November has always been about passages for me, life changes and transitions. I always wondered if my own clock was more in tune with the earth than it was with the Gregorian calendar, though now I just realized why I feel such loss around this time of year.
Five years ago, my best friend passed away after a 2 year-long battle with ovarian cancer. Through it all, she never complained. She told me once that she had two choices – complain about the things that weren’t good or be grateful for the ones that were. So she chose the latter, choosing to surround herself with white light no matter the challenge.
Today, while my son was going through his swim therapy, I perused through her old email messages to me, the only things I have to remind me of her kind words no matter the challenges she was faced with at that moment.
She died on 11/6/10 and I remember my last visit to her two weeks earlier when she gave me her massage therapy manual for that’s where we’d met back in 1997 and I’d lost mine a long time long before then.
A week later she called to tell me to keep writing even though I was too ashamed to tell her the truth – that I’d stopped writing 8 years earlier. She also told me to watch my weight and be kind to myself.
And while I haven’t exactly watched my weight that well, I have resumed writing – as you all probably have noticed. And today I ordered two copies of the paperback version of the book I dedicated to her, Finding Sam – a surreal experience that’s more surreal than when I ordered my copy of my second novel, Loving Ashe.
And even though being a writer navigating through the new social media can be scary, I have to remind myself that like Pam, I have two choices. Complain about the things that aren’t exactly going great (it’s all perspective as well) or be grateful for the ones that are – like health, family, and life in general.
For today’s prompt, I’m supposed to write my obituary. I think it’s rather morbid but at the same time, who else knows you better than yourself?
Still, it’s tough to ask one to write her own obituary on her own blog, WordPress! Do you really have to remind me of my own mortality?
It’s enough that we see signs of our mortality every day, that we’re reminded we’re not long for this earth really, and so we blog about our lives, no matter how mundane the events that mark our days are. We blog about the things we love and the people we admire and whatever else we blog about just so we leave our mark – any mark – to tell the world that once upon a time, we were here. And once upon a time, we mattered.
What’s this world coming to?
What kind of world are we sending our children into?
When we kill indiscriminately, with no remorse, no hesitation
a life extinguished before the eyes of a nation
he was someone’s father, brother, friend, son;
only now, he’s forever gone
except for his final moments caught on film
Is there nothing left that’s good and worth believing in?
It’s been a year since you died,
since a distant cousin posted a video of your body
being pushed into the furnace – on Facebook, no less –
out of goodwill because none of us could be there for you,
only because your last request of us
was not to.
It’s been a year since I learned about yet
another indiscretion of yours –
another woman to get away from the other woman you fled to
when you ran away from our mother
I often wonder and ask myself if you left her
because you felt smothered.
But this time you bought this other-other woman
a house, paid for in cash
so even in death, in the midst of the craziness
and the mess you left behind
No one could take it away from her,
how could we be so blind?
You loved with a love that was without end
but only as long as that love prevailed, I guess
you loved to show that love to anyone
there who could see it
But now I wonder, if it was really you
who needed most of it.
Since you’ve been gone, I’ve realized that I never knew you
the man I wrote poems for as I was growing up
the man who got away, who could do no wrong
But that was before I learned of the pretense
and the multitude of lies
to keep up with the farce of being rich, happy, and wise
So now I find myself wondering
if my love for you is shallow, and only skin deep.
I’m such terrible daughter, you know,
for when you left, I did not even weep
How could I allow those things that you did towards the end
erase all the good deeds that you did before then?
But they did,
and no matter how hard I try now,
I can’t remember the man that I always thought you were
You’re just a palimpsest of what you used to be
and I fear each day that what you became
is what will become of me.
We never truly know what goes on behind closed doors
For behind each smile could hide a frown
Behind each happy face that we see and ignore
There’s someone who needs a little lift because he’s down
We never truly know what prompts each word others speak
Was it really a happy thought or was it sad?
There’s so much in this world that we seek
Yet not everything we get in return makes us glad
We never truly know what hides behind the laughter
Is it only concealing the darkness, the utter despair?
Still there even when the sun rises after
Never seeing the ones who love you, still standing there.
One night, three months ago now, while driving one hour each way to one of my gigs, I heard a song on the radio that made me drop everything else I was writing. I wouldn’t know its title, nor hear it again till two months later (which I announced on Twitter because I’d been looking for it forever), but it stuck with me, seeping through my pores against my will.
At that time, I was in the midst of writing this historical fiction novel. My heroine, Luna, was in deep, deep trouble, and the hero, Dev, was — well, it doesn’t matter what he was doing now because the entire story got steamrolled to the side all because I heard this one song that changed everything.
