Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Fight For Words

The other day, flipping through my New York Magazine, I saw an ad for Anderson Cooper 360. It said: "I'll never forget the people I've met, the stories I've told, the places I've been. I am changed by the stories I do." I thought to myself, 'that'll never be me'. Kim asked me last night why I haven't blogged in a while. I told her I would, so this is my best shot. Yesterday I interviewed a woman who lost her only child, a son, at the age of 21 and the memorial scholarship set up in his honor. She had a voice that was so definitively mother-like. I wanted her to invite me over for lemonade and graham crackers with peanut butter. I wanted her to tell me the secret to chasing away nightmares and how to tie a bow around a birthday present. I liked that she called me 'honey' and 'dear'. I danced around my questions, asking specifics about the history of the scholarship and being careful not to dip too into how she's survived the death of her son for the past 11 years. At the end of the interview, I took a chance. I asked her to describe her son for me in words. She fumbled over them and said she's not sure if she could. She asked her husband. He didn't know how to either. Death scares away words. It makes them scatter into deep dark crevices, impossible to get out. In a sense, that's why I haven't blogged much lately. I can shoot out a profile of a snowblower business... And I can even shoot out a patch or two of a novella-in-progress... But what I want are the words that will make my friend's pain go away. What I want are the pages that will stop her parents from hurting so much. That will rewrite the history books, that will put life back to how it was. Those words, I don't have. This morning, early for an interview, I read through the mother's book. Finishing it in twenty minutes, I cried in my car in an empty parking lot. Later, I sat and had a beer with Kim's dad. He hugged me tight before I left. Tighter than my father has ever hugged me. As I drove home, I thought about times spent in his house. With him, Kim and Brandon. My first Christmas ever. I was so excited to have somewhere to go on Christmas morning. I threw my presents into the car and drove over as soon as Kim told me they were all awake. I had presents for all of them. Stopping at the bar the day Brandon came home from Florida. He gave me a big hug. I remember thinking he probably wouldn't since I hadn't seen him to say goodbye when he left. He hugged me real tight, just like his dad did today. I don't have to go to Africa. I don't have to see the world from the Great Wall of China. Right here, in my little town, I'll never forget the people I've met, the stories I've told, the places I've been. I am changed.