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Found and Lost

After the discovery of his body, Spalding Gray’s wife talks about what she’ll miss most—and how she had already begun to say good-bye.

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Kathie Russo is not looking forward to this Wednesday. Or the Wednesday after that. It was on Wednesdays that Russo, Spalding Gray’s wife, would troll the Times’ “Dining In” section for elaborate recipes to attempt for her family.

Or rather, for Spalding. The kids couldn’t care less. “They want tuna-noodle casserole or pizza,” says Russo. “But Spalding always loved what I’d make. He’d say, ‘It’s like eating at a restaurant every week!’ ” She laughs, bravely attempting levity just hours after seeing her husband’s autopsy report. “That’s where I really feel the loss, at the dinner table.”

On Monday, March 8, Spalding Gray’s partner of twelve years finally got the call she had spent eight weeks trying to prepare herself for. The day before, the police had found a body on the banks of the East River near Greenpoint. It was badly decomposed, but the profile matched, right down to the black corduroy pants, just like the ones Gray had worn the night of January 10, when he apparently jumped from the Staten Island Ferry.

“Even after two months, you’re still not prepared for it,” she says. “I wasn’t done grieving, by any stretch of the imagination. But I was finally starting to feel like I was on top of things—workwise, housewise. I had just taken the kids on vacation. We hiked in the Grand Canyon, went for horseback rides. It was just so great to be together, away from the telephone. And now this. It’s like being kicked in the stomach again.”

For the last two and a half years, the monologuist had struggled to recover from a devastating car accident in Ireland. Nothing worked—not therapy, not medication. Over the last eighteen months, there were three suicide attempts, and countless suicide notes.

Except for this time. This time, there was no note, no good-bye phone message. “Nothing,” Russo says, perplexed. “I searched high and low.” She has her theories why. “I just think he wanted to make sure he did it this time. Unlike with his previous attempts, he didn’t want to leave a note, then return and feel like he had failed, if that makes any sense.

“At least I’m relieved to know he did not suffer,” she adds quietly. “When he hit the water, it couldn’t have taken more than a couple of seconds, it was so cold.”

During the 58 days she spent worrying, things weren’t exactly normal around the family’s North Haven house, but they were more routine than some might expect. After a few days off, the kids went back to school in East Hampton. Spalding’s buddies dropped in constantly to help Theo, 7, mount ambitious Civil War campaigns with toy soldiers. Forrest, 11, made himself busy prowling eBay for an electric guitar. He’s even got a band named Wainstock: “Wain” as in nearby Wainscott, “stock” as in Woodstock. They’ve been covering the White Stripes and making a hell of a lot of noise in the process—noise that, for once, is music to a mother’s ears.

“It’s strange, because I had to go to the bank today and get something notarized,” Kathie says, “and it’s probably just me being paranoid, but I felt like some people were looking at me thinking, What is she doing out? She should be mourning. But I still have to take care of stuff. I mean, we still need milk.”

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Vanishing Act
By Alex Williams
We're all familiar with Spalding Gray's demons -- venting his despair was his art and profession. But after a crippling car crash in 2001, his depression began to overwhelm him. So when he went missing earlier this month, after several previous suicide attempts, his wife, children, and friends were left to fear the worst. (February 2, 2004 issue of New York Magazine)


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