“You have to write yourself out of this. Quit creating new chapters and write the ones you have,” my psychologist Mike said last September, sitting in his fancy doctor office, a step up from the dusty classroom-like one he had at the rehab facility I first saw him at in 2014. I remember the day succinctly. Mike’s handlebar moustache. The leaves outside his windows beginning their metamorphosis. B half drunk, waiting for me in the Jeep.
I left my appointment ready to write. My hand on his leg, I talked B’s ear off the twenty minute drive home. So many angles and threads my writing could take. He sat me down as soon as we walked in the door and said, “You are my favorite writer, now write.” And thus the next few months birthed a few creative nonfiction pieces. B rooted for me with every word I’d scrawl or type. When I let him, he’d lean over my shoulder and check out my writing, the scruff of his beard tickling my ear. He asked questions, made suggestions, and laughed at my wit. He proofread and sat in awe at the direction my writing was taking. He watched our daughters for hours as I’d shut myself in the basement to work.
Writing, I suppose, is a way of demolition, a sort of rebuilding and redecorating the things I collect. I hoard seemingly unimportant things in my brain: the cardinal red suit my lonely tenth grade English teacher wore, the smell of the shoes from the concentration camp victims on display at The Holocaust Museum, the sound my grandpa made when he called his five cats, the damn names of those five cats, the conversation about John Ashbury that I had with a janitor, the words embroidered on the seats of a plane I once took to Ireland, a dirty poem I wrote for someone for five dollars in sixth grade.
But death has interrupted my writing. It has broken my heart and rearranged things. Right now my mom is watching my daughters while I have exactly 23 minutes left of this allotted one hour writing session.
B has been dead for 29 days. Now everything is some encrypted elegy. Instead of collecting memories or ideas, I save concrete things. It may not be so healthy.
The sweet potatoes he bought two months ago are still in the cupboard on the broken Lazy Susan. They look fine, as if it were just yesterday that we spent twenty minutes in the fruits and vegetables section at Acme.
Sometimes I carry his messenger bag. I never change the contents: one Sharpie and three cans of spray paint.
In my purse I have two biohazard ziplock bags, one with hair from his head, the other with hair from his beard.
I don’t know what good writing can possibly happen in a time like this, but if ever there were a time to write myself out of something, it is now.
Driving home last night, Kathryn said, “Mommy, the moon is following us.” I couldn’t gauge if it were interest or fear. I remember saying the same thing to my mom when I was five too. Terrified, I’d duck down in the Plymouth to hide, thinking I could lose the moon, but I never could.
“It wants to make sure we get home safe,” I said, attempting to shield her from the sense of impending doom I carried even as a small child. She placed her hand on the window as if to greet the moon and welcome its presence.
“Maybe it’s daddy. Maybe he is in the moon following us because he loves us,” my three-year-old Gwynnie added to the conversation. I caught a glimpse of her in the rear view mirror, most of the Hershey Kiss I gave her muddied across her face.
“Maybe,” I said, a bit envious of their innocence. Two minutes later they are discussing My Little Ponies while I’m widowed by words hurricaning through my head: Dead. Never. Gone. Never ever. Not once. Never ever ever.
I cannot tuck my shape shifter grief inside a planet. If I were a cop, I’d arrest the whole damn universe for his truancy. But I’m just a writer. He was a writer too. I have to write for the both of us. I remember the first line he wrote in a letter to our daughters. “Your mother was my hero.”
I guess I better get busy.