Eve Helene Wilkowitz, 1959-1980
In the spring of 1980 I’d just begun to live as a writer (age 25) in New York City. “Up until that age, I had no development at all,” said Herman Melville: “I date the beginning of my life from that year.” In central ways over three decades since that spring, I have felt the same thing.
New York! The breathing howling dynamo of American literary tradition, grimy, grand and alive to the last hidden street-corner. You stepped out your door every morning and swam out into living, and if one sense was shocked by some revolting daily revelation of human being, the other four senses didn’t care—they were drunks getting drunker by the breath on every sight, smell and sound, all of it reverberating intensified off the city’s endless canyon walls. Every mile each day was different, every person seemed to belong in a movie, and sometimes the whole packed-in human river flowed along almost in silence—until the next few minutes of utter pandemonium exploded into any hour, a convincing reminder of the madhouse under the imperial city of the world.
Drop something while you walk to your first freelance-writing job, it’s gone. Leave a door open, a key unaccounted for—forget it. Miss those signs that you’re starting to stick out like a mark and you’ll become one. And that’s the way it is: New York as usual the most intense example of whatever you want to talk about.
So here’s the mystery posed to me one Spring Friday night in 1980:
Having dinner with Eve Helene Wilkowitz, then a near-21-year-old publishing secretary working through school toward social work—a vibrant, charming, warm-hearted woman with dark eyes and long strong legs who loved her younger sister and was helping her to survive the recent death of their mother at a young age.
We eat, see a movie, walk the midtown city night holding hands and talking, talking. There’s no doubt we’re in love for the six electric weeks behind us. In fact we’ve just said it aloud to each other for the first time, and already talked some plans about moving in together. Under that, there’s more, and a ringing in my ears: The One. The One.
So there we are back at my midtown mouse-hole of a place, late, the city thrumming and quiet all around while those first exquisite deep kisses of a new beginning married us to Spring. In fact, I wanted Eve to stay the night with me instead of her usual—a ride on the night’s last Long Island Railroad train, back out to her then unhappily-shared apartment in Bay Shore.
I made it gently truly clear that I meant Sleep, and Eve believed me. So, she told me her real reason for why she had to go. She was not feeling well at all, with her ongoing period just then—she needed rest before she had to face some Saturday responsibilities. Then, she smiled, she’d be back to spend the rest of Saturday with me. Very promising, that smile.
So there we were, still making out as the near-midnight time for that last train kept approaching. I could not kiss Eve enough, and the funny thing from there is that while I did so, she proved so needful of real sleep that she was starting to nod off right there in my arms. Completely vulnerable, warm, tender, breathing deeply, resting. Safe.
I could respect her wishes, and wake Eve up in good time to take her across town in a taxi to Penn Station. She had never allowed me to ride the train all the way home with her—it was a beastly journey and Eve the work-commuter and NY native felt absolutely in command of it: there was “no need. I know everybody.” Still I always pressed to go till I nearly made her mad.
On the other hand, counseled my amorous 25-year-old New York writer’s intensified brain, I could pretend to fall asleep too. Just until the last train was sure-gone. Then she’d discover what a paragon of loving patience I could often pretend to be.
I woke Eve up and took her to the train. She slept with her head on my shoulder while the taxi tossed and rattled both of us, driving insanely down empty late-night Thirty-Fourth Street for the Station’s West Side.
The little argument about riding out with her erupted again right on the platform, and that was that. There were, after all, people around—a minor flood in the Station basement was tangling up a home-bound crowd from some Madison Square Garden sport event. I let her go.
Down the stairway Eve stepped, and she disappeared.
So have I wondered these 32 years: what was right? If I had not done as Eve had asked, not awakened her to take that train, she would be alive. I respected her wishes, and she isn’t.
No hope of anybody knowing where she was all that following weekend. No hope of filing a Missing Persons for at least 24 hours and till all known contacts were exhausted. So, I waited and chewed myself to pieces, until the following Tuesday morning.
“Mr. Dempsey, this is Detective Palumbo with Suffolk County Police Department out on Long Island. We’d like you to jump on the train and come out here today, while we work on this Missing Persons.”
So, I went, afraid as I was to leave the phone. And after a whole day of dark faces and riding-around’s to many locations never seen before, nor understanding why I was seeing them, they sat me down where I looked at Eve’s own chaotic kitchen for the first time, and told me she was dead. They watched the blood fall out of my face.
