There’s a contemporary chestnut that states, “If you remember the 60’s, you probably weren’t there.”
Depending on who you were and what you did, you could say the same for the 80’s. Boston’s Theater District was the fancy name for what was better known as The Combat Zone. Strip clubs, streetwalkers and porn shops ruled the region. There actually was a couple of legitimate theaters, along with some cabarets and comedy club or two.
It was very much the setting where young Bruce Wayne and his parents got mugged on their way back to the car.
I ran with a circus of Land Pirates, Poet Warriors, and Indulgence. Paige and I shared a casual FWB relationship that bordered on Sid and Nancy, stopping just short of actual heroin.
One morning in her Tremont Street high rise, I woke to a muffled sound in the hallway. I stumbled to the door and opened it to a blaring klaxon of the fire alarm and a smoke-filled hallway. I was still half blasted from the night before but I tried to do the impossible. I tried to wake up Paige. She was still passed out cold.
Like they say, things were kind of moving in slow motion. Not being able to get Paige up and running was creating an “Oh Geez, what do I do, what do I do” but I wasn’t, thankfully, panicking.
I drunkenly stepped into my pants, trying not to lose my balance and crack my skull, and slipped on whatever I wore on my feet the night before. I don’t remember what Paige had on, but it was enough to cover up things that needed to be covered up. I have no idea if I got her shoes on.
I grabbed a blanket and dragged Paige’s dead weight to her feet and, thankfully, she evolved into a closed eye mumble stumble state and somehow, some way, I got her down the stairwell. I don’t remember what time of year it was, but the air was cold and crisp enough to bring her around and get her head a little clearer.
This was her wake up call. She cleaned up her act big time, years before I did, but she never judged me.
We just didn’t run in the same circles anymore.
For the next ten years, she would always answer my occasional three am drunk phone calls. They weren’t booty calls. I would call to tell her how miserable I was and how much I envied her.
When my second drunk driving arrest required mandatory AA meetings, I turned over a new leaf and continued going long after my charge was dismissed. Paige invited me to join her at her meetings whenever I was back in Boston. She got me my one year coin.
She became some kind of motivational speaker and life coach. I never knew the details, but I knew she was doing something good. She would always introduce me to people as the guy who saved her life. The way she put it, it sounded like I effortlessly threw her over my shoulder and rode out of the burning building on a white horse. It was a little embarrassing but she was always so happy to tell the tale.
I took off on a three-year drive around North America, Wherever I stopped, I would take something that wasn’t nailed down in the hotel room, a channel list for the TV, a card that introduced the maid by name or maybe a card from a nearby pizza delivery joint. Whatever it was, I would flip it over to the blank side, write Paige’s address, throw a stamp on it and drop it in the mailbox. No message. It was just a way of saying, “All is well.”
A few years later my sobriety wasn’t bringing me a lot of positivity, but I stayed sober. I got married and both of us quickly became aware that neither of us was who the other thought they married.
I stopped gigging and got a very well paying job that was mind-numbingly dull and soul-crushing so that we could have medical insurance.
During the 80’s, I kind of forgot to do my taxes and I had a one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollar debt to the IRS that was in limbo but still racking interest and penalties. When they saw that I had a regular paycheck they garnished my wages and I had to scramble around evenings and weekends to keep us afloat.
August 2001, Paige called. In the years that had gone by, she had married a very well to do fellow and they lived in a big house just outside of Boston. She was throwing a huge birthday party for her mom out back in the really big backyard. Her mom had always been a big fan of my work and Paige wanted to add me to the list of performers she booked for the party. Awesome.
I went right from work, left my suit jacket and tie in the car, opened a few buttons and worked out a spoken word bit over a walking bass line with the ‘house’ band.
It was nice to see Paige and her mom. Paige and I were never intimate again after the fire, but we had history and she was someone very special despite our paths that led further apart over time.
Tuesday, September 11th, the world stood still. The skies were ghostly and silent. People began quietly talking with other people who they hardly knew.
Two days later my phone rang. It was Paige’s best friend, crying hysterically. Paige was in the plane that hit the second tower. She was on her way to some seminar in California. The hijackers purposely picked long-distance flights because those planes had the most fuel.
She was out of her mind with grief, but before I could grasp what she had said, she added, “You saved her life once. Why couldn’t you have done it one more time.”
It was a one-two punch and I guess it was the camel’s last straw. That and everything else that was going on turned me into a functioning but emotionally numb robot for the next several years.
Then, after a divorce, out from under that impossible debt (via bankruptcy) and back to my ‘real’ job, I moved back to New York City and wanted to contact Paige’s mom. It took some doing, but I made contact. She was happy to hear from me and I always sent her a little note on Paige’s birthday and on that… other thing.
Then several emails went unanswered. Somebody finally told me that they think she passed away.
I never delete email addresses of people who have died. I’m afraid to. I don’t know why. I just am. Paige and I didn’t have email, even after the web took over everybody’s life.
I have something else.
During my travels, Paige was intrigued with my roughin’ it lifestyle. The hotel rooms were few and far between. I’d camp out in my car most the time.
Paige gave me a book. It was a book about camping and woodcraft from the early 1900’s. It was fascinating and ingenious.
I throw out a lot of things. I don’t keep books after I’ve read them. But I still have that book. I think it’s the only book I actually have and it’s traveled with me through all my living situations.
I hardly ever called her just 'Paige'. It was often Paige Marie or Paige Marie Bridee (both her middle names). To me, it sounded like a halcyon time, with sunny skies, blooms on bushes, ladies in Laura Ashley dresses and men in seersucker suits.
The photo up top is from the wall along the Union Square Subway Station in NYC. I still haven’t gone to see her at the 9/11 memorial. From what I hear, I don’t think I could handle all the people taking selfies.
Hi, Paige Marie Bridee. Thinking of you today. All is well. I hope you like what I wrote.