I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
July 1, 2021: Melissa Cronin
Back in June of 2003, Melissa Cronin was a critical care nurse, an athlete, and an Irish fiddler. But on July 16th of that year, she became a survivor of the Santa Monica Farmers Market crash, which killed ten people and injured sixty-three. She suffered life-threatening injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, and was confined to a wheelchair for four months.
This July marks eighteen years since the accident, which Melissa wrote about in 2019 for USA Today. Note how the particular verbs work to make us feel the impact of the crash.
Each time I hear of yet another vehicle attack—Hancock Park synagogue in California; a bike path in New York City; a thoroughfare in Barcelona; a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—the slap of my real life nightmare comes flying back at me: my body smacking against the pavement, the impact shattering my pelvis, rupturing my spleen, jarring my brain.
Melissa’s memoir, which is based on the crash and on trauma, healing and forgiveness, is represented by D4EO Literary Agency. But you can listen to Melissa read her essay, “Tilt-A-Whirl,” now to experience what it’s like inside the head of someone with a brain injury who’s shopping at the grocery store. This essay was originally published in Tahoma Literary Review and was recognized as a Notable Mention in The Best American Essays (2019),
Melissa has also written about her relationship with her father. He suffers from Alzheimer’s and, in this piece, was at the stage where he needed to be fed. By taking a close look at this everyday, and seemingly insignificant, activity, she offers the reader a new way to view this disease.
I watch him pick up his burgundy cloth napkin, drape it over his spaghetti and meatballs, then fumble with his spoon before balancing it on top of the sealed Hoodsie cup. This isn’t unusual behavior for someone with Alzheimer’s. Still, I ask my 74-year-old father, “What are you doing?” He gives me a hollow stare, his blue eyes as dry as his memory… I feel compelled to feed him, but the aides here at the nursing home usually do that. Though I worked as a nurse for 20 years and fed lots of people, I don’t want to feed him. I consider my reluctance.
In May, for About Place Journal, Melissa wrote about the lasting effects of traumatic noise, which will make you think about the sounds you hear on a daily basis.
Since my husband and I moved to North Hero Island last November, I wake each day well-held by the still morning. Tranquility is our neighbor. With a population of a little more than eight hundred, uninvited noise is a rare occurrence. That can’t be said for the greater Burlington area, the largest population cluster in Vermont, where we lived for sixteen years before moving to this remote hamlet an hour north. For sixteen years we were city dwellers, which came with its benefits: walking, biking, or bus-distance to restaurants, grocery stores, the post office. The main drawback, at least for me, was noise pollution. Mufflerless motorcycles, sirens, the squeal of air brakes, low-flying helicopters. Then came the most traumatizing noise-maker of all—the F-35 Lightning II.
Most recently, Melissa wrote a piece on food during the time of Covid, in which she does a wonderful job at not shying away from what makes each of us a strange and beautiful human doing the best he or she or they can together with other strange and beautiful humans. You can read “Food and Covid-19: Not Enough” at Entropy Magazine.
John knows how much I want my greens, a fall-out of my years-long struggles with anorexia: If I don’t eat at least three servings of greens each day, I worry I’ll gain weight.
Yet his “not-enough” fear prevails over mine. “What will we have for tomorrow’s dinner then?”
Melissa is the recipient of a Vermont Studio Center Merit Grant and a Vermont Arts Council Development Grant. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Jerusalem Post, Purple Clover Magazine, River Teeth Journal, Brevity, Saranac Review, and Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine. Melissa is also a public speaker on the topics of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. She lives in Vermont with her husband John and is currently at work on her first novel. Melissa and I met about ten years ago while we were in graduate school together at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Come back on JULY 1st to read how MELISSA CRONIN spends her days.