How to Love Someone Who’s Gone

Can I tell you a quick story?

Last summer, shortly after the book was contracted, I spent the weekend at our family’s little lake cottage, just an hour south of Rochester.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my mom that afternoon. We’d just finished lunch, and our plates were stacked into a neat tower within the sink. The banana peppers were back in the fridge. I was talking to her, telling her how it felt like some part of this story remained unwritten.

Not unlived. Unwritten.

It felt like, as much as this book was about Dad, so much of him was still missing from it. It was like I’d taken a colander and tipped over the cloudy spaghetti water and strained the best bits of him out. Where was his minstrel magic, his Mary Poppins way of finding the play in everything? Memoir is about making room for other people, I know; it’s about scooting over and creating sacred space for them to sit, to see their story within your own…but had I moved too far over? 

Had I written Dad out of a book that I had been trying to write him into? Had the story become almost too much about the hollow, the world with him now gone?

The funny thing was, he wasn’t gone. Not all the way. And how could he be, if I was still finding bits of him carved deep in me? In the trickster maneuvers of my little sprite-niece? How could he be gone if he kept leaking out of our goofiest stories, the ones we couldn’t seem to stop telling around an orange fire? How is it that we still carry people forward, all these years later, and how is it that they still whittle and shape us? And how might these questions become even more urgent if we do believe in a coming grand finale, if we hug firm to a hope that we will one day meet up again?

What do we do in the meantime?

These are almost too important questions, but I knew I needed to try and swing at them, and that the book would be better for it. So I did the only thing I could think to: I pulled a chair out to the edge of the dock, and wrote.

And so there’s this chapter now, one which I lovingly call the “magic” chapter. It zooms you fast-forward to here, to now (ok, to last summer’s version of “now”), and it is some of my most audacious thinking, asking how, how, how in the world we carry such slippery things: Other people? Their legacies?

I’ll stop jabbering, and leave you with this…