"Barbara -- this is Anaïs Nin speaking. I have read your work and I think it is very good. We have many affinities. I would like you to come and see me." That was how it began. Three years later, this is how it ended: "I can't tell the world about my illness, but you can, and I want the world to know. I want you to write about this."
I have chosen to reveal the intimacies of Anaïs's last days as I witnessed them so that the story of her death is not lost. Everything comes back in the mind's eye. Everything comes back in the crucible of the heart. She remains in my psyche all these years later as the most refined and rarified human being I have ever encountered. As Marcel Proust observed, "People do not die immediately for us, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life... it is as though they were traveling abroad."
HER VOICE IS NO MORE from ANAIS NIN: THE LAST DAYS
A few days after Christmas, Rupert phoned late in the evening. It was nearly 10 p.m. He apologized for the lateness of the hour, saying that Anaïs had begged him to call me, that she was very weak and had not been able to dial herself. While we were speaking she took the phone from him.
"Barbara, do you think you could slip away for a bit? I know it is terribly late but I cannot bear the pain anymore. Please come and sit with me. I need you."
Your voice had become a phantom quavering tremulously on the edge of an abyss. I put on something pretty, I don't recall what it was, and left immediately. The house was wrapped in darkness when I arrived. There was only one tiny light on at the opposite side of the bed.
I went and wiped away her tears and put a cool cloth on her forehead. I held her hands in mine while I sat next to her and talked to her softly. She could not stop sobbing and then she asked me if I would get in bed with her and hold her. I was startled but at the same time it was such a human thing. I walked round to Rupert's side of the bed and gathered up her frailness and held her in my arms as if she were a child, rocking her gently, stroking her head, her cheeks, softly kissing her tear-stained face.
"Darling, can I have the shot now that Barbara is here? Please? The pain is so bad, nearly unbearable. I don't have to wait any longer, do I? It's nearly time anyway, isn't it?"
Rupert did not seem to hear her. I couldn't believe that he was still trying to make her wait as if it made any difference whether or not she became addicted to the morphine. It was ridiculous. It no longer mattered. He still couldn't let go of the idea that she would rally yet again.
I spoke up then and asked him very quietly, but very firmly: "Rupert, please give her the shot. She needs it now."
Her body was rigid with the pain and she rested her head on my shoulder while Rupert searched for a tiny spot of unmarred flesh on her fleshless buttocks. He had a difficult time with the shot. It seemed to take forever. She was a mass of puncture holes now and the shots themselves were extremely painful.
"We have tried everything for the pain," Rupert said. "Foot massage, acupuncture, meditation. Nothing works any longer. Only the morphine."
Whimpering like a wounded animal, Anaïs whispered in my ear telling me how it burned when it first went in, hot and red and then white and searing. "After a while, when it begins its journey through my body, it spreads out and engulfs me in a rush of warmth."
I pulled her gown down and the sheet up over her frailness. She drifted off in my arms, and I cradled her broken body against mine until she awoke. She must have slept an hour or so. She was so thin, barely any weight at all in my arms, like glass. I was afraid I might break her. I stroked her hair, her cheeks.
"I have never done this before," she whispered. She could no longer speak in a normal fashion. Her voice was gone. The disease had invaded her entire body.
I had to put my ear to her mouth to hear what she was trying to tell me. "I have never wept on another woman's shoulder. But there are some places that women touch that men cannot know. I cannot stand any more suffering. It has become unbearable." The night was dark and wild, and outside I could hear the leaves sighing in the wind. The room too was dark save for the little light on Rupert's side of the bed. He had disappeared somewhere.
"Am I dying?" she asked.
"You'll only die when you're ready to, Anaïs." I hoped my voice would sooth her. "Don't be afraid, Anaïs. Let go. We're all here to help you. Death is a release. It is freedom, the only real freedom. We've spoken about that before, remember? Shakespeare called death 'the little sleep.' Try to think of it that way. Just going to sleep."
A few days later, she whispered her final dream into my ear:
"I dreamt that I had all my dresses and capes laid out on the floor and that we were going to have them copied exactly for you. Then we would go out together as twins. But someone told me that was foolish because I could not get up and go out and that we could not ever be twins together. And that made me feel very sad and I woke up."
"But of course we can be twins, Anaïs. You'll see. When you're stronger we will lay all the dresses on the floor -- just as you dreamed -- and we'll step in and out of them, choosing just the right ones to have copied. We'll dress up as twins and play and dance and go out together just as you've dreamed."
The telling of the dream caused her great agitation and she became restless and distraught as if a fire burned in her. She worried and fretted about everything. About me, about Rupert, about her inertness, which she blamed on the drugs. She would not let go. She strained to speak and the frantic phrases tumbled out of her mouth, beating the air. To lift a hand was no longer possible. Yet the mind inside was in the grip of an awesome terror.
"I cannot stop my mind. I cannot turn it off. There are so many things to talk about. There are so many plans we must make. There are so many things we must do."
Her voice, white with pain, cried out, a long, mournful haunting. "I can no longer see the violet fishes, Barbara. Not even the little gold flecks. Barbara, I am so tired. Rupert says Papa is waiting for me on the other side when I cross over." A few months earlier I had given her a mobile that Rupert hung above her bed.
When I reached him the following day he told me that he had taken you back to the hospital to help ease the dying. That it was a hard and difficult death.
"It was a blessed relief," he said, "because she had suffered so for the past two years. I was with her and her nurse Jo, who helped to ease the death as much as possible. But now that is over with, and she is with her father again and her mother and Gonzalo and they are waiting for her on the other side. I told her that she shouldn't be afraid to leave me behind because her spirit will always stay with me in the house and I will not be alone because she will always be with me and she will not be alone either because her father is waiting for her on the other side and now he will love her. I told her that her spirit would finally be free to flow to all the spots on earth, because that is what she wanted."
* * *
After her death, Rupert Pole announced her passing on her favorite purple cards:
"On January 14, 1977...at 11:55 p.m. Anaïs made the transvoyage into her 'World of Music.' Her passover was a blessing, relieving her of over two years of constant pain and misery. She wished her ashes to be scattered from an airplane into the Pacific Ocean where they will be carried to all parts of the world. She wishes you to celebrate her by reading."