This was originally posted on the beautiful Beth Ann’s blog, It’s Just Life. I wanted to re-post it here, to fill in some story about my general grief progress.
I wanted to re-post it today because today is (USA)Thanksgiving, and with all this talk of gratitude, I wanted to feature Beth Ann who puts legs on her thankfulness all year long with a program she calls “Comments for a Cause”. Essentially, she picks a cause every month, and for every comment left on her blog, she donates a little to them. This month, comment-donations go to the Little Free Library via the Todd H. Bol Vision Fund. The month where the post I’m about to share was featured, donations went to a cause close to my heart, the Women’s Prison Book Project.
Please check it out, and leave a comment on a great November post, like this one: https://itsjustlife.me/grateful-thankful-blessed-in-2018/
I am grateful for you, and wishing you the happiest of days.
Sherlock Holmes dies.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle kills him off in the distanced manner of all murderers– as if he had the right.
But this story starts before that, when soft leather boots worn by a heart-heavy doctor first stand on a step outside 221 Baker Street. The day Dr. Watson finds a best friend, becomes a detective, and loses it all time and time again.
Or, if you take a moment to look up from those worn pages, the story starts before even that. The day my birkenstocks stood on teal carpet at 110 and a 1/2 Glassell. The day I found my best friend, became a wife, and lost it all.
It took more than a day– all stories seem to– but they blossom in a moment. A pair of feet, waiting for a journey, often finds one right under their shoes.
You can start wherever you want.
My shoes were fire-resistant work boots, laced up to mid calf, black and leathery. I was standing on a fire engine, a nearly-vintage chartreuse apparatus, holding a chronicling of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, unaware that I had started a new journey at all.
I didn’t know it just then, but those shoes were worn by a woman who just lost her love, her best friend, her husband.
A death sounds like a story you can tell in a flash, a story that happens in the confines of a moment– but to people like myself and Dr. Watson, and probably you– we know stories are never ending, and constantly relived, and eternally built upon.
Every story is foundation for another.
We’re always wearing the feet we started with, even if the shoes change.
I’ll always be a reader, a wife, a widow, a fire fighter, an inmate, and a Sherlockian.
It’s a little strange to call yourself an inmate once you’re free, a Sherlockian when you’ve always been in love with Dr. Watson, and a wife once your husband dies…
but I am a storybook character at heart.
I am imprinted in my pages, written into my path. I wear the marks of re-reading, of second-guessing, and the damages of being open to strangers on the off chance they might become friends. I’m yellowed by time, mellowed by perception. I am stamped: Property of the Universe and Her Twists.
There is a similar seal stamped into the books in prison that originate from the Women’s Prison Book Project. I became familiar with it through my 438 days of incarceration.
It was months before I became a widow, almost a decade after I met my husband. I wore converse-like shoes in a size too big, and stood on a dusty field decorated only by women in bright orange. From my cell, I met a silly racoon named Rascal. His story was stamped Women’s Prison Book Project, and it transformed the dust into rolling farm fields. It turned our orange smocks into worn overalls.
Later, I followed that stamp to another story, one I shared with the seven other women in my cell. We passed the book around in timed measure, and the dew kissed hills of the Appalachians formed around our metal bunks, under our state-issued socks, inside our drought-suffering minds.
I memorized the stamp, like I memorized Sherlock’s address, like I memorized the hands of the man I married.
I married a man with magic hands– an artist, a good man, my best friend. A writer.
Isn’t that the luckiest story a reader could ever live?
But no story is just one day long. I went to jail for over a year and, while I was there, he died. I found out days later, in bits and pieces, through phone conversations filtered by strangers who only cared that I didn’t end my story just yet.
Wait till your shoes are elsewhere, they suggested. Somewhere that isn’t such a place of desperately-harvested misery. Somewhere that doesn’t keep a running tally of the number of stories it killed off, as if it had the right.
But my pages were gentler to me, as always. I found kindness. I found purpose. I found solace in the stamp that I recognized in my pages, the one that says I started in the universe, and I was cared for by it still.
Property of the Universe, and Her Wildly-Beautiful Not-Always-Obvious Twists.
I found peace in the ink stamp that marked my favorite character since childhood. I traced my fingers along the faded ink, on days when I felt like I was falling, and the Women’s Prison Book Project gave me a place to stand.
On the steps of 221 Baker street, where a man stands, waiting.
He thinks he’s waiting for an appointment, but we are readers, and we know he is waiting for his glorious journey to begin. He will become a detective, but he doesn’t know that yet. He will fall in a sort of love with a man who tests that love at every turn.
Somewhere above the pages, a small girl will tell her big brother to read just that part over and over again. She’s in love with Dr. Watson, an unconditional forever love, but he’ll never know.
She will grow up and fall in love with a man who reminds her of him. A man with a golden moral compass, and an sense of incurable cynicism and uncrushable optimism. A man with more talent and human experience than most people can even see, let alone measure. But she will be a reader, and there’s no picture too big for her to understand, no word too small for her to feel. She will understand his widest dreams, and she will feel his smallest words, and he will let her read the edges of his character again and again.
That man will die, when she is not there to know how or why or when, and her tears will fall. They’ll topple through yellowed pages and memorized words, soaking Dr. Watson’s shoulders. He understands unconditional love, so it doesn’t wear him down. She lets the tears fall, and the words bare the weight of them.
In that moment, she is an inmate firefighter, standing on an old engine, but it wasn’t even two decades ago when she was just a little girl, hearing the stories leaked out of 221 Baker Street.
She will become a wife, a firefighter, a felon, an inmate, a techie, a small business owner, a blogger, a widow,
And through it all, the universe will cushion her steps with words so she can walk gently on the earth, and be treated gently in return. Every journey starts in her mind, and she watches as every path blossoms right under her feet, opening up like the pages of a novel.
No matter how many endings she faces, the story continues on, and the best parts are always there for the re-reading.
Isn’t that the luckiest story a reader could live?