I joined a writing group last month. One just getting off the ground. It is small and mostly consists of older women around the age of my own parents. One lady, who grew up in Corbett, is old enough to have been friends with my grandma’s younger sister and knew my great-grandfather, Dewey Carpenter. They are all sweet, motivated to write and have great insight. We’ve had two meetings so far and I am enjoying it.
I thought I would share the first prompt I got from the group and the piece that I wrote as a result of it.
Describe in a full page the exact emotions when you learned of a happy or calamitous event in your life. Now try to condense that page into a single sentence.
First, the page:
I was expecting it; it was just a matter of time.
When the phone rang, for a moment, I did not want to answer, but hearing the news on a voicemail or in a text would have been worse. At times like that you want a human voice, a familiar voice.
First was sorrow, of course, then came a desperate need to hang on. Almost as soon as you hear of a death you begin to feel the loss. Not simply the loss of the person; you begin to forget and then comes the fear. The fear of further loss.
I wanted to hang on. I was desperate to still have a piece of him, feel a part of him. Grandpa was big on personality and dearly loved by me. It was not going to be an easy transition—life without him. I knew the loss was coming, but how can you anticipate the path grief will take when a constant figure is suddenly gone? When a solid rock, a light heart is taken from you.
When the call ended, I cried. Life was now different. I felt the life in my own belly moving and lamented that this new person and my grandpa would never meet. When my weeping subsided, I drove. I had been enroute home, but now I detoured. I felt the need to go to locations where he had once been. I needed to go to the places that carried his memory.
I drove onto Woodard, a road that is named the same as his middle name. I felt the irony of my living so close to this road; an unusual name. My heart and mind turned with this thought; the mixing of sadness and closeness. Not closeness because of the name so much as where that name would carry me. To places of more memory—not my own, he had lived here before I knew him, but places that had a memory of him. I found comfort in the idea that land had felt his weight, that wind had touched his skin, moved his hair. This place knew his presence.
Woodard took me to Mershon and to a modest farmhouse where my grandma was raised and where she lived when she met grandpa. I drove past a few more houses until I reached Corbett Community Church, where they attended and where they were married. I was grateful to be in a place, far from where I grew up, that held memories of him.
I wondered what he was like as a young adult. He who had already faced so much hardship when he’d lived here in his twenties. He who at fourteen, during the Great Depression, had ridden the railroads and traveled with a circus. Was he happy here? What did he hope to be? What did he want from life? What did he think when he first met Grandma? Why had I never asked him?
Loss and sorrow are renewed in these kinds of questions. Knowing you now can never ask and likely will never know. Sorrow is a perpetual machine.
And now, the condensed single sentence:
First was sorrow, then came a desperate need to hang on, and last was loss as I began to search for memories, but simultaneously felt them slipping away; sorrow is a perpetual machine.