The Obsession That Won’t Die


I am, as many of you know, something of an obsessive when it comes to certain topics, people, places.

I am also a liar. And a thief. But more on that later.

Of all my obsessions, the one that I have the hardest time letting go of, and explaining, is my enduring fixation on my first love, a brainy, funny, voluptuous, creative, tortured woman named Jami. So obsessed, that I was moved to write my one and only solo stage piece about her. So obsessed, that I then self-produced the show in Chicago nine (!) years ago, a process I discussed in the early days of C?WC?

(I also recounted the subsequent threat of a lawsuit I received from one of the other principals in the play, leading to the hard-earned lesson that you shouldn’t use someone’s real name in a biographical work, especially if that someone seems to have some misgivings about certain decisions in her life. But the gag order prevents me from saying anything more.)

I suppose I could just say, if you’re curious about my relationship with Jami and the turns it took, read the play. But I don’t post or send that out any more. And reading the play wouldn’t really explain why I still think about her so much, and why today I was moved to find any trace of her that I could on the Internet. And truthfully, I can’t answer either question. The latter one might be easier to understand if she had appeared in my dreams last night, as she often does (which I know makes it sound as if her spiritual being wills herself into my dreams. Which is, of course, silly. Right?). Sometimes, we interact in my dreamscape the way any dreamer does with someone from their life, past or present. Other times, though, I know she is dead, I tell her she is dead, and can’t understand why she is there in front of me.

Obsession, maybe?

jami2A little bit of back story is in order. A one-month relationship (physically, nothing below the neck) during the summer of 7th grade, which had been proceeded by many marathon phone calls (I mean like two hours), in which we mostly talked about our shared passion for music. Later, even as she had several boyfriends, one quite serious, we spent uncountable afternoons and evenings at her house. We explored drugs together. She turned me on to music that I still listen to today. She introduced me to Eastern philosophy and Rimbaud and the Beats and so much more. And as we went through high school and college—she finishing both early, a sign of her restlessness to move onto the real part of life, the writing she wanted to pursue—I remained in love with her. Would have dropped any other relationship for her. Thought I could be the one to dissolve all the pain she carried from a fucked-up childhood and that contributed, at least in part, to the heroin addiction that played such a role in her downfall. I could “save” her.

Hubris is a funny thing, eh?

Our contact grew sparse as she stepped deeper into her druggie lifestyle in NYC. When we were about 30, I found out she was living in Hartford, got a number, and called her. She didn’t want me to come visit. I drove to her place anyway, knocked on the door in the oh-so-sketchy apartment building in an equally sketchy neighborhood, but she wasn’t there. Then, years passed, and the obsession kicked in again. On a Thanksgiving Day, with no premeditation, I stopped by her mother’s house—the house that had been like a second home during so much of my adolescence. Her mother told the sad tale: Jami was in a nursing home, in practically a vegetative state, after trying, but failing, to kill herself with an overdose of pills. I left and immediately went to the nursing home where Jami was staying. Two times, actually. And it was not a pretty sight. But at least I had seen her, tried to reach out one more time, though still thinking I could save her. Thinking the mix tape I made for her of some of our old, favorite songs and that I brought on the second visit would somehow snap her back into the Jami I had fallen in love with decades before.

The tape did not have its desired effect. Jami had no clue who I was. Her mental capacity was that of, oh, a five-year-old. The reading material by her bed consisted of picture books. But even in that state, Jami did not want me to go. She asked if I would come back. And here’s where the lying comes in: I said yes, which I knew was not true. I could not bear seeing her like that again.

She died in May 1999, never recovering from that failed OD. There was no obituary in the local paper.

And as I found today, there is barely a digital trace of her. She’s mentioned in two alumni magazines from Barnard. The first, from 1982, says this: “Also looking to capitalize on the English language is Jami Morrone who, while working as a researcher in an executive search firm, is seeking a publishing position. Jami admits her job is interesting.” The second piece reported her death, five years after it happened.

I also found what may be the only extant example of her writing, besides the few notes she scribbled inside several books she gave me. Appropriately enough, it was a review of Elvis Costello’s third album. God, we both loved Elvis. And she liked the album.

Another find was her mother’s online obituary. I had seen it before, when Mrs. M. died in 2013—and today I got pissed again when I saw that whoever submitted the obit couldn’t even be bothered to get her first and middle names right.

I’d seen the police report online before too. A story from the Hartford Courant, dated April 3, 1996, listing her as one of many people caught in a police drug sting. She was still living in Hartford, still, apparently, using. No word on what happened after the bust.

The last mention I found came in an unlikely source: an online catalog of the papers of Allen Ginsberg, held at Stanford University. But maybe not so unlikely, given her love of poetry and the Beats and the fact that it was written some time during the ’70s, a time when I’m sure Jami would have had the gumption to write one of her literary idols. Her name appears during correspondence from that era, box 151, folder 37, and I’m betting there wasn’t another Jami Morrone who would have written him.

The letter is not available online. Now, if I were truly obsessive, I’d have already booked a trip to California or written the archive to see about getting a copy. I still might. But even I realize obsession needs some limits. Though not enough to keep me from stealing. See, on that second and last visit to the nursing home where Jami eventually died, after I lied to her, I took a picture her mother had included in a collage  of old photos hanging in the room. It showed Jami as she looked right around that time she wrote that Elvis review. A time when I knew I still loved her. Would always love her.





~ by mburgan on August 3, 2017.

6 Responses to “The Obsession That Won’t Die”

  1. Ah hate when I cry.

  2. Beautiful.

  3. It still makes me so sad to read this… Always dancing to a different beat than the rest of us, but so in tune to what was going on and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I think of our group often and smile at our adventures – from hanging around in her room with the mattress on the floor and that weird round light just hanging in the middle, to the pool to the road trips to whatever concert you found for us to go to, hoping to discover a new band or new sound. She was so confident and lost at the same time. Your writing is beautiful and haunting Michael.

    • Thanks for the kind words, and the spot-on observations about those days and Jami’s competing impulses. Not sure where this came from today but glad I shared it.

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