The fog has lifted, revealing a landscape of possibilities. There is so much to look at, to capture on a scrap of paper or a notecard. I have three or four documents open on my laptop, each one the start of something. So many suitors for my attention. “Pick me,” says this one. “Don’t swipe left,” urges that one. I can work again, go to the places of sadness and yearning and wonder that fuel me, surer of step. There are connections everywhere, omens or nudges, I’m not sure which. Quick! Before the next grey bank of grief rolls in, get it all down.
bell hooks has died. She was born where my mother’s people lived, people who I am sure could not see her, would not see her. I reread Bone Black, transporting myself back to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, back to the place I visited only twice, where I felt as alien as if I were from another world, which in fact I was.
I see in the Washington Post that Mattel has created a Barbie doll in the likeness of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, she of civil rights fame, she who shares my mother’s last name, the mother I can’t remember, the mother who died when I was two. I spend an hour comparing the doll to photographs of its namesake and remember with a jolt that makes me cry that my grandmother Barnett gave me my first and only Barbie doll, the one, my grandfather Daddy Bill said, that “looks just like your mama did.”
Joan Didion has died. In my own grief I have not been able to reread The Year of Magical Thinking though several well-meaning people have offered to lend me a copy. And now, because she has died, she is everywhere, and so is her memoir. I am forced back to that place where the magic is black, suffocating. “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty,” she wrote about the death of her husband. Ah yes. I know that emptiness. Now, that single person is my husband. But way back before Barbies, before boyfriends, before babies, that single person was my mama.
These two women, aunties in my dreams of late, guide me inland with their lanterns of prose, away from the shore where the fog is thickest, onto the path I could not see in the miasma. They share their wisdom with me, as if I am sitting at their deathbeds, straining to make out their last whispered words. “You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from” says Joan. “There is light in darkness, you just have to find it,” says bell. “Godspeed … and thank you,” I say to each with a squeeze of the hand. The numbness fades. I am feeling again, — refusing to walk away from the hard places, choosing the light — writing again just as they did, about loss and love and learning and being alive.