Inside the Pages of my Head
April 25, 2010
Tonight I stay up past midnight, determined to finish a book I’ve been reading for the past two months. I read the first hundred pages during my husband’s radiation therapy, the second hundred during his unexpected five–day hospitalization when he was diagnosed with radiation pneumonitis, and another fifty or so pages during our trip to Denver while I lay sick in a hotel room hacking up green and yellow sputum from an acute bout of bronchitis and pneumonia. By April 24, I have seventy-five pages left and I’m more determined than ever to finish reading the novel, not only because of its literary value, but because it’s been my familiar companion during the last 50 days.
This book, with its tattered and frayed front cover, dog-eared pages, and a weathered spine seduces me with its magical words, descriptive sentences, and stunning accuracy of everyday life. The story focuses on three days in a life of a writer. It begins on Good Friday, with a meeting between a man and woman who used to be married. They meet at a cemetery where their son is buried, early, before the day is started, to pay their respects to him.
Their child would have turned thirteen on this day—the start of manhood.
It’s easy for me to slip inside these pages as I think about my own son’s death and the frequent visits to the cemetery in which, unlike the characters in the story, I stood alone or with my daughters, trying to understand and or make sense out of this unexpected turn of events. The tragic outcome of a son dying before a parent isn’t the way it’s supposed to turn out, but just like a well-written book, life changes in a moment’s notice, leaving us with the permanency of a specific situation, an event which can’t be undone under any circumstances. It’s an outcome which lends itself to overbearing grief and then a long tunnel of mourning.
The natural effect of life is to cover you in a thin layer of film. A residue or skin of all the things you’ve done and been and said and erred at. I’m not sure. But I think you are under it, and for a long time, and only rarely do you know it, except that the same unexpected reason or opportunity you come out—for an hour or even for a moment, and you suddenly feel pretty good. And in that magical instance you realize how long it’s been since you felt just that way. Have you been ill, you ask yourself. Is life itself an illness or a syndrome? I’m not sure.
Only suddenly you’re out of that film, that skin of life—like when you were a kid. Now you’re ready to begin a new chapter in life; one full of hope and full of life. And you think this might have been the way it was once in your life, though you didn’t know it then or don’t even remember it—a feeling of wind on your cheeks and your arms, of being released, let loose; like floating on air, thinking about the future and all that it might bring you. And since this is not how it’s been for a long time, you hold on to the feeling, you want to make this time last, this glistening; a moment in time, this cool air, this new living, so that you can preserve a feeling of it, inasmuch as when it comes again, it may just be too late. You may be too old. And in truth, of course, this may be the last time that you will even feel this way again.