It was in 2008 that famed British neurologist Oliver Sacks sent a letter to American writer and photographer Bill Hayes, giving rise to a friendship that ultimately evolved into a deeply affectionate partnership, one that endured until Sacks’s death from cancer in 2015. With a thirty-year age difference between them, Sacks and Hayes found a unique and meaningful connection rooted in shared intellectual curiosity. Sacks, best known for his insightful writings on the mysteries of the human brain, found an equally thoughtful companion in Hayes, who has managed over the years to capture the intricacies of everyday life on film, his writing, and, as seen below, in his journal.
The Diary Entry
I, soaking in the bath, O on the toilet, talking, talking about what he’s been thinking and writing — short personal pieces, for a memoir perhaps. He had brought with him two pillows to sit on and a very large red apple. He opens his mouth wide and takes a gigantic bite. I watch him chewing for quite a while. After he finishes, “Bite me off a piece,” I say. He does so, dislodges the apple from his mouth, and puts the piece in my mouth. We keep talking. I add more hot water. Every other bite, he gives to me.
There is a quiet moment and then, seemingly apropos of nothing, O says: “I am glad to be on planet Earth with you. It would be much lonelier otherwise.”
I reach for his hand and hold it.
“I, too,” I say.
The diary entry above is excerpted from Bill Hayes’ Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me, first published in 2017 by Bloomsbury. A memoir of sorts, it’s a touching collection of vignettes written by Hayes, interspersed with his journal entries and photography. A beautiful book in more ways than one.
- A long extract, featuring additional diary entries, from Haye’s book, Insomniac City (Guardian)
- Bill Hayes’ website
- In February 2015, Oliver Sacks revealed his terminal cancer diagnosis by way of this piece in the New York Times
Diary entry excerpted from Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me. Copyright Bill Hayes, 2017. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury.