A few years ago I wrote a blog post about how I used books to mark important events, like summer, in my life that needed to be remembered, that needed to be reflected upon.
I want to amend my statement.
I don’t use books. They do the marking. They do the remembering. They do the saving.
My mother died a few months ago. It was abrupt, though in retrospect all the signs were there: The sudden health scare; the change in character; the positive progress before the inevitable, almost cliche, downfall. I was in the hospital – two days after an invasive and emergency surgery – , alone, when I got the call. I was reading an e-galley of Jeff Zentner’s “The Serpent King” and had just read a very specific part about innocence and endings and untimely things. So I knew before I picked up that phone and said, “¿Hola?” How could I not. The book prepared me. It was the final marker.
A few months later I picked up Shaun David Hutchinson’s “We Are the Ants.” I didn’t know much about it beyond the end of the world and great writing and alien abduction. It was about grief. Losing a loved one. Convincing yourself that if only you were different, if only you were clairvoyant, if only you loved the person more, you could have, you would have saved them. From themselves. From Fate. From what you knew they did not deserve. Henry and I learned that not everything is under our control. Sometimes, you just have to let it go. And forgive. Them. The world. Yourself. I decided during those muddled, teeth-grinding-while-sleeping first nights to give forgiveness a shot.
I started reading Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s “The Square Root of Summer” because there was a mathematical allusion in its title and because it was about the emotion of love and because I had heard lovely things. It was about grief. Pushing the emotion to the event horizon of your existence and letting it settle there until you forget it even exists. Just allow it to peer into your life but never give it total control. But. But. This is temporary. Grief demands to be felt and lived. You need to cry (and not condemn yourself for not crying) when you realize you will never hug her again. You need to feel anger when you realize that somehow, somewhere, you have fallen in a black hole. (Was it in the hospital cafeteria while you were eating a ham and cheese sandwich and attempting to check your email, trying to find some open wi-fi? Or was it months before, when you started seeing stars in your vision?) You are in an alternate dimension. You are not supposed to be here. Things are not supposed to be this way. But the equation, facts, show and tell something else. This is it. What will you do now? I told myself I needed to take each day as its separate contained world – make things a bit smaller, for a time.
I read Natalie Haney Tilghman’s short story “Diseases Starting With ‘A’” months before my mom was cremated. I remember loving the scene where Sophia is waiting in the rain for a ride home because it was so emotive and real. I kind of forgot about the rest until I re-read it a few days before we published it here on YARN. Feverishly researching online every bodily ailment I think I may be experiencing is now part of my being. I need doctors to constantly reassure me that I am doing well and that nothing is wrong. Sometimes, a part of me doesn’t want to believe them. I had to look up why I was looking up things so much. And the answer was already in my mind. I knew. I just needed to be reminded. I demanded my anxiety to stop for a bit, to take a breath, and to find within all these chemical reactions in my brain something Kierkegaard called the “dizziness of freedom.”
These stories have marked me because I did not intentionally seek them out; I feel their invisible traces on my fingers, my face, my arms, my legs, myself. I am convinced that they found me, here, holding back tears and wild emotions everytime I see a child in the arms of her mother. They have changed me in ways I did not look for. Consciously. Maybe there was a part of me that knew that YA would gently guide me through this time. Would show me what grief is.
Now, I am wary of starting a new YA book because it might be about grief. Loss. I don’t think I can handle it, but it seems that words won’t let me. I am being used by them to tell me something whether I like it or not.
I have no choice but to listen. Good. Grief. What do you have to say.
I want to dedicate the one thing I think I do decently, my writing – this writing – to my mom. She was a headstrong, funny, jasmine loving, sun worshipping woman who gave me so much in this world. Gave up so much of her. For me. She is the love of my life. Te amo mater.