I didnâ€™t know Elliott Dabinsky that well. I imagine few did. He was a bitter, angry man, tormented by physical infirmities. He lashed out at those he felt pitied him because of his appearance.
Yet the same anger that drove his abrasiveness also fueled his poetry â€“ a mixture of raw passion and sensitivity that made you stop, think and learn. He could be funny and touching in rare moments when he chose to be but usually hid those traits behind a gruff, angry exterior that shut out the world.
A photographer as well as a poet, Elliott was a fellow member of the Floyd Writers Circle, a small group of us who share our love of the written word. When we shared something we wrote, something we agonized over for hours, days, weeks or even months, his criticism could be caustic and biting â€“but almost always on point. He could spot a weakness in phrase or misuse of tense. He often suggested the right word to add perspective and meaning to a poem or essay.
He took many prescription drugs to ease the migraines and other physical ailments. When the drugs kicked in, his speech slurred and he sometimes fell asleep sitting at the table — ominous signs of over medication.
One night, after a Writers Circle meeting, he stayed behind as I set up camera and tripod to capture a full moon and approaching storm over Floyd. We talked photography until nearly midnight. He also fussed over a misplaced ballpoint pen, complained about a migraine headache and bitched about the pain that was part of his daily routine. He wanted to talk, to reach out to someone with a common interest who could help relieve the lonliness. I wanted to take pictures and found him irritating. I should have listened more but didn’t. He left and we never talked again.
At 3 a.m. Thursday, Elliott called Kathleen Ingoldsby, a member of the Writers Group, to say he couldnâ€™t breathe. She called 911 and drove to his house. The rescue squad arrived before her but it was too late.
As word spread on Thursday, many of us realized how little we knew about Elliott. We had more questions than answers. How old was he? Did he have relatives? I didnâ€™t even know how to spell his last name.
Elliott Dabinsky died alone, an angry, tormented man who struggled with demons that those who don’t live with pain can never understand. Yet those of us who didnâ€™t know him all that well are left with emptiness and the hope that, in death, he can find the peace and serenity that eluded him in life.