Why do I write?
Over the past year, a year thick with introspection, I have come up with an answer: I write because writing is how I order reality. It’s not quite that “If I don’t write it down, it didn’t happen”; it’s more that if I don’t write it down, I haven’t got a chance of understanding it.
Reminding myself why I write is a good thing to do when I’m moved to share what’s happening right now. Writing down what is happening in my hometown, with my family and my extended family at the time of this death isn’t happening because I am an exhibitionist. I’m not doing it because it’ll make good copy. I write in my journal, this blog, essays, my column, etc., because if I don’t do that, I’m a goner.
You could take drawing away. You could take quilting away. You could take reading away. But if you kept me from trying to order my life through writing, I wouldn’t make it. Honestly, I couldn’t.
There are colloquialisms everywhere. When something bizarre happens that freaks people out, we might say, “It was like a bomb went off!” We might say, when we enter a room where everyone is bummed out, “Woah, woah: Who died??” We say use these expressions – with no ill intent – and then, when the stakes are as high as they ever, ever get, when a literal bomb detonates or when someone actually ceases to be here way, way before they should cease to be here, we know we can never use those phrases again, not because we’re suddenly possessing of manners – we have always had manners – but because we know too much. Bombs and deaths are real and we figure out different words to use, thankful for all the choices available to us.
Megann’s family’s house is a shell. There are people coming in and out; relatives, friends, neighbors. There’s so much food over there, our house, five blocks away, has become the second freezer, the second refrigerator, the second pantry: We’ve got buns, cheese trays, salads, cookies. All of this will be used at the memorial, which is Saturday afternoon at the city park. There’s so much happening at the family’s house, it resembles a beehive but it’s not a beehive. It’s a grief house. It knocks the wind out of you when you walk in. The air stands still.
I saw Megann’s sister, Sarah, who was my best friend for decades and the first person I met on Earth who was my same age (we were only months old at the time), and we spent good hours together. Her radiant daughter, just three-and-a-half, is the only thing that actually makes anyone around here remember what feeling good feels like. I walked Sarah back over and when she got in the door, her little girl jumped for joy and cried, “Mama!!!!” Sarah scooped her up and buried her head in her daughter’s hair, hugging and kissing her. We all beamed for a solid two seconds and this was a great relief. Children are a gift.
I drank Scotch whiskey earlier. Scotch isn’t my thing, usually. But when I was with Sarah’s brother this afternoon, it just seemed like the thing to do, to ask him if he wanted a stiff drink. He accepted, thank God, and we sat on the front porch tonight as the rain poured down on Jefferson Street and we talked about what it means to be from here, and what it means to be at all.
I thought ground zero was last week. It wasn’t. That wasn’t even negative nine.