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David was a hard-driving, constantly busy actor. Acting is a brutal profession -- the work is high pressure, and the lack of work creates even more pressure. David, however; seemed to thrive on the demands of his career. A well-built man, he appeared fit and muscled; he exercised regularly He played handball, squash, and tennis and worked out at the gym lifting weights -- he never required a stunt double. He was a veteran of more than 20 films, countless television roles, and a distinguished stage career that brought him regularly to Broadway and London. (At the time of his death, he'd been flying back and forth between the miniseries in Seattle and North Carolina, where he was a regular on Dawsons' Creek.) He had been told there was no heart disease in his family

I was the one with the family history of heart disease, the one with "symptoms." In the months before David died, I woke sometimes at night, my heart beating rapidly filled with anxiety Now I wondered, Had I intuited something as David lay next to me in bed? Intuited something about David's heart-and then internalized it? My friend the renowned neuroscientist Dr. Antonio Damasio told me it is possible that a sleeping person could register the irregular heartbeat of a partner lying next to her -- the unconscious brain could record and store an aberrant pattern of beats.

In the surge of poems that began to flow weeks after David's death, I wrote:

woke me, night after night -- insistent,
reverberant -- a word
finally understood outside conjuncture:
heart. Instead of turning
to you, breathing next to me in the bed,
I put my hand on my own

chest, my own pulse. I listened to the
hurried beats -- thought, afraid,
about the moving phrase of light on the
wall that I could not, at that time,
begin to decipher.

I'D SENSED SOMETHING, IT WAS TRUE. Late at night I'd heard the word heart as if a voice made of thunder, a strange below-the-surface dream voice, were speaking it -- but I never thought it might be David's heart that was failing. I put aside my night anxieties and worked on my novel. I'd done research on cardiac death. I'd even asked


David, who was a passionate, obsessed tennis player; about the possibility of someone collapsing on the court in the way my character had. He said it seemed plausible -- tennis is a truly exhausting cardiovascular exercise. A cardiologist friend concurred: A person with undiagnosed coronary artery disease could "irritate" the heart with too strenuous exercise and precipitate arrhythmia. So I gave my character Russell coronary heart disease -- an essentially inoperable case, then let him add the deadly heart speed and play his tennis game. And yet, despite all my research, I remember thinking how unreal Russell's demise seemed to me, how unlikely! My conscious mind denied what the unconscious was telling it.

I spoke to the physician who'd examined David for his pre-Rose Red physical. She chirped on about his "low blood pressure" and his "good, strong heartbeat." Then I recalled how I once leaned against David's chest as we sat up in bed together reading, then pulled away How rapidly how forcefully his heart seemed to be beating, I said. He smiled his unforgettable smile and pointed to his chest. "Strong heart," he said with a grin, "strong heart."

No -- his was not a strong heart, rather a heart so compromised that its very defining function, the pumping of blood, was a struggle. Why hadn't I thought more about that moment, considered why a heart at rest was beating like that? I suppose because when I looked at him worried, he laughed at me, brushing my fears aside. But I believe that this fear resurfaced in a kind of fictional equation. Art equaled life, and transformed the burden of unconscious knowledge.

WHAT WE DO WHEN WE WRITE REMAINS A MYSTERY. The imagination is a force, a guidance system, an ungovernable power. It heats up a combination of elements from life and from dreams -- with a flash of inspiration -- and out of this furnace steps invention. We are so used to news stories, firsthand accounts, eyewitness testimony -- what we think of as the "authentic," it-really-happened like-this reality But the imaginative process that produces poems and narratives and novels (as well as the great transformational style of stage acting my husband loved most) may bring to light a deeper truth about our lives. This is what is so difficult to explain.

  Somewhere in my unconscious I interpreted the clues of my everyday life, then the clues rose into that other dimension of imagining. We cannot as writers not take in what we see. The clues themselves are just details that strike us, stay with us -- a look on someone's face, a shadow falling suddenly a moment of imbalance, a spoon falling from a saucer. We cannot as writers turn away It is this access to the unconscious that keeps charging the engine of creativity Art says all we cannot say on this earth, all we are afraid to acknowledge in our lives.

And what a writer does is simply an intensification of what everyone alive does. We all tell ourselves the story of our lives as we go along. We all edit and reconstruct, denying what we can't bear to acknowledge; we heighten what we wish to heighten, making it work, making "sense" of the "facts," helping ourselves go on. In telling our stories, we deny death, we defy death.

I think back to 1981, to Florence -- the noon light pouring over us, how we shook hands. What seemed so much like fate, I believe, was sudden intuitive knowledge of another person -- and a sense of where that knowledge would take me. Sometime before David's death I began to know something unconsciously -- something unspoken, something gathering force about him -- the fading I recognized later in recent photographs. What I "knew" became what I imagined --and what I imagined could not protect David or save him. The person I knew and loved was not the person I made up in the novel's pages. Perhaps, on one level, I believed that that wild, invented, ungovernable character could alter the progression of my husband's "disappearance." But art can't save us, it can only "retell" us to ourselves: the pure narrative light of a story a poem, shining on its characters as if they were immortal, as if they're meeting each other outside of time.

OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW I HEAR THE WIND CHIMES sounding. Their music reminds me of David, always -- and reminds me to both release myself from and hold myself to the moment of apprehension. .

Carol Muske-Dukes's novel, Life After Death, was published by Random House last June.

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