It was not without unpleasantness that I answered the first phone call from a tabloid. They wanted to know what I remembered about the incident. I said, “Things are still a little hazy.” I roughly remembered being at an airport with Noga, watching her curls furl and unfurl in front of me as we walked to the gate, an image that replays itself when I try to conjure her now. They wanted me to describe how it felt to see her insides exposed in front of me. I said, “I remember it in color. First, her flushed cheeks as she took that last breath. Then, the green of her eyes as the pupils froze, and the sclerae disappeared from her gaze. Then the rest of her…”
This is where I am. Diabolically stuck with this image of her beaming at me. I knew my words sounded peculiar to them, the creepiness of my poetic approximation too calculated. Nonetheless I said, “I remember pulling very hard on the straps of her leather bag, but nothing gave.” I knew this detail from other media coverage where they repeatedly stated that the brass on the bag’s handle had been what had done it. I told the journalists, “It was a clean cut,” but it was impossible for it to have been clean, or for me to have seen the handle cut across her gastric tissue when it caught on the arm rail of the escalator. What escalator? I didn’t remember one. I only remembered the severity of her wound and thinking it was my wound. I remembered that the blood was warm and that hers and mine converged. I remembered my index finger caught on her body, and then seeing it on the ground, not registering that it was no longer attached to my hand. I remembered these things in flashes.
This is where I am. Diabolically stuck with this image of her beaming at me.
Interviews are grueling. Journalists never want to hear the interviewee’s version of events; they only want to confirm their own. Let’s do that again so we can have it on camera, but have you say, “Noga” this time instead of saying “her.” They long to capture the disintegration of chance and recollection, can you go back to the beginning and describe exactly what she looked like? Or sometimes too, they’d tell me, don’t worry about it, we can go back to that question. They talk about latency and relaxation. Latency and anticipation. Latency and precision. Each crew needed a different scoop. After a tragic event the content of an interview is no longer about the deceased but about the mourning of the living. Knowing this, at first I’d say to them, I’d say, “Honestly, I didn’t even know Noga very well. I was only her assistant throughout a festival tour promoting her latest film.” This was how I was going to be able to support myself through college. My professor had been a close friend of Noga’s, her cinematographer, and she had secured the three-week contract for me as some sort of apologetic gesture because the university had turned me down for summer funding against her recommendation.
I flew with Noga from New York to San Francisco, down to L.A. and then Toronto. From there, off we went to Europe. My recollection conveniently stopped that day at Paris-Charles De Gaulle but I did not tell this to the press. At least not on that day. My answers were monotone but they sounded sincere. Later when I got emails from film reviewers, art magazines, influencers and bloggers, from all these folks pestering me with their condolences and requests for comment, I began to reconsider my responses and plot better ones. Reporters wanted me to fact-check quotes; cameramen wanted me to give them more “oomph” on tape. This was especially true during the earlier days, when I was still in bandages and news of Noga’s death had just broken online. They wanted me to tell them anything I could about her, about the tour, her mood, what I had seen, what she was wearing. It was excruciating and I did it anyway. I didn’t remember much, but their persistent requests gave me the upper hand, a path to some sort of new beginning or to a reconciliation with the tragedy. I started to think of these people as my therapists.
After a while, they were the only ones who cared about what had happened to Noga and by extension, to me. They wanted to patch her back into a whole. One by one, each journalist added color and dimension to the assortment of impressions Noga would posthumously become. I kept highlighting bits of truth for them. Mixing in equal parts of my own gap-filled truths with their notions and omissions. I let the press tell my story whichever way they wanted so long as they kept asking me questions. So long as I could hold their attention, anything they ran past me was fine.
I wanted to blow them off whenever I felt guilty, which was often but speaking with anyone at an arts magazine was an opportunity that I, as an emerging and very insecure artist, was unlikely to get on my own. And anyhow, it turned out these guilt-ridden episodes made me an even more credible source. My anger would manifest as arrogance, surface tension, or discomfort; the disembodied narration I fed them was perceived as pain. Even now, I believe I deserved the space I took up on the printed page or website. Say that line again, but when you say her name this time look at the camera. Are you okay? Look at the camera. Try that again. Don’t blink this time. I’d then try it again, and again. I went so far as making up some stuff about reading Noga her schedule first thing in the morning. She never woke up before noon, but they didn’t need to know that. I said I started off by confirming her appointments for the day. Making sure people arrived before her because she wanted to maintain an air of cool tardiness. I managed her phone calls; on the same phone which I later remembered being unable to operate when I wanted to call for help, my index finger failing me.
Epicurus thought friendship was eternal. That when one friend died, it was up to the one who remained living to maintain the friendship. I was determined. Noga was going to live forever.
