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I’d forgotten how hard blogs are. There’s a story to tell and I keep thinking it’s about Nepal. I should be writing about Nepal. I am supposed to be writing The Nepal Story, after all. So, why can I not write about Nepal?
I was once told by my mentor to trust my instincts when piecing a narrative together, meaning I shouldn’t be so arrogant as to think I can manhandle an experience if I don’t let it unfold. My story hasn’t even unfolded yet. I want to write a redemption story that hasn’t happened, so it’s no wonder I can’t write about it. Truth be told, mine is probably not a redemption story anyway. Deep down, I know Nepal as a requisite transformative experience will be dark because, when reduced to its smallest divisible parts, Nepal is all in my head.
And there’s a writer in there, too, who refuses to shut the hell up.
From a distance, a shadowed mirage is waving at me like a summer heat reflection on hot pavement and this passage comes back to me:
Despite our best intentions, we forget the dead.
Do they forget us? Jane Summer, “Erebus”
So. Leigh “Bindo” Binder*, if you refuse to die, I’ll just have to kill you off in a mediocre poem that’s an apology as much as a lament.
When the stem drooped and the petals died,
Sleeping beauty sleep
I awoke to gold
Light too bright
You offered me a dim corner
You and I shared caramelized melancholy
Like cotton candy
Adolescent sweetness, the things that grew in our heads
Restless dreams like your cigarette smoke
From a few thousand miles away
Choke me awake
Weighed together like stone
Bound and pull down like some English great, we weren’t built for this life
But mostly: Have we lived our eternity?
*Leigh Binder was a friend and fellow writer, who died two years ago leaving only his writing and YouTube videos (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-43KL2khFHhJ-LmRqA-y2A) to haunt me.
There was a time when you mattered
The last bloom
On the Rose of Sharon
In which your spirit did not survive
As the sky
Or a petal from a poppy
Or a child of God
Did you really believe that?
That there was a time when it mattered
The way beauty fell away to reveal something more beautiful and terrible but toxic
Because it was yours
The lost blossom
there are no promises that can be kept
by gift we live by right we die
grace is optional
except when it’s not
the grace to bear grief
is sometimes always never
the only prayer there is
in these hot, breathless last days, it’d do us to get on with the praying
sooner than later
I went back to read your words
But they aren’t there
They aren’t to be found
The website says
There’s nothing there
Was there ever?
If I can’t read the words
I can’t be sure I ever knew you
You always knew I was of flightly, flimsy flesh
So why take the words from me
Why is there nothing there?
When the petals died and the stem drooped,
Sleeping beauty sleep
I awoke to gold
Light too bright
You offered me a dim corner
When you drooped and died,
Gold was gilded with light
There is no sleeping beauty sleep now
She came into my life the year your father left.
They breathed the same air in my world for 3 months.
For 3 years since he died I’ve been waiting on profound insights.
For 18 days since she died I’ve been waiting on profound insights.
Now I get it.
There aren’t any.
Thread 1: Lucy saved me Tuesday and Wednesday from coming home to an empty window where Poppy used to sit, faithfully waiting for me (Picture 1). Yesterday, there was only an empty window and a slit in the curtains that Poppy would poke her head through (Picture 2).
Thread 2: The other day I was looking through Poppy pictures and came across a few I’d taken as a joke: I’d put my glasses on her and a book in front of her. Silly but cute. See Picture 3.
Thread together: As I came down the stairs this morning, the slit in the curtains was open to reveal my glasses looking out of the window (Picture 4). I had lost them in one place or another and have no idea how they got there, but it meant something to me. A small sign perhaps that my Poppy is still watching and waiting for me—as diligent and faithful as ever.
the grief of loss
digs in deep
wedges between the joints
arthritis for the psyche
aching on good days
screaming “fuck you” on bad
the hollowed out part of you
there’d be so many
I’ve been crying since I was eight years old. Blame Lurlene McDaniel. I do.
In the summer of 1987, I found death on a shelf at the Lee County Library in Sanford, North Carolina. I had been looking for those pre-teen romance novels, the ones where boys didn’t have naughty intentions and girls said no to drugs even in the midst of the popular kids. I had devoured these sorts of books all summer and had finally exhausted the library’s moderate selection. So, as any other little girl would do, I began perusing books for the coolest, hippest teenage girls on the cover, the girls I wanted to be.
It was time to go and I was desperate to find something to read. By chance (or was it?), I saw a really pretty blond girl, whose hair was crimped and massive, sitting with her mother. I hastily picked up the book and ran to the check out.
Later, I examined the book more closely. The book was called Mother, Please Don’t Die. Which, of course, meant Mother was, in fact, going to die (but I wasn’t a savvy reader back then so I held out hope things would end well). The book followed a girl’s journey through her mother’s dying and her own grief as well as the difficult transition from being a little girl to being a teenager. Megan made sense of her mom’s worsening symptoms as best she could as a young girl; she told me about the terrible pressure and the anger bubbled to the surface at baseball practice, resulting in her consequent suspension. After her sister’s wedding, Megan sat with her mother and they had the first truly frank conversation about death that I had ever read; Mother was not going to be there for Megan’s wedding. She was dying.
And when she did die, my heart was shattered and I sobbed out loud. I’ve been reading and sobbing ever since. I developed a voracious appetite for the dying genre. Through my middle and high school years, I learned about living with diabetes, juvenile arthritis, kidney failure, and AIDs. I felt enlightened with each page. I groped for all the empathetic artifacts in the words that were written. I began to live with all of these hardships. I felt I knew what it was like.
The year before, 1986, had been a bad year. In January, my grandfather died of lung cancer. It was the first death I’d experienced. It was scary flying from North Carolina to Arkansas, only to see a dead body, dressed in blue and not breathing in a wooden bed. Two weeks later, I sat forward with the rest of my class, eyes glued to the television as the Challenger exploded and everyone on board was killed. They sent school counselors around to speak to us about dying and grief. I felt terrible for the teacher on the Challenger, but I cried terrible, painful tears for my grandfather.
Weeks later, I randomly asked my mother if she had had any other children before my brother and me one night before our bath. She hesitated and told us she had given birth to a little girl when she had been previously married, but the girl had died when she was a toddler from cancer. I nodded and soon forgot about it, as children will. It wasn’t long before my subconscious mind kicked in and I began to wonder if I had cancer, too, and asked my mother if I was going to die. Months I asked her and for months I must have drove a stake in her heart.
Little girls don’t understand these sorts of things. I didn’t. By the time I held a copy of Mother, Please Don’t Die in my hands, I needed to read about grief. The only problem is I never stopped grieving. The reading and the grieving is a question of insignificance; no matter if the chicken came before the egg, the chicken and the egg exist.
When I was eighteen, a very receptive former teacher gave me Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt as a graduation gift. Since then, it’s the real stories of laughter and pain that have touched me the most. Into Thin Air. Devil’s Knot. Young Men and Fire. Books about the Holocaust, 9/11, surviving freak accidents, OCD, alcoholism, depression. The stories are compelling but they are most important to me as conduits for processing my own life (and grief).
In a nutshell, I read books that are too sad for other people. A book is deemed good if I cry. It is deemed brilliant if I can still sob thinking about it a year later. There are many brilliant writers out there.
Right now, The Dark Tower: the Gunslinger is impatiently waiting on my bedside stand for me to finish it. The sojourn will be short and I will soon return to form. Stacked in the corner are my standard fair, books about the Taliban, mental illness, murder, the Mormon lifestyle…all await me. I can only think greedily of the sobs I am soon to cry.
I can’t help but think I’ve made Lurlene proud.