09 May 2008

The Day I Stopped Writing

I've written more here in the last 6 months than I've written in the last 6 years.

That wasn't always the case.

I was always known as "the writer" in my family. My mom says that as soon as I could hold a pencil I was always writing. I wrote mainly poetry, a smattering of short stories, and one summer I wrote a play that my friends and I produced during my birthday party. It was no surprise I became an English major in college. Writing research papers, while labor intensive, never really bothered me. The words came easily. I continued to write poetry, finding that medium most fitting to my style. I love the way poets distill language down to its very essence - word choice and placement on the page is premium. A couple of my poems were published, one was used in a play. But I certainly did not think myself a poet by any stretch of the imagination. "The difference between you and Steve [a mutual friend], " a person I used to know said, "is that Steve writes because he wants to. You write because you need to." I did. I did need to write. A pen in my hand put to paper was a natural extension of myself. Lots of ideas would pop into my head or I'd hear a phrase or read something and I needed to get it on paper pronto.

This continued through college and beyond. My first job after school was with a local publishing company. Some of the editors had formed a writing group and I was asked to join. We'd take turns submitting works and spend our Wednesday evenings dissecting the submissions. I learned so much from those people and their writing.

Once I was married and started teaching, the desire to write creatively lessened. I had little time to contemplate and work on poems, plus I just didn't want to.

Then my son was born and life kicked into high gear. Evan was 16 months old when I decided to start journaling - my fingers were getting itchy. One late morning in early May, 2002 I picked up a notebook, settled into the rocker glider and while Evan napped on the floor, I wrote. I don't have that notebook anymore but I recall writing about how much I loved this little sleeping boy curled up on a blanket at my feet, clutching a Batman doll in his pudgy fist.

A week later I stopped writing.

Monday, May 11, the day after Mother's Day, was like any other day until about 4:00 in the afternoon.

Evan and I had been home from running errands for about 15 minutes when Frank came home. He walked in looking upset. He sat down on the couch next to me and didn't say anything. He couldn't talk. Then he said, "Have you heard about Tom and Jane?" I said no, I hadn't heard anything about my dad and his wife. Frank was very quiet and visibly shaken. I was starting to get a little frightened, thinking they were in a car accident or something, then he said, "They're dead."

I immediately went to the phone and called my dad's office number at the university. He'd retired from the small animal vet clinic the previous August after 31 years as a clinician and teacher. He was named a professor emeritus and still had an office in the building. I got his voicemail. I didn't leave a message.

When my mom showed up a couple minutes later, I knew something really bad had happened. I collapsed into her arms and started wailing, "NO!" When Evan started to cry, I realized I had to get it together - I was scaring him.

In a flurry of activity, I called the clinic's front desk and talked to one of the receptionists. She left a message for one of my dad's closest friends to call me back. My mom called the police department in the town where my dad lived. They couldn't give her any information. By this time, my sister, her husband and 8-week-old baby girl and my brother-in-law's parents and their minister were all ensconced in my house.

The phone rang just as one of the local T.V. stations showed footage of a body bag being taken from my dad's house. It was the county coroner calling to confirm what I already knew: that my dad was dead. This very nice, kind man with a horrible job then explained how my dad died.

He was murdered by his wife of 22 years, who then took her own life. He had been asleep - napping on the TV room floor. Jane shot him in the head 4 times, then wrote an 8-page note that was filled with nothing but hate for my dad. With my dad's blood on her feet she walked back to their bedroom and killed herself with a single bullet to the heart. My sister and I will never know what truly drove our step-mother to murder and we'll also never know exactly when they died. Unlike on TV, the coroner couldn't give us an exact time of death, just that they'd died sometime before their bodies were discovered by the dogsitter that Monday morning. Katy and I have pieced some things together and we feel that our dad died that previous Sat. evening.

The last thing I wrote of any length was for the program for my dad's memorial service, held at the Krannert Center. I wrote that we wanted his friends, clients and colleagues to know him as my sister and I knew him - a loving and devoted dad and doting grandpa. And I wrote mainly because I couldn't trust my voice or composure.

After that, the only writing I did was "thank you" notes and an occasional letter to out-of- state family and friends.

Life went on, we moved to a new house, had another baby, went on with our lives. Years passed.

Then a mom at preschool clued me into Mrs. Chicken's blog.

I read.

And read.

And read some more.

Little by little the hard little nugget of grief that had frozen my fingers started to melt and fall away. By last November, I felt, "my fingers are itchy." Mrs. Chicken, if you ever think your writing doesn't make a difference, read this.

So here I am.

Grieving still for my stolen father but able to put pen to paper, fingers to keys and that makes it better.


Mrs. Chicken said...

Oh, my friend. I had no idea. How traumatic. Losing a parent is always hard, but this ... I dare not even imagine.

My words were stolen, too, absent many many years. Ironically, it was my grief that finally loosened my pen.

Thank you for being part of my world. You write, and I read. And so it goes.

Our dads? Maybe they got together and talked, eh?


oliveloafdesign said...

missy...moving & heartbreaking. i knew of this event in your life...but i'd never heard you tell of it. i sympathize & empathize...for i could not even remotely begin to fathom something like this happening in my own life - but i surely can relate to coming out the other end of a tragedy & being forever changed. i had a 2001 from hell & yours was 2002. i wish you peace with your demons & grace to turn them into something beautiful, touching & meaningful (like your writing).

Cynthia said...

oh my. I am moved....and you have my sympathy....and my congratulations for having turned to writing....

Lavender Lemonade said...

i am so sorry for your loss and so happy for your "writing" rebirth.