Deborah Digges
photo of Deborah Digges   The Stardust Lounge  


Buster the epileptic bulldog died in the fall of 1997, the day before Stephen's twentieth birthday. Buster's last six months had been difficult. His body was failing. He had developed a terrible arthritis and the medications, while easing his pain, caused his seizures to be more and more frequent. To care for him in his last days was, I imagine, not unlike caring for a chronically ill child.


I waited to tell Stephen until his birthday had come and gone. By now he was well into his second year at Parsons, loving the work, wholly involved in his classes. Stephen took the news hard. Soon after he began to make plans to deliver his super's dalmatian, Max, who whined and whimpered in the 11th street apartment house's basement, to Amherst.

In the months that followed Buster's death, I was surprised at the prolonged intensity of my grief. The passing of this dog marked the end of what began to dawn on me as a miraculous time. Sitting in front of the fire in my quiet living room early mornings with Rufus and the cats, I wrote a number of terrible poems about it as the schoolbus that Stephen and Trevor had always missed rumbled by. Soon I abandoned poetry to simply make notes as I wrote and revised and rewrote chronologies of the past seven years.

Factual documentation turned out to be a far more satisfying exercise. And as any writer knows, the more I accumulated, the more I remembered. To commit what seemed to me as airborne, reeling experience to specific dates had the effect of pinning down my confusion. Now and then I found myself pacing the empty rooms in a kind of wonderment--"Jesus Christ!" I'd laugh out loud, or "Hallelujah! Word Up!" I'd sing to Rufus and the cats as if we had just delivered ourselves, the boys, the spirits of the house--G.Q., Buster, all I who had lived and loved here--through enemy lines,


In the early days of conception of the book, I'm afraid I thought of nothing and no one as I wrote. On one hand I didn't think it would come to anything, and on the other, I thought, if it did I would call the whole thing fiction. I was writing for myself, as Stein says, and strangers, writing for the thrill of finding shape and connection, writing to get lost in the material at hand, bereft when I'd finish a few dissonant "chapters."


American women aren't allowed, I think, to write frankly about difficulties with their children. What kind of mother would expose them in this way? Wouldn't such writing only serve to prove what a lousy mother she is? I held to two axioms as the book took shape: 1. Write what you can live with. 2. Don't rat on your son. I also clipped the epigraph from Anna Akhmatova's poem, Requiem, and taped it to the wall above my desk. Asks "the woman with blue lips" of the poet as they stand in fine outside the prison where Akhmatova's son Lev, is incarcerated, "Can you describe this?" Akhmatova answers, "Yes, I can."


Not too deep into what I decided was a book, however, came the night sweats. Perhaps they were a bit more severe with this book than with others I have written. At such times I'd find a little calm in the lie that the writing for The Stardust Lounge was simply therapy for post-traumatic stress syndrome.


To be written about by his mother was nothing new for Stephen. He had starred in a number of my poems, particularly in the poems in Rough Music. When the books arrived from the publisher he happily ransacked the box and gave most of our hard covers to his friends. I think that Stephen believed that I had turned a corner with the poems in Rough Music. He openly appreciated their graphic language and I think he felt that he had had some influence. I don't think Stephen ever entertained the idea, like so many others, that poetry is somehow more or less than prose.


And he, Charles, and I had always deferred to one another's artistic freedom. Stephen had grown up listening to the banging of the typewriter from my room and the smell of oil paint and turpentine from Charles' room. When, at the age of ten or eleven he began to take pictures, he understood that whatever the subject, he would not be edited.

Indeed, during the many times I grounded Stephen for this or that offense, he knew that he could leave the house for one reason only--to take pictures, to do, that is, his art. He believed that his art was not bound to the pedestrian or to age. He'd come to believe that his art was sacred, as was Charles', who often painted through the night.

When it came to the written word, Most often it was I who winced as Charles or Stephen read me a story or essay they'd written. Stephen's stories, particularly, included violence, blood, monsters spewing foul language. I listened, the while imagining the look on his English teacher's face, the call I would surely receive. But if I protested, Stephen held me up to the first amendment, to Homer, and to his early understanding that art should never be censored.


Charles is now 30. Charles lives and works as a journalist in St. Petersburg, Russia. But his true calling, as he sees it, is painting. All of his free time is spent in his studio and soon he plans to return to the US to complete an MFA.

Stephen is a photojournalist. This past year spent four months in Kenya, the Congo, Somalia, and Rwanda photographing refugee camps, hospitals, glue-sniffing kids. As I write this he is in Ecuador.


Trevor is back in Amherst from California where he worked for a while. Just now he is working at a new restaurant. He visits us often on the weekends and we're trying to convince him to come to Worcester and attend Becker College.

Frank Loew and I were married in February 2000. Frank is now president of Becker College in Worcester. We have four dogs: Rufus is alive and well, as is Annie the husky, Max the dalmatian, and Peanut, whom I bought from a homeless man in front of the grocery store last summer. Much loved cats Vasco and Einstein are with us in Worcester. The other five, terrified of the raucous Max, live peacefully in Amherst.

Last winter I was pulled over by a cop because my dogs were unrestrained in the car. Granted that Max was up to his usual attempts to be a dashboard ornament. In any event I ended up having to go to court in Northampton, the same courthouse Stephen and I had vowed once never to return to. As I waited to see the judge, I watched a man and a boy walking toward me. The kid wore his pants low on his hips, a team jacket, a ball cap. The man bent to console him. As they came closer I saw that the man was Attorney Tom Whitney, who had been so much help to me and to Stephen and all his friends. I couldn't restrain myself. "Hello!" I called. "Tom Whitney. Remember me? My son Stephen?"' He tried to place me, rolling back the long line of mothers and sons awaiting indictments, trials, court appearances. As I watched him I realized that he thought I meant now, that some new delinquent named Stephen needed his help now. "Give me a call," he replied as he put his arm around the kid and disappeared down the hall.

As for me, I'm writing poems.

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