Hayes, Bill. “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me”, Bloomsbury, 2017.
Life With Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks was one of my heroes. He was a man who loved life and was a genius. Here is Sacks as seen through the eyes of Bill Hayes, the man who he spent his last years with. It was 2009 when Bill Hayes came to New York City from San Francisco. He had no idea of what to expect yet he only bought a one-way ticket and had no job or prospects of one.. He was forty-eight years old and had spent much of his life in California where his partner had recently died. It did not take long before he was caught up in the rhythms of the city. He knew he needed change and the loss of the love of his life grieved him. He was able to find some consolation in the beauty of the city’s skyline at night and in some of the New Yorkers. Hayes had been an insomniac his entire life and he met kindred souls in New York as he took late night walks. Bill Hayes unexpectedly fell in love again— with neighbor and friend, noted author and neurologist, Oliver Sacks.
Hayes shares his life in New York and with Sacks in wonderful slices of life and this all starts with Sacks telling him that he fears wasting life more than he fears death. We see Sacks at his sweetest and dearest. He fell in love when he was seventy-five years old and facing his last few moments on earth. He died not long after in August, 2015. What Bill Hayes gives us here is a meditation on death alongside of a celebration of life. He has written a love song to his adopted New York City and to those who fall under its magic. For those who have been to New York City, you are aware of all it has but here we get the bonus of also learning about Oliver Sacks. While this is Hayes’ memoir it could also be Sacks’ as well. The part of Oliver Sacks’ life that has been missing is his last years and we see here that they were years of love and happiness. We also see that it is never too late to fall in love. As I read, I kept hoping that the book would not end the way history has it and that the two men would have more time together. Yet it is good to know that they enjoyed the moments that they had together and the love that they shared flows off of the page. We read about life, soul mates, and love and I found myself both tearing up and smiling as I turned the pages.
Hayes recreated New York for me through the use of journal entries, photos and recollections of his daily activities and I love his story of meeting Oliver who fell in love with him as he faced illness and death. We see the living Oliver here and he is glorious even in his last days. Mixing “memory with desire”, Bill Hayes gives us a wonderful story that is beautifully written with tenderness and very open eyes showing us that humanity indeed has soul, something we so badly need to know.