In a matter of days, maybe less than a week, I wrote my first 15K words. The heroine was forming slowly – and begrudgingly, we were getting to know each other. And the hero, well, he had the guise of one Michael Fassbender, and the way his character, Erik, wriggled his way into my writing was slow but sure. And just like the song, I may not have known its title or its singer then, but I knew, or rather felt, its message.
The night Finding Sam was born was April 28 and months later, I’m getting to the finish line, when I ready myself to say good-bye to Sam and Erik and let them live their lives without my meddling (for a while – because there is a Book 2). But there is one character in the story that propelled Sam and Erik’s stories forward, and that is the character of Rosie, whose name appears in the novel’s opening line (and one that I probably will keep there, even for publication).
Readers who stumble upon Finding Sam have written about how the story makes them cry, and I’ve seen how people read Chapter One in the morning, and eight or ten hours later, they’re voting for Chapter 40 (it’s not done yet). It’s a marathon read, but one that’s made me realize just how far I’ve come after hearing a song one night, and at first wondering, do men really think that way about love or is it just a way to sell records? to asking myself why the hell am I writing something as vulnerable as this? Who am I writing this for?
And it made me realize, really realize, that the real muse for Finding Sam isn’t its main character, artist and vulnerable Sam. Nor is it the patient and stalwart Erik.
It was Rosie, Sam’s friend who starts the novel, well, dying.
Rosie is my friend, Pam. I met her on my first day in massage school 17 years ago and we became good friends long after massage school was over. Each month, we got together and exchanged massages (newsflash: most massage therapists don’t get regular massages) at my office, then spent 2 more hours having burgers, or Thai food and lots of coffee.
It was to Pam with whom I shared my secret passion for writing. Up to that point, friends I spent more time with knew me only as the party-loving, always laughing (probably because she was drunk) girl who couldn’t spike a volleyball – but never knowing that I preferred writing more than playing.
It was to Pam to whom I told my wish to write a story set in 1895 Philippines, complete with a brief summary of my characters and little tidbits about my home country. Not even my family knew about it. Pam had this knack for listening to you that made you just want to spill your life story. She was the best – hands down – massage therapist I’d ever allowed to touch my body, because she touched hearts just by being there with you.
My last conversation with Pam was over three years ago, when she called me just as I was getting ready to leave to see clients. Though Pam was always the one on time all the time, she was also someone worth being late for.
It was during this conversation that she asked me how my novel was shaping up – over ten years since I told her about it, and had actually NOT written a word. Pam wanted to learn what happened to Luna, my heroine, and whether her story would continue because she would certainly love to read it when I finished writing it, and when I’d publish it.
But Pam would never get to read my story.
She died a week later — I think, from a pulmonary embolism, for her radiation and chemotherapy treatments had left her with two blood clots just biding their time. Her final wish was not to have a memorial held for her, and I remember how perplexed and angry I was then as to why, for I needed the closure. I needed to talk about her, and all the good she had done for me by being my friend.
Most of all, I just needed her.
It’s been three years since Pam’s been gone. She would have been 55 or so and probably giving massages still, her waiting list probably longer than the three months’ wait that it had been before her cancer diagnosis. Since she’s been gone, I’ve distracted myself with other things, like spinning wool into yarn and gushing over an actor — yet always feeling an emptiness that I knew only one thing could fill. This time, there seems to be no escaping Pam’s memory, and her desire to one day read my stories.
Which means, now I write.
And now Pam’s in this story that came out of nowhere, all because I heard a song that touched my heart and my soul – and maybe through this song, she finally got through to me. And though her character in my story is dead, she’s not forgotten.
Instead, she propels the story forward. And not just this story, but every story that I’ve written ever since I remembered exactly who it was I was writing for.
It was never for the actors, the so-called muses. It wasn’t to inject myself as the heroine, as some people scoff is what writers really do (and even if we did, they’re just jealous we can plant ourselves into our worlds). It’s not even for money since I haven’t made a dime .
I write for me – and because of Pam, the real muse.
Your father died tonight
while you were attending evening class,
listening to me talk about pain and sleeplessness,
never knowing things weren’t meant to last.
You cried as I held you,
trembling as you said,
my dad passed away tonight.
And in my heart, I felt the dread
of that eternal loss,
despair whisking you far, far away,
I felt it in your bones
a soul so young, already betrayed
by life and its twists and turns,
innocence dragged asunder.
May you find peace in your memories –
and find in them love, beauty and wonder.