Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer ELIZABETH MARRO.
Today begins in the dark. My husband and I lie side by side, trying to breathe quietly, each hoping to give the other a little more time to rest.
If I roll over and look at the floor beside the bed I’ll see only floor and a small blue rug no longer obscured by the dog’s bed. There is plenty of room for both of my feet, no need to twist and turn to get past Chloe’s sleeping form. I’d gotten good at that. I could rise from sleep at the first cough and gurgle that might turn into a vomiting episode. I could follow the scratch of her nails on the floor and find her wherever she’d wandered and gotten stuck. I could navigate entirely by the light available to me.
Today is the first time in fourteen years we’ve woken without her.
“You awake?” my husband whispers.
We hold each other for a while but the day has begun. We get up.
A little later, I’m in my office, looking at the first essay I’d drafted for this column. My computer screen is filled with the details of Sunday, January 3, the first Sunday of the year. That day wanted my attention; it marked the end of a holiday and the real beginning of the year with all the unknowns and promises that come with publishing for the first time. Between waking up at 4:30 a.m. and going to bed at 10, I’d packed in a surprising amount of writing, although not the writing I’d set out to do. There were musings about the nature of Sundays. Cookies were made. I confessed that a speech I’d intended to start writing that day went untouched as did everything on a list of things large and small to do with launching a book, a list that seemed to be splitting and reproducing at frightening rate every time my anxious mind touched on it. I walked at sunset and let its colors and music enter me with each step.
Only once in the essay did I mention my old friend and companion, the reason I woke at 4:30 a.m. in the first place. She was the witness to every word I wrote that day as well as every word I’ve written and the many I have failed to write for fourteen years. Not this word, though, or this one. Today, I am on my own. Her empty bed is still in my office when I come in to try to finish at least one of the things on that still-growing list: the essay about the Sunday I tried to catch and pin down. Now I can’t read it without seeing what I left out because I knew what was coming and it hurt. The tone rings false.
That essay and I stare at each other for an hour or so and then I start to peck at this one. I worry about writing when my grief is so raw and then I tell myself, just write.
My husband and I eat lunch and while we eat, we go through the dishes and the medicines and the dog food deciding who might be able to use any of it. When I return to my office, I notice that Chloe’s bed is gone. After telling my husband I wanted to keep it near me for a while, I’d changed my mind and added it to the pile of beds and blankets he’s been washing and packing away all day. After fourteen years with two dogs and then just one, we are a household of two humans. We cannot conceive of a time when we will not want to try again. But it isn’t now.
I head for the chair and this screen and this essay and a memory finds me. Then another one, then a flood of them. I start to try to catch them but it it’s too early to put these on the page. I get a FaceTime call from the man in Germany who runs my website. Server issues. Then other issues, all worrisome. The list of to-do’s still includes that thirty-minute speech I’m expected to deliver in a few weeks. Last week I was in a panic about these things. I may well be panicking tomorrow if they don’t resolve. Now, though, I can’t drum up much worry. It feels okay to be working, even if it’s a struggle.
At 2:38 p.m. I get up to take a walk with my husband to the post office where I will send my book to another writer who wants to read and, perhaps, review it. I shove my hands into my pocket and find an empty plastic bag. I don’t think I have a pocket in any piece of outdoor clothing that doesn’t hold a plastic bag. Of all things, it is the bag crinkling in my palm that brings back the tears. It is also the thing that makes me smile. This is the time of day when she would stir and look at me. Walk time. Get the leash, check the pockets for a bag, let’s go. Today, instead of her leash, my husband and I will hold each other’s hands.
I have written a little over eight hundred words. They have gotten me through most of this day. I am grateful for that. Later, I will make dinner with my husband and we will watch something on television and tomorrow the work will be here waiting for me. I am grateful for that too.
I pull the bag out of my pocket, fold it, and then I leave it behind.
AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?
- I’m reading short story collections because I love them and because I want to write one. They are tough for me to write but a pleasure, always, to read. I’ve fallen in love with the sentences, voices, and the compact beauty of short stories by Jim Ruland (The Big Lonesome) and Lucy Corin (The Entire Predicament). Jason Brown’s collection Why the Devil Chose New England For His Work has a great title and uses place as a character in a way that I love. I’ve been re-reading most of Alice Munro’s stories, most recently the collection The Runaway.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Find a physical exercise that works for you and do it so that your body will let you sit or stand in front of the computer or desk for as long as it takes. I never realized how critical a role my body would play in my ability to write the way I want to until it stopped me a couple of times.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- When I get stuck or feel I am dodging the heart of what I need to write about, I write a letter to my mother, one of my siblings, my best friend or my husband telling them all about it. Sometimes I mail them, most of the time I don’t. I often find I’ve found the words I need buried in a paragraph or two of these letters.