losing mariah, an intro

In September of 2003 I spent a week in Boston visiting my beautiful red-headed 40-something cousin. She was like an older sister to me my whole life, grabbing my hand when we pulled up in their driveway for a visit, and pulling me to the swing set where she would push me for what felt like hours. She had long hair and listened to Carole King and rolled her eyes at her parents when they weren't watching. She was wonderful. And she was dying of cancer. This was it. I was not going to see her again after this visit, and I could barely wrap my heart around that truth. Two weeks after I got home from the visit the call came. She was gone, and so was a slice of me.

Three years later, almost exactly, I spent a full month writing about 1700 words a day until I finished my 50k-word novel. It was a story about a terminally ill woman who spends her final weeks trying to make sure things are in order, both tangible and intangible things. I decided to tell the story from three rotating perspectives. Mariah (the dying woman), Rachel (her sister), and Kaye (a distant but present mother). There is dysfunction and there is intense love, all needing to be reconciled. Some of the things are obviously inspired by the story of my cousin, Leigh, but many things are my own. It was very cathartic for me, as I mourned. At the suggestion of my husband I am going to put some of it up here. Here is my attempt...


Things. Things that can be stacked. Things that are in boxes. Things that carry with them real memories. Things that mean nothing to me, but for some reason I need them. Maybe we all feel like if we have stuff around us then we really exist. The stuff proves something. It’s like our own little collection of artifacts, and if we surround ourselves with enough of them we can become immortal. And so many of the things I have aren’t even mine really.

Vo’s old broaches and handkerchiefs from seventy years ago when she was just learning how to do needle work. She probably was a new bride then and they are a symbol of her womanhood in a way. Dad’s old high school football jersey. If Rachel knew I had that hidden away here she would march right over and demand it.

Somehow I have become the family archivist. The photographer. The librarian. I don’t even remember when I took on those roles, but it is a given that I will document everything important that happens in this family.

Mariah, did you get a picture of that? Mariah, have you seen that old edition of the world atlas that Uncle Mike used to read to us out of? Mariah, don’t you have all of Kaye’s letters she wrote home when she was in college?

I can’t really say if I have minded all of these expectations, but somewhere deep down I think it is beginning to weigh on me a bit. It takes some real energy and space to keep track of people’s lives, and I am running out of both. When I bought this house a few years ago I was so glad it was on the small size because I was dedicated to keeping my life clutter-free. I guess I have done a pretty decent job, but recently these walls are closing in and I am ready to push them out a few feet.

Too bad the closet in my guest room is where I need to start. I could barely pull my jeans on this morning and now I am expected to drag that futon away from the closet door? Yeah, right. Why am I so horrible at asking for help? Rachel, TJ and Daryl were over all evening yesterday (well, until I passed out on the couch) and I just couldn’t bring myself to admit I might need some help moving a two-hundred pound piece of furniture. I am such an ass sometimes.


Barbaloot | July 17, 2009 at 8:18 AM

Wow-I think that's neat that you were able to put so many thoughts and feelings into a novel like that. I'm a little afraid to read more of what you wrote cuz I get wrapped up so easily I may break down myself!

Do you have plans to publish it, or just keep it for yourself?

Connie | July 17, 2009 at 8:34 AM

I'm so glad you posted this! You have a way with words that draw us in, make us think, want for more and relate to what you've written.

The novel is unique with the 3 different perspectives. Don't keep something so good all to yourself! :-)

Kazzy | July 17, 2009 at 9:05 AM

I have a few publishing ideas, but have just kind of let things gel for a bit. Thanks for the feedback.

Kimberly Vanderhorst | July 17, 2009 at 11:49 AM

If I picked up a book and it began like that I would be immediately absorbed and ignore life shamefully for hour upon hour till I'd completed it.

April | July 17, 2009 at 6:16 PM

Such talents you have! And now, a novel.....WOW! I would devour it! Great writing!

Juliana | July 17, 2009 at 7:26 PM

Awesome! I wish our writer's group worked out for you so I could enjoy more treats like this. :)

Kamee | July 18, 2009 at 9:43 AM

This is wonderful! I remember you talking about your book, thanks for sharing, I hope you share more!! You are simply amazing:)

Lanie | July 18, 2009 at 10:31 AM

you are amazing. Can't wait to read more.

Anonymous | July 19, 2009 at 8:28 PM

You left me wanting to read more....post more ASP!!!!

gigi | July 20, 2009 at 6:44 AM

GO FOR IT! Get it out there. Okay so it has "gelled for a bit" now DO something about it. Where do I sent the check for my copy?
Smiles and thanks for shareing.

Dedee | July 20, 2009 at 7:47 AM

I cannot wait to read the rest of this.

And I love the analogy that stuff seems to make us immortal!

charrette | July 21, 2009 at 11:49 AM

I'm glad you posted this. I love it! What a terrific opener to pull you in. I love what Kimberly said.

And it's so close to my own personal experience. I can see why it was cathartic for you to write. I hope you don't just leave it there to collect dust.

Linde | July 22, 2009 at 12:39 PM

I think you should try and publish. I bet it is fairly difficult, but what you write is good.

Heidi | July 22, 2009 at 12:52 PM

I love the first person approach! You have such a great voice--some people read for content/action but I read for voice. If the author has a great one, I'll read about darning socks!

Mrs4444 | July 28, 2009 at 9:14 AM

I love this! Every family does have an archivist. This is great.