Back when, many years back, in fact, I lived in Paris with my friend, a poet, Leonard Leconte. I was a young lyricist, looking for a place to hang out. He offered me to stay with him in his small apartment. I was poor by Parisian standards, separated from my family, not knowing which way, if any, was the way forward. The thing about Leonard was that he didn’t just call himself a poet; he was unquestionably a poet. He lived it, you see. We shared a bathroom, but we each had a study, and every day I aimed at writing down five hundred rhythms in my notebook before dragging them into the sidewalk cafés along the Champs Elysees, nestling up to beautiful women, those with elegance and poise, and asking, “Would it bore you too much to listen to samples of my work?” Some shrugged me away, most in fact.
So yes, Leonard and I made it work. Occasionally, we needed to get out from the confinement of the apartment walls seeking a way to feel inspired. We would spend the day admiring the women who walked up and down the Champs Elysees. I would read my rhythms to them, telling them I would one day be famous. Leonard never said such things; instead, he would offer them his poetry. We were so full of ourselves, I remember. Leonard had something, you know; he had spirit, art, joy–I’m not sure what else to call it. Women who met him were enamored. We were inseparable back then. I didn’t know what it was, be it Paris, the Seine, the women, the artists, or the richness of the religion all around, but I loved it. Sometimes we would meet up with his friends in the evenings, have drinks, and listen to each other talk about our lives. It’s hard to tell exactly when my story began, maybe after an accident happened in the universe, or something unknown that radically upset the balance of one’s sense of self. You see, Leonard was a beautiful man, but he was also a secret drug user, an alcoholic, and a man who couldn’t talk about his problems and only listen to those of his friends. He would go off into various dimensions of his existence, but looking back I can now say, with great certainty, he suffered brilliant moments of madness.
Nothing very unusual happened to us all those years ago, or maybe everything that happened was indeed unusual; so yes, looking back on the nature of my friend, just the act of thinking about him serves now to reflect his image in my memory. He saw things as only poets do, in an imaginative light. In truth, Leonard was never going to be ordinary; he was born with the heart of a Chansonnier, having perfected his craft on fifteen-year-old girls. Later, he wrote his poetry on the sidewalks, enticing the most beautiful women to stop. There was just something about Leonard when he bid them stop, and so it was that they always returned to read of themselves.
The doctor revealed the diagnosis in the court. Suicide, they decided. What did they know? They knew nothing; absolutely nothing about Leonard. The shadow of his despair came in from its dark corner and sat close. I was too upset, too dumb to acknowledge what was said. I had lived for several years in his light and lovely air. My tears were a useless demonstration of anguish, quite different from those that might herald a child’s arrival into the world. And yet, it was a celebration of his life. Yes, the force of faith and compassion, the idea that somewhere, somehow, a miracle would happen, kept me from the brutal reality of his addiction. Nothing from that point, and you must trust me on this, was ever more remarkable than love. There is no other word to explain his absence in my life. Love.
I remember how it was for me after Leonard’s death: exploring religion, life’s perfection, the way forward. I compared every man I ever met with Leonard. Sometimes, I think I see him in the Mission area of San Francisco, or wandering through the Tenderloin, for such were the kinds of places he would go when I wasn’t with him.
He was a creature of two lives. He was my friend.