Eve “went missing” somewhere along her long route—from Pennsylvania Station, through Babylon and out to Bay Shore, Long Island, where at the station she always counted on a local taxi for the last leg of dark streets home. She was held alive for three days, and then murdered early that next Tuesday morning—and her body, her killer(s) dumped in the backyard of a suburban-style family home not three blocks from the place where Eve had lived.
When I got back to my room that evening I sat still in the dark all night. When the sun came up I started writing out every breath of our six weeks. In two days it was 86 long-hand pages.
As the last friendly face Eve probably saw, I was in the prime suspect category for awhile. By chance, a medical student who’d sold me his used stereo showed up to deliver it, with his father, early that Saturday morning of Eve’s disappearance, and they described my disheveled crawl out of bed to meet them. Later, a lie detector test wrapped me in cables and mirror-windows—and years later in the 90s, two further New York detectives simply appeared one afternoon in the driveway of my home north of Boston. We talked the case all over again, which is to say they helped me talk and gave out nothing, and they swabbed my mouth for a DNA sample. I was amazed and grateful that they were still in action about this.
And yet—nothing. Except everything. It’s good to observe how their science and these humanities converge: upon the value of a single human life. Eve made me a man. And a writer.
I’m now—or rather, for 15 years I have been—writing a second novel that takes my old Minoan Cretan tribespeople of Ariadne’s Brother into the larger ancient world, where as we now know, they came face to face with the Israelites in the days of their emergence into history—the time of Samuel, Saul and David. Not one single agent or publisher will so much as go near this, the story still bleeding in the lines of our daily news. And yet this thing day and night will not let me go, undone.
For all the guidance Eve has given me these years since that broken Spring, I feel her with me now like a protectress—because from having loved her as I have, the world will know there is not one single bone of anti-Semitism in my being. I am going to interrogate my tradition, fact with fiction, fiction with fact. And where have you been, O my fathers, my tradition, to say or do one thing for this your daughter? What honors were bestowed on woman in her name? What tigers walk our nights born and growing from your insane imaginations against Life?
Here is something “final” I know. For all the walls I’ve walked and worked through in this life of mine now doubled, It—the matter of Eve—stands. A cosmic iron wall. It will never be gone. It will never be comprehended, and never be rectified. As Oliver LaFarge’s Laughing Boy sang out to the canyons of his grief: Time will not change it.
When I breathe, it’s a spear in my chest that makes shattering music. When I laugh in sorrow’s face, we win. When I talk, it is listening. When I walk it guides me. When I read it offers footnotes. And when I remember, I know how much I can love no matter how hard things can be.
In the Spring of 1980 I began to cry every day for about two years, and one day I just seemed to crack completely open. “I” dissolved. It was the highest joy I might ever experience, with a kind of deep rolling ocean of sorrow underneath it. It was the furthest reach ever of my capacity to care about another person. I remember sheer amazement, a sense of infinite connection, with every luminous speck of dust precisely in place, and most of all gratitude. Seems that I’ve measured “eve”-rything else in life by that time and moment.
Is poetry defiance of death? So are flowers. The first below (al qui quiere!) came out of living alone in Crete in the 1990s. As I took off from home and family to write again, my loving father smiled as if I cut the throat of his happiness, in going, and I went. A harrowing time, first affiance and book-contract both in wreckage, and absolutely on track still through 15 years and 2,000 crazy pages of Minoan manuscript. The second poem—what I still feel every Spring with crocus at my feet.
To Life! I hope they help put murderers in jail.
She Is [circa 1991]
The name by which I reach toward Forever,
the Earth beneath me and the Star above,
the strength I find still there through every weather,
the memory that we are born to love.
I died with her. We were reborn together,
she within my heart, and we live on.
This must be why so sweet, and bitter
it is to burn like sun and moon in one.
Eve means Life; and now I cannot lose,
because to feel this fire is to have won.
She’s past them: I, not yet; but O my Rose,
You will prevail by what our lives have done.
Three days through an underworld of rape,
this was the blue dawn hour
when my Evie left the world,
I have curled my strength
around her sleep,
I will kiss her
hands and eyes
until they trust the world again.
Royal-purple crocus breaking
tender through the snow.
This morning we found
Eve Helene lying on the ground.
is adequate for either.
gentle things will rise,
however hard the vernal day,
however cold the sun.