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Conspiracy of Two

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In light of these events, it is tempting to think of what happened on July 10 as somehow making “sense,” as the moment when Duncan, at least, reached the bottom of the spiral. And yet no one remembers Duncan talking about the Scientology conspiracy that day. She updated her blog with a portrait of a blonde woman putting on a mask and a benign quote from the novelist Reynolds Price: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens—second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence …” She and Blake shared a late lunch together, and then Blake left the house for a few hours. When he returned he invited Father Morales up to the apartment for a drink. That was when Blake found Duncan on their bedroom floor. A brief suicide note indicated that she loved him and was at peace with her decision.

By all accounts it was for Blake as unexpected as it was devastating. According to friends, suicide was something Duncan had never spoken about with Blake. She was a fighter, after all, and suicide is the ultimate act of giving up the fight. There was no explanation, nothing logical about the scenario, although there were speculations. Perhaps she had grown tired. Perhaps she had gone mad. Bradford Schlei, who had spent much time with the two in Los Angeles, believed it was Duncan’s last attempt to purge whatever had overtaken their imaginations. “I think Theresa took her life trying to let Jeremy escape from something that was haunting her,” he said. “He could have extricated himself from all the weirdness. I think she checked out before it was irreversible for him.”

Many of Blake’s friends from D.C. and L.A. came the next day to offer comfort and to make sure he did not do anything rash. To many he seemed lucid, rational. He talked to his gallerist, Lance Kinz, about the details of his opening. He talked to the Corcoran about the upcoming show. He knew that people were worried that he would contemplate suicide and tried to calm their nerves. “I am not going down that rabbit hole,” Blake would say. “No way am I going to follow Theresa.” Another night he told a friend, “I didn’t realize how much you guys love me. Now I know. I get it.” He started planning a memorial service, telling friends to make sure there were plenty of accomplished women in attendance. He also gave friends a list of names of people to contact in Los Angeles. Things had become complicated over the past few years, he explained, and he hoped they could help him reach out, make amends.

But there were other moments, just as frequent, when he spoke of voices and visions, when it was clear a part of him saw her death as connected to the forces that had been consuming them over the years. He spoke of the Scientologists, of their plot. Should he have been hospitalized? It was an option discussed by friends, but Blake was an adult, a grown man, and just as he seemed to be leaning toward the darkness, he would become rational once more. On July 18, he was going to drive with a friend to Michigan to attend Duncan’s funeral (“If we can just get him through this …”), and the day before he was out running errands to prepare for the trip. Blake seemed to be doing well that day, focused on the logistics, and when he told his friend that he was going to drop by the offices of Rockstar Games in order to print out some maps for the drive, his friend was not concerned about this being the first time Blake would be unattended since Duncan’s death. From the office, instead of going back to his apartment, he walked toward the subway and took the A train to the last stop, Rockaway Beach. He was last seen taking off his clothes and walking into the water. According to police, the suicide note found with his wallet referred to Duncan.

Shortly after the deaths, workers began repairing the façade of St. Mark’s Church. The chipping portico was sanded, repainted. The July 3 benefit, for many the last time they saw the couple, had raised $12,000 for the church, and it seemed a fitting gesture to put it to use quickly. Today there is a black-and-white photo of Duncan and Blake attached to the iron gate, the two of them staring coolly into the camera lens, his left arm draped around her shoulder. It is a temporary memorial, though there has been talk of creating something more permanent, a plaque, perhaps, to let passersby know that Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, two artists very much in love, had once lived and worked here.


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