I even told them that she and I had bonded. Lies. “She was interested in producing a script I wrote,” I said to them. False. She didn’t even have the money to produce her own films, most of her bridges burned. I told them I kept her company during the long drives to and from venues, and that when we got back to the hotels, I’d read her to sleep. Her insomnia was so bad that being read to, was the only thing that calmed her down. I acted as if I’d worked twenty hours a day for her. Always at her beck and call. I was glad she’d died before the whole “relationship” had a chance to crumble, before she saw me for who I was. I was glad she’d died because now it was up to me to portray her whichever way I felt like. Epicurus thought friendship was eternal. That when one friend died, it was up to the one who remained living to maintain the friendship. I was determined. Noga was going to live forever.
I lied to the journalists. In order to make her sound deep, I told them she chose to have me read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment come bedtime. Over and over, on camera, I lied because I imagined this was life in service to others: reading things, planning, carrying bags, being late, taking the blame, being in their mind so much you lost yourself. There was nothing I wanted more. I came to believe she owed me a chance to shine because of those hours I devoted to her and I needed a story but the real truth was more mundane. Noga’s former and long-term assistant had slept with her partner, who was also the editor on almost all of her films, and who was undergoing a mid-life crisis. Cheap shit. Nothing new.
I had not been to Oakland in a while. Not since before the internet, the dotcoms and the start-ups, not since then and the city’s changes shocked and frightened me. Even now the memories come back like exposed flesh. They collide. My vague memory of those few days with Noga, my twisted fantasies of her, with my memory of somebody else I had met during earlier days spent at a hostel in that same stupid city, a hot Irish traveler I’d made out with in a bunk bed. Thoughts like these linger and meld with any recollection I have of that first night working for Noga. Jerking off to some BDSM chat I was having over the internet, shaking hard and almost falling asleep while on a hold, or in between calls I was simultaneously placing for her. I remember the smell of fig-scented candles in the hotel’s lobby where I sat wearing a skirt with no underwear and my clit clamped with a hair claw answering questions and organizing her next few days. At least my body is my own, I’d thought, as I delayed my ejaculation in order to stay awake. And because those two periods of time melded, I fabricated an irresistible and perfect romance that the camera crew and the journalists ate up. From then on, they really just about published anything I said. Regurgitating my words in article after article, even when I recanted and said it was all unceremonious, unverifiable and pathetic, Noga was the story, and I needed the attention.
My personal life was going to shit. Money and my interest in the program at the university where I was a scholarship student were thinning out. My house was a mess. I didn’t know what my creative life had been except that it sounded like a load of crap. The new post-tragedy me saw every former project with my name attached to it as fraught and corrupted. I owed Noga everything. I owed her the right to lie, to reinvent myself as her young lover and a filmmaker of note. I convinced myself that I’d done so much for her. As a result, I became even more infatuated with her than I had been before the incident. I became fixated with learning more about her unfinished projects and personal life.
A few weeks after the accident, my professor was asked to write a profile on Noga’s earlier feminist work for Artforum. She also wanted me to fly to New York with her to attend some sort of celebration of Noga’s life. She didn’t like flying by herself at her old age and said it would give me a chance to meet the people left in charge of Noga’s estate. This would be a good place for you to make a move on getting the rights to write Noga’s biography. The prospects were odd but then again, my version of her story would sell more copies than others. Like everyone else, my professor believed Noga and I had been together, fallen in love, whatever. And it made sense. A biography, or a fiction memoir, written by the woman who witnessed Noga’s last breath. At this point, I needed the distraction as an escape.
I looked puffy and ridiculous. I had tried to reconfigure the pieces of a life that were set in place for me. I had a boyfriend and this became the way out of that relation. My face was bloated. I still bit my lips all the time, so they were cracked and swollen. At night I drank and smoked to ease tension. I’d gained weight but I still had a figure. I wanted to meet people who didn’t know who I had been. I wanted to meet people around whom I would not have to act contrite, as I could no longer remember the person I was meant to be, and I had no interest in her. I couldn’t help myself. I was internalizing Noga. I wanted to pick up where she left off.
Asesina Hudson is the pseudonym of a writer based in California. Her work has never been published but “Interviews” is an excerpt from her first novella.
Gailan Ngan works primarily in ceramics from her studio in Vancouver, Canada. She uses locally sourced and collected ceramic materials. She studied at Emily Carr University. Ngan’s work has been shown at Kamloops Art Gallery, San Diego Art Institute, Cooper Cole, Centre A: International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, and is included in the Doris Shadbolt Collection at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, at the University of British Columbia. In 2015, she received the North-West Ceramics Foundation Award of Excellence. She is represented by Monte Clark Gallery.
About the Artwork
You-Ka | clay, slips, glaze, rope | 2017 | 17×12× 9.5
You-Ka photo credit: courtesy of Monte Clark Gallery