Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Closing Time Part Two

For Glenn Herring, Jr.
January 20, 1941 - September 18, 1987

I have finished a complete draft of my book, Gathering Ghosts: The Making of a Writer. I had wondered, previously, if it would feel like it feels to finish a novel -- that sudden unexpected vacuum inside the body -- that mourning for the characters whom I lived with for the course of the book. I wondered just what it would feel like to have fulfilled a promise from so many years ago. "Maybe someday you'll write my story, eh, sugar?" Dad asked.

Excerpt: (Dad's POV)

You wrote a story of your own called “The Exception” some years later. It was about a deformed boy whose parents didn’t want him or understand him. You showed it to your oldest. “Can you write this for me?”

She would. She would take her talent and bring your stories into the world. She would take your story into her body, into her shoulder, and carry it, faithfully, until she was forty. You were just two years past forty when you wrote the story. Just six years past the heart attack. You were a philosopher, but you were not a terribly good writer. You wanted someone else to know what it was like to be the deformed boy who had survived the killing disease. You wanted someone to know that your mother had betrayed you.

You place your hand now on your daughter’s right shoulder. She has dried up inside that arm. There is no water flowing. She has become burdened with your burden. You touch her shoulder and pull back on a string, as if removing a drain stopper from the tub, and flood her arm with water. She snaps and releases a crack. Her shoulder falls. She lays on the bed on her back, stretches both arms out and arches upward, feeling the freedom in her upper spine for the first time in thirty years. She did not know how much she couldn’t move. You release her from her obligation and she opens her mouth to choke in air, and when the air is full, full in her body, her belly, she tingles in every cell, and when her breathing is smooth and deep, she can write your story, and in doing so, write her story, each sentence a release, each paragraph a sigh, each chapter a liberation. Her shoulder pain drops away as if it had never been, and you know now that your last piece is done, that your fingers had not before let go of hers. You watch her fingers now, typing, typing, typing, and your always Southern heart beats its drum. Your always Southern soul sings, “Oh, child, things are gonna get easier…”

Glory, Hallelujah, you have laid your burden down.

(End excerpt)

And so I have. The mourning period was the writing of the book. I had wondered if dad would vanish like my other characters have vanished after a book was done. What vanished was my chronic shoulder pain. What vanished was my excess weight. What vanished was the final iron bar across my heart. Could dad have gone anywhere? He was never really here to begin with -- always a ghost in my world. The book is my final love letter to him, and for the first time really in my whole life, I feel I have nothing left to say about him, about his life, about my grief.

So what vanished? Everything. And nothing.

Our first monsoon storm of the season is occurring now. The cool rain is washing the last bits of debris away, the last remnants of attachment. There's the thunder drum. The lightning. And over there -- a little girl is whistling. She put her big whole self back together again through language. Her first love. Her deepest love. She put her big whole self back together again.

Daddy let go.
I let go.

Nothing but space.

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