I wrote about his death, and he read it. I walked through a door we had silently agreed should remain shut into a room we’d agreed, by never mentioning its name, not to enter. I opened the door and walked right in. Worse: he saw me. There are at least a dozen reasons I feel sorry every day, but what I felt the day he discovered my writing about his death was a deep regret, deep enough to turn me away from writing publicly about our experiences with cancer for several months.
My explanation at the time felt weak. He was obviously hurt by what he’d read, and I responded by appending excuses to apologies. To his “How could you do this?” I responded that I was sorry. I told you I was confronting the darkness.
Perhaps there is some darkness we shouldn’t confront.
In an interview for the On Being podcast, writer Rebecca Solnit takes the unusual stance of describing hope in opposition to optimism. An optimist, she explains, believes that everything will work out okay. To hope is to believe in the essential uncertainty of the future. I’d like to think I inhabit that definition of hope, but if anyone is death-obsessed in this relationship, it’s me. I can’t bear to look away.
From the bottom of depression, I used to imagine my own funeral. I once tore a Tennessee Williams poem out of the New Yorker and pasted it into my journal.
Do not ask my name
I know only the name of this road and the town I came from.
In the heart of me, you will find a small handful of dust.
Throw it out upon the wind
and it will find its way home.
Perhaps I was trying to shock myself into a sort of awareness that someday I would actually die. Perhaps if I could feel the sadness inherent in that reality, I wouldn’t want to rush it. Perhaps I’d be afraid of rushing it, afraid of how close I might be coming. Perhaps it would be scary enough to shake me out of it. Like all depressed people, I didn’t actually want to die. I just wanted the pain to end.
We never really talk about it. It hangs, daring us to tempt it into being, as though at the mention of its name, it will come for us, a djinn swirling around the corners of our stability. It’s the proverbial shoe, bent on dropping. It’s the must come down of it all. Somewhere in my mind, it’s the numbers. The statistics. They corner me. Then, a moment later, it’s the guilt. Am I making these years, these months, these days . . . worse? I bury this, most of the time. But then, once, I let it out. I wrote it down, and he read it.
You’re writing about my death, he said.
From cancer, he said, which made it worse.
Yes, I did. I wrote about your death. From cancer. I’m so sorry.
Now look what I’ve done.