Thursday, December 01, 2005


Let me tell you about Sara.

Sara and I invented a backwards language in elementary school to baffle and annoy our teachers. It worked. There were variants: the D language, D's before all words (dhow dare dyou?); Pig Latin; the language of no vowels. Some languages were harder than others. Sara was a whiz at every subject, became head cheerleader of our high school, had braces. I think of her in braces, and very very tall with hair, that hair, hair like mine but thicker, tighter, round brown curls she somehow later got straighter, got to behave.

And she knew. Even in elementary school, she knew. She wanted to be a doctor, a pediatrician when none of us could even spell pediatrician. And she was. She graduated from the Ohio State University School of Medicine last year, and went to do her residency at Children's Hospital. She married last month, a fellow doctor.

The world would have been, I know.

She died last week, suddenly, of a brain aneurysm.

She was 28.

Also last week, my friend Laurel gave birth to a child, her first, a son. He is beautiful, very wanted, was very hard to come by.

Let me tell you about Laurel.

We met three years ago at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, where we both were waiters. She was then and still is, a force, a presence, bold, redheaded, lovely, funny, honest, strong. I remember going to town on our day off work, and after coming back-it was raining; we had gone to buy firewood and candy-we sat in the car in the gravel parking lot and listened to rain on the roof. Nobody wanted to get out of the car. We wanted just to listen. Laurel does more. She is a poet, a children's book author, a commentator for NPR, an interviewer, an artist. She makes me believe in the power to make something, in the power of our hands. And now she is a mother.

You will read her one day and the world will be better.

Also last week, one of my favorite students, Luke, won a Rhodes Scholarship.

Let me tell you about Luke.

He is twenty, about to graduate college at twenty, the youngest child, the first in his family to go college. He and his roommate, a former football player, sat in my creative writing class at eight-thirty in the morning and consistently made my day with their poems, their questions. He made me cry-in a good way-once in the cafeteria when he stood up and made an impassioned speech.

You will vote for him for president one day and the world will be better.

Also last week, one of my other favorite students accepted a marriage proposal. Also last week, rain fell from the trees. A man looked up from his woodpile. Who am I kidding, they are all my favorite students. My novel slipped through the mail. I said goodbye again to love. A man in his truck looked up from the steering wheel as we passed each other on the railroad tracks, and nodded his head, pointing his finger, giving me permission, it seemed-for what?


I'll go ahead, then.

Swear you are coming.

Read about her. Remember.

Give me more to do with this life. I need to believe I can change. I need to believe it matters. I need to believe what I am doing is what I am meant to be doing. I need to write for more than myself. I need someone to need this, this stupid rearranging, this alphabet dance. I need it to not be stupid, to not be a jumble, to make sense, to be heard, finally, by one who needs the telling.