Saturday, February 20, 2010
Running over a Magazine with a Wheelchair
Readers in literature fascinate me. Holden Caulfield introduced me to Thomas Hardy. Tom in The Professor's House read the Aeneid on the mesa. But unlike the protagonist of The Golden Notebook, whom I wanted very much to resemble as a teenager, I don't go through periods when I do nothing but read. I DO nothing but read. And can a good life be spent reading? Yes.
A friend died 20 years ago. She was young. She was furious. She read, but she also wanted to write. She wrote poetry for years and never published. She ran over a literary magazine with her wheelchair when they rejected her. It was a magnificent gesture. The magazine wasn't very good. She was good enough for that and more.
Since I was writing features for a newspaper, I explained that it wasn't all that hard to get published. You couldn't write what you wanted exactly, but you could write. Occasionally I wrote and published some essays. You know the kind of thing. Ha, ha, I'm a bit freaky, but I'm just like you.
And so she published some essays about her life in a wheelchair. They were very, very good. It wasn't poetry. But it was something.
Both of us knew we either (a) weren't good enough to write what we wanted, or (b) were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. She got discouraged. She burned all her journals. I begged her not to, because she was so very smart and funny, but she didn't want anyone to read them and be upset. She didn't save any of the funny excerpts. It just seemed a waste to have written that well and to have destroyed everything. She was articulate. She had a voice. But at the end of her life she didn't care. She felt other people were wasting their lives, and she might as well burn everything. She hated them. "I look at people and I wonder why they get to live. I contribute so much more than they do."
She hated me at the end. It was devastating.
She threw everything out of her room so she could die.
Dying isn't easy.
What she did best up to the end was read. That was our link. The two of us never stopped reading. Calvino. Tolstoy. Sharon Olds. Philip Larkin. Cynthia Heimel. Edna O'Brien. Gail Godwin. Sara Paretsky. Dickens. There was always a book in her car. I rode my bike to visit her and brought books. She had incredible insights.
We felt we were on a different level from others because we were RAISED ON LOUISA MAY ALCOTT. We had an Alcott fest near the end of her life when she was thinking about her childhood. The morals in every lively chapter taught us, yes, "to be good." But we also enjoyed the stories. Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl was our favorite. Both of us were as strong-willed as Polly, but we did work hard and try to help others. An attempted suicide in a rooming house? Like Polly, you bet we would have been there to help her back into the land of the living. Illiterate? We tried to help them read. It was a thankless job, but...
But you know what? In the end I wasn't very good at helping the dying. She refused to see me or her other close friends. What had we done wrong?
We were living. We were reading. And it was too hard on her.
Posted by Frisbee at 6:23 PM