obvious places. Since I have never done heavy drugs, I trusted him and true, he had a few track marks, very mild & almost erased on both his arms.
He: " So, I'm filming Doctor Parnassus and boy I do love Terry (Gilliam) but I learned that if I shoot cocaine at midnight I might look like hell in the morning but my acting didn't suffer. And I am a night person, that's when I get my best ideas. I've been on heavy stuff off and on for a while. The stress of losing my kid. The way I can act more intensely."
Heath speaking: "My mistake was forgetting that I couldn't carry anything with me back to New York and so I called a friend from the airport, after dumping my stash. He was in CA, promised to mail the coke and heroin via Fed Ex Same Day." ( I never heard of this and later I checked; there was such a service.)
Heath: "I could not believe when I arrived in NYC, nothing was there and I was already in a sweaty withdrawal. I called his cell but he didn't answer. I was seriously screwed. I called others who promised to overnight me good stuff. They did not show by noon when I felt myself slipping away. I wanted to sleep until the package came. I believe several came that day, but too late for me. So I had to take everything I could while waiting.
"What I died from was withdrawal from heavy stuff, not overdosing from what for me is relatively mild, though those many pills were quite sickening. I have a huge tolerence. That is not what killed me. "
Me: "Why are you telling ME this? In fact, why did you choose me to visit?"
He: "First of all, though I'm pretty okay being dead (here he quoted The Tibetan Book of the Dead what I hadn't read in decades.) He said that had a month or so to say his important good-byes. He was scared to see his parents and feared seeing his daughter in misery.
What about his many friends? "Look everyone says they are my friend. Like most people, I count on 6-7 who I call real friends. Maybe less. I was shy, do you remember?" I nodded. "Well fame puts you in many strange situtations and the drugs helped. So they report that I have so many friends. That is not true. I was never a party boy. That image is part of the fame territory. Fame, in more ways than you can ever believe--can really suck. Especially if you are introverted." And then:
"My world was not safe. I had had many lovers but my baby was what I most cared about and Michelle knew everything and I might never see my daughter again."
He said that he needed to hang somewhere safe until he worked up courage for the real good-byes. I do not want to make Heath Ledger sound too serious here. Mainly he was mystical and fun, upbeat and very good company. ( Among the best.)
I told him that I had to refill my clonozipan script. I told him I'd taken 1 pill (10mg) every night over the past several months. He: "Man, that's a bitch. Look, while I'm here you won't feel any withdrawal. That's a promise. But you get your meds the minute I have to leave." He asked me about how I felt without the meds. Me: "Right now, fine. I wanted to see how long I could go so I stopped them 48 hours before you arrived. Usually by that time, I have to take one or I feel a bit shaky, a bit weird. No one told me they were addicting." He smiled and said "You're joking, right?"
Now since this is harder to write than I imagined I am going to type here from notes I wrote right after he left. Yes, this could be my imagination but I do not believe that is so. I believe what he told me, that he was visiting many people but he needed someone who would be less charged about his death. He said that it was rare to have such "totally real encounter," what we had had. He said that short as ours was, he remembered me as soon as he died because he was also nostalgic for being 22, when he was just smoking pot and not yet so very famous, and that we were 'ultra connected on a day when my life was good.'"
In addition to what I wrote above, when I asked him why me, he did say, "I need to rest but also you were comforting and fun, and I knew you would take me in without blasting it on the news. Also, we shared a 'radical originality' and I don't find that often enough." I didn't have much modesty while he visited, though typing this out is embarrasing. But I want to remember exactly what Heath said.
He told me he had already figured out how to fly. That he could take me on his back for night flights, because his astral body was still so near the earth. I lay over his back and he took me on winged flights--no airplanes, no magic carpets. I stuck to him as if he knew how to magnetize his back and we put our arms out and played with putting our legs at funny angles. This power was all his, I was just, as he joked, "hitching a ride."
I asked him again, why he was giving me so many gifts when he was loved and known by so many--so much more deeply or genuinely. He thought about this and wasn't telling me the whole truth, I sensed that. But he said, "I needed to hide out and I knew you would take me. Also I needed to be with someone older who can travel in imagination and few your age do that. He said we shared a "radical imagination" which seemed far too kind but then he needed a "safe house" and true, I am named for she who takes care of lost boys, and they find me, O do they!
We had some philosophical conversations because that was what interested him, musing on life from his afterlife. He'd always stop to remind me that I was speaking with a dead man. That I shoudn't imagine otherwise.
We talked about the withdrawal, his, and how he should have stayed in Europe to taper off. He laughed. "You have no idea how many idiotic things I've done. With the drugs I thought I was invincible. I did not think practically." After a silence, he added more to himself than to me, "You just have no idea how fucked up I got." I said, "But in all the papers they are saying you were clean except for the combo of prescription drugs."
He said that with his immense fame everyone would cover for him especially since he had made a few directors a ton of money. Anway he added, "Look, I had that talent so I could lie and be believed. I was great at acting and the drugs helped. The one thing that terrified me is that Michelle, she knew it all. I bet you my dad is going to give her hush money. No one else wants to betray me. Though I've had it rough, it is also true that lots of people loved me, no matter what. Not Michelle though."
On Friday night he told me that this was our last night. That he had a new take on just how long he had to visit while dead. So, he had to move on. "I'm sorry," he said, sensing my sadness. He had amazing manners. "Let's make our last encounter our best." And "best" it was. Heath L. had sexual magnetism up a wazoo, but we did not go there, that was unthinkable. On our last night, he was no longer shy but funnier and freer. Though as we talked he'd say things like, "I had a romance with death, what you do not have so it must be hard to understand me." I told him that it was by now not odd in the least.
One of the last things Heath's ghost said to me was about the flying. He claimed he had figured it out almost immediately and then complimented me again by saying that we both had access to imaginative flying, which was how he discovered to do it when dead. Again I was less flattered than I was, with him, matter-of-fact. I had no delusion that I had any talent to match his but it would have been rude to say so.
We went out flying which by now felt familiar. It was as if our world was one huge Planetarium and once we had circled around, we came home. He told me to "get back to your imaginative powers, to finish your novel and that the actual/(or not actual) flying would help me. Then he said that he was not, or not yet, sad about his own death. "I'm okay with it so far. It isn't as painful as when I was alive." Heath Ledger, dead or alive, was sweetness incarnate.
Sure enough, he never visited again. I thought I might feel him even from afar but he was gone, nowhere, the room was emptied of him, completely.
After I went to the pharmacy, shaking now, I wrote most of this and then took out my sorry half-novel, and true-- now I could see how to fix it as I could not before he visited. I have nothing to compare to Heath's gifts, nothing remotely close to his talents but after he left, I did feel a subtle blessing and put it into my work.
Call me crazy, but I'm sure he was here. He had to leave for parts of Australia or parts unknown. He had to face the really horrid good-byes. I got out of my neediness just before he left and I said to him, "It's going to take all your courage to do this astral visiting with your family."
His final words were these: "It's much easier to be courageous when you're not alive but you are right, it won't be easy. One reason I picked you was, to tell the truth, that I knew you would not be charged for me, so I could practise on you. Now to see my parents who are not going to be as accepting, another reason I chose someone their age."
"Bye to you, Wendy."
Read Peter Biskind in August Vanity Fair, to hear another voice who is no mystic but believed or almost did that Heath was out there after death.