All night long they kept coming, pouring in through the great old iron gates of St. Mark’s Church on Second Avenue. Inside, under the vaulted ceiling, people were sweating and swaying to excellently named bands—the Young Lords, the Virgins—the music so loud you could feel it, like a fist, thumping in the middle of your chest. Outside in the garden they huddled around the grill or lined up at the bar for four-dollar cans of Bud Light, everyone drinking a bit more than usual, perhaps, because it was July 3, 2007, and all anyone had to do tomorrow was sleep until the headache subsided and get out of bed in time for the fireworks. St. Mark’s was where Andy Warhol screened his early films, where W. H. Auden and Allen Ginsberg held readings, where Sam Shepard staged his first two plays, and here was an evening dedicated to celebrating and preserving this tradition: everyone out to get a little lost and loose and in the process raise money to restore the church’s chipping façade. It had been a while in the works, this unorthodox benefit, and everything would have been going as planned were it not for the absence of two people.
Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake lived in the rectory behind the church. And of course it had been their idea to throw this party—to create a temporary world that would, for at least a few hours, give reality a run for its money. They had been together twelve years; it was a radiant, obsessive love, a bond formed in no small part by their almost religious belief in the concept of bohemia. She was 40, a fierce personality, intelligent, clever, combative, and beautiful: the long blonde hair, the shrewd brown eyes, the offbeat, unapologetic glamour. Having made a name for herself in the nineties as one of the first people to design video games for girls, she had spent the past few years working—with increasing frustration—to direct her first feature film. In recent years she had taken to writing The Wit of the Staircase, a blog of cultural criticism that had gained a cult following. Blake was younger, 35, with dark hair and soulful eyes, an artist whose “digital paintings”—kaleidoscopic abstractions shown on plasma screens—had made him a rising star in the art world.
“Anyone seen them?”
“Where are they?”
Until seven months ago, the couple had been living in Los Angeles—in a cozy, book-lined Venice Beach cottage where they often threw salonlike dinner parties for friends, friends of friends, anyone who seemed interesting. Sometimes their move back to New York was explained by Blake’s new consulting job at Rockstar Games, creators of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, where he was a founding member. Other times it was because Duncan had grown exhausted by Hollywood—by the narrow-minded executives who refused to embrace her vision, by the unhinging sensation that she would forever be an inch away from the life she was so hungrily seeking. Often it was simply because they missed New York, where they fell in love and lived for many years and had always considered home. More complicated was the matter of what friends had taken to referring to as “the paranoia”—the couple’s consuming belief that complex forces involving the government and Scientology were conspiring against them. To know them even casually was to know the stories: of increasingly erratic behavior, of close friends being mysteriously deemed enemies. There was a pervading sense that something was not right, and a hope that New York would somehow act as a remedy.
“They won’t come down?”
“Is everything okay?”
Duncan and Blake had been found in the rectory, seated by the window, looking down at the party—their party—below. Without apology they explained that they could not come down, no, they were experiencing a “collective vision” that the grill was going to explode, somehow harming Duncan. It would have been a more troubling exchange were it not, by this point, almost expected. During their moments of clarity there were few people as thrilling to be around as these two—the banter was invigorating, the exchange of ideas fervent—but an incident like this was a reminder that moments of clarity were increasingly rare. For many friends this image of the couple—abrasive, frightened, isolated from what they loved and fostered—would prove to be their final memory. Seven days later, on the evening of July 10, Duncan swallowed a number of Tylenol PM tablets with bourbon. It was Blake who first discovered her body on the floor of their bedroom, and it was Blake who, a week later, ended his own life by taking the A train to Rockaway Beach and walking into the Atlantic Ocean.