I came down to Tucson not just to enjoy the sunshine or run the trails, though I admit that I love the sunshine and love running desert trails.
I came down to finish the memoir of my sister, who died almost fifteen years ago from complications of an eating disorder.
I began the memoir shortly after her death, handed it in as my graduate thesis a few years later and after a few edits, my agent shopped it around. It was almost picked up my HarperCollins but they weren’t happy with the requested rewrite. According to the editor, the book lacked resolution.
I was unable to resolve the ending because I was unable to resolve how I felt about my sister’s death.
I couldn’t see this at the time, though. As so often happens in writing, I was blinded by my own limitations.
So I put the book away. Occasionally I’d bring it out, move sections around, delete this, add that, but inevitably I’d put it away again.
It was painful reliving those memories, and even more painful having to face my own past and all of the feelings I’ve tucked away, too afraid of what it might mean to acknowledge them.
Last winter when I was down here in Tucson I tackled the bulk of the book but struggled with the last section. The voice faltered. The writing stuttered. I said too much or not enough or I said enough but not enough of what I needed to say.
And when I returned to Anchorage in March of last year, I put the book away again. I barely thought of it all summer.
Then winter came, and snow, and I knew I would return to Tucson, to the same house I stayed in the year before, and I knew I’d work on my book again; and those old feelings emerged.
I was unable to end the book because I couldn’t let go of my sister. And I couldn’t let go of my sister because I couldn’t let go of my own past. We were so close growing up that I was often unsure where she left off and where I began.
Back then, she was the favorite of my three sisters. Because we were the closest in age and because we lived on a farm, isolated from our nearest neighbor by more than a mile, we learned to curve ourselves around each other’s behaviors. It’s like a marriage, that kind of closeness, when you are together from morning until night, when you know someone so well that everything, from the way her breath smells in the afternoon to how fast her toenails grow, is familiar to you. It’s beyond love, it has nothing to do with love. It’s love in its purest, most basic form.
Today, I started to let go of my sister.
It began with this card that I bought at a holiday craft show in downtown Tucson the weekend before Christmas by an artist I recently discovered and love dearly: Regina M. Lord.
I had intended to send it to a friend, and yet I didn’t. I selfishly wanted to keep it for myself. Because it is so bright and cheerful and optimistic. And because I had horses growing up, and I often rode alone early in the mornings, no bridle or saddle, just me leaning forward with my hands tangled in my horse’s mane as we galloped across the fields.
I grabbed this card, drove to the West side of town, parked by the Santa Cruz River wash and walked to the Garden of Gethsemane, a small garden filled with religious sculptures carved by artist Felix Lucero.
My partner and I discovered this garden a few weeks ago during a run. It’s quiet and small, and there’s a small statue of the Virgin Mary surrounded by flowers that lends a distinct and colorful Hispanic flavor. This is used as an altar of sorts, and people leave prayers, notes asking for blessings and thanks.
When my partner and I were there, the flowers were scattered with small scraps of prayer papers. Today, there was only one, written in Spanish and taped to the wall. I scrawled a note to my sister, placed the card by the statue and knelt down. I intended to pray, but I didn’t. I knelt in silence, and then I got up and walked away.
I looked back once.
Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting someone. It doesn’t mean turning away. Instead, it’s more of a prayer, and a gift: You’re setting them free.
Soar, honey-girl, I wrote inside that card. Lift your beautiful arms and soar.
Another loss: Goodbye to Eva Saulitis, Alaska essayist, poet, teacher, biologists and author of Leaving Resurrection, Into the Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing Orcas and Many Ways to Say It. Saulitis recently died of breast cancer. Her words, her insight, and her unflinching yet gentle honesty will be missed more than one can possibly comprehend.
October darkness (can’t)
take me in, tap at my window, lure
me to your half-bitten frost-light
(rose fringe) over new snow, over
mountain snout, sleep, gentle, open
your mouth, you my lord of leaf fall
(of whitening), take this,
(unforgiven) down the trail through
meadows, down the eroded gully
(my thoughts) and as I watch
(softest parts flushing)
most horizon, cold to the edge—
take my mind, darkness
(that I cannot love) & I’ll step into
the alders, under the goshawk’s killing
tree (above me, looking through & past
—flayed beneath—picked clean) be not
so pretty, so pink, erasure
who unfolds, holds this (madness)
pressed in the swale, creek bed
(jealous lover) take me cold and hard.
Still this (something) comes (not) asking
for my logical, into this (my private),
demon lover you are below the horizon,
blue as a black eye.
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