I lost my beloved grandmother last month, and as part of trying to process what happened, I’m using some writing therapy to get through it. Forgive me the sentimentality.
While you were dying, I was reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids. I had just started it, still knee-deep in her catholic upbringing when I first heard the word cancer. Patti’s own words started to blur together after that. Mary, crucifix, Brooklyn, I couldn’t crawl out of the haze. The nurses ticked in and out of your room like seconds, we barely noticed them. I told you about the cancer. I called your friends and told them, drove to your apartment and pulled the shades up and down twice a day, washed your clothes, checked your mail, read the tabloids to you, and waited. You do the dying, I’ll do the rest.
While you were dying, we talked about the weather, the Kennedy’s, the royal family, Bill Clinton, neighborhood gossip, and the University where we worked together-me a teacher, you a server in the cafeteria-seven years of education separating us. I forgot about the cancer occasionally, we both did.
While you were dying, I wrote you a thousand and one-half poems in three days. They all started like this one. Suddenly, I wanted to remember everything-the shift of my weight against your hip as I sat at your bedside, the cold of your hand, the sound of your labored breath, the creak of the bed rail, the beep of the IV, I hung onto all of it, wallpapered my brain with my last images of you and lived in that room for weeks.
The sun fell faster than it had in days, like it was dropping from the sky with no purpose. The weathermen talked about the cold snap. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe had just become Robert Patti Bluestar, and you were gone. I couldn’t bear to read anymore. I imagine they still live at 160 Hall Street. I imagine Robert still stringing the beaded curtain and Patti still fanning through art books. Between the tattered black covers of their story is where you will die forever.
While you were dying, I wrote you a thousand and one-half poems in three days. They all ended like this one.