My best friend, Lori, died ten years ago today, and I still miss her. Maybe not every day, like I did at first, but a lot. Especially when something excellent or awful is happening—I want to call her and mourn or call her and celebrate. Weddings, graduations, births (her grandsons are the cutest kids in the world and I HATE that they don’t get the awesome experience of having her as their grandma)—all are sweetness laced with sorrow. In those moments, I catch the eyes of those who loved her too and can almost see, like cartoon speech bubbles above all our heads, “I wish Lori were here . . .”
On her birthday this year, I was shelving at the library, and as I put a book away, I realized the title was Lonesome Dove. Memories of watching the television version of the book with Lori and her husband Chris flooded over me—I remembered Lori’s giggle at Robert Duvall’s line, “I’m down to one leg and fading fast.” I heard Chris drawling, “Lori, darlin” at her like Duvall did to the good-natured whore in the movie, and grief made me physically weak. I had to find a quiet corner to compose myself.
It never goes away, and I don’t want it to—those memories are worth the pain.
When I was offered the publishing contract for my book, I told my husband the good news, and he rejoiced with me, hugging me in the kitchen and repeating, “That’s awesome, honey!” I then called my daughter and parents, squealed for awhile with them, and then started composing a “hurrah” message to my other BFFS—Jenna, Shannon, Trish, and my sister, Sara. As I scrolled through my contacts, I saw it: Lori’s name and number (I can’t seem to let myself delete it, though I know the number is no longer hers), and here it came—that dry-aspirin sorrow that curled around the edges of my tongue. More than anything in the world at that moment, I wanted to call my lovely friend, who was always my biggest writing cheerleader. I stepped outside, onto the porch, and cried familiar, angry tears.
I visited her grave that evening to tell her all about it; her site is on my regular walking route, and I stop by often to give her updates. I tell her how her kids and husband and parents are doing; I mutter about what is going on in my own life; I fuss about irritations or chuckle about something and wish I could hear the wind-chime tinkle of her gorgeous laugh. I kiss my palm and lay it on her tombstone and tell her, “I love you and miss you, pal. I’ll talk to you soon,” before trudging on. Though I know she’s not there, that she’s in heaven having a great time, talking to her at her grave is a comfort to me.
When I wrote my story “Mitigation”I sent it, in its rough form, to Lori to read. I saved the Facebook conversation Lori and I had about it because it was just the best critique of anything I’d ever written; I had no idea that she would be gone six months later. It was precious for the words; it’s even more precious because it was the last critique I’d ever have from her.
Here’s part of our conversation:
GREAT story! What a compelling glimpse into how every woman feels at some point! I liked how you created the weight of all 24 years within just a few short paragraphs, and how when Linda STEALS the truck and gorges herself on the elderly’s food, I completely understood and sympathized with her insanity! I think we as women often identify ourselves too much through who we are to someone else. I know I have felt that sense of emptiness that comes from not being “seen” any longer. You summed up that feeling so well in Linda’s line …“I love him,” she said, “if only because he once knew me when I was someone else. If he doesn’t see me that way anymore, then I am afraid I am lost forever.” How Linda finds herself filling up this emptiness is just genius … Meals on Wheels for Christ’s sake is PERFECT, Becky!
I also liked you developed the theme of the emptiness of material possessions. These people had spent a lifetime accumulating things that only made them feel all the more empty inside because that’s all they had invested in. “And with that guttural noise, one more piece of the carefully arranged mosaic of their marriage fell away.” That line was so good I had to stop and read it several times over! In fact, that paragraph was so well-written I could almost taste it! I love short stories, Becky, and this story is EXCELLENT. It made me feel like a Peeping Tom stealing a glimpse through the curtain into Linda’s life!
Regarding your concern about the ending, I felt Linda’s response to Harold rang very true. In fact I found the ending quite hopeful. Linda is a woman who, after 24 years of being someone’s wife and accumulating the “stuff” of life, has realized that is ALL she has. It was empowering for her to write that check for her freedom, and through their exchange in his Corvette, I feel we further understand this sense of empowerment she is feeling. How she has no sense of concern for the aftershocks to their social standing but rather can’t wait to bake for those poor Meals on Wheels folks truly communicates the metamorphosis she’s undergone. I love how you describe her chuckling to herself in the jailhouse mirror!
So now I have to ask a question – I hope I don’t offend you if I should have known this – but where does the title come from —– Seventh Stage? Thank you so much for sharing! You are an incredibly talented writer, my friend!
PS: The Tea Room sounds great!
Becky Lewis Marietta
Oh, heavens! You are the one I will be sending all my stuff to from here on out–THANK YOU, my friend! Not only did you say nice things about the story (kindred spirit of mine), but you gave a real professional review–and you got all the nuances! You should review books–you’re really good at summing up the main points. I’m humbled and DELIGHTED that you liked it so much.
The title WAS a little cryptic (I have trouble writing titles sometimes because they are so important and I love other people’s clever titles,). I got it from the seven stages of grief–the seventh stage, which is the last one, is acceptance and hope.
Interesting note: I got the idea from listening to the news on the radio–someone actually did steal a Meals-On-Wheels, and I thought at the time, “What kind of person would steal a Meals-On-Wheels? What would MAKE a person steal a Meals-On-Wheels?” That was the germ that turned into the story.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading it and thank you, thank you, thank you for your kind words. Really, that’s why I write–that connection with someone else in the world who “gets” it. That’s it–you’re my official favorite reader!
So, how does Monday lunch at the Tea Room work for you?
I love the “cryptic-ness” of the title … acceptance and hope … indeed, that is the icing on Linda’s cake! I graciously accept the “official favorite reader” title if it means you will share more with me!
The story is really great, Becky, and I think what makes it great is how it rings true to our humanity (we’ve all felt like Linda at one point or another), and how your writing style is so descriptive and poetic. It’s not just me that “gets” it, Becky — I think it’s the kind of story a LOT of people will feel a connection with.
Monday Lunch at the Tea Room sounds great! How about we meet there at 12?
Becky Lewis Marietta
Love, love, love to you!
Yep, 12:00 on Monday–it’s a date!
LOVE to you! Can’t wait ’till Monday!
After Lori died, I changed the main character’s name in the aforementioned story in honor of my friend who helped me believe in myself as a writer. When I wrote my novel, I gave one of my favorite characters Lori’s maiden name because though she is not here with me physically, her fingerprints are all over the place, in my writing and on my heart.
I love you and miss you, pal. I’ll talk to you soon.