Her Last Words


Lou died two days ago—Lou, the character in one of my first novels based on good friends of mine, a funny friend, a quiet person who attracted us to her because of her lack of pretension, her open heart, and her sense of humor which at one time had us sorority sisters rolling across the sorority living room she played EbbTide on the piano. We danced vertically until we had to lay back breathless with laughter.

Her real life name was Pat. The other three friends in a novel that had several titles and ended up published as Her Last Words are also eighty-two. We are saddened and yet realizing that we are walking, or shuffling, me with my three canes and bum knee, the same path that Pat has meandered..

The end of a long-term friendship like mine with Pat has forced me to again to accept that I too will come to the end of the trail I’ve been following since college, a trail with gorgeous views, difficult ascents, quiet shadows, and surprises, like the trilliums Pat introduced me to fifty years ago and the sweet salmon berries my sons handed to me along the way. I’m hoping that there will be a few trilliums and salmon berries left as I poke forward, my cane leading the way. But I also know  that I’ll be leaving a few items along the trail, like the pioneers lightening their loads on their ways to Oregon

The most painful items are friends like Pat. Not really left behind, just tucked into memories that arise at quiet moments at night like the yellow evening primroses that have delighted me on this journey. As I try to find sleep, I can still see her cross and re-cross her skinny legs as she drags on a cigarette, her elbow on a knee, in the Solarium, making us laugh. “You were saying,” she whispers through a cloud of smoke.

Also painful to drop along this trail, but inevitable, is my dream of writing a break-out novel, of scratching some sort of meaningful mark on the literary world, one that would make the days crouched here in front of my computer, the hopeless investment of  my retirement funds on advice and editing, the dismal dreams of a sale at book sign-ins and readings, worth the effort. For a while it was. No longer.

So, I join a small group of writers I admire, in saying, I’m done.  It all was worth it, the dreams, the disappointments, the email tension, but it isn’t any more. Alice Munro and Philip Roth announced their retirements recently. Others have just gone silent. I knew it was my time to move along with a lightened load when I realized that I can no longer type one line of words without three or more typos. The two books I have written in the past two years have been clear examples of how slow that makes writing a couple hundred pages and are evidence of the wisdom of knowing when to quit. I’ve decided to  pause  and enjoy the scenery along this part of the trail.

Thanks for reading these thoughts for the past years. I’ve enjoyed writing them. I’ll think of you always as friends.
– JO