As a writer, I feel like I ought to know what to say and when to say it. Yet, I feel like I never know what to say – or when to say it.
The following was written as I looked for some words for friends of mine. It’s a little fiction, a whole lot of my own thought process.
“How long will you be there?”
“Don’t know yet.”
“How do you not know?”
“Haven’t planned that far.” I shrug.
“Just going to show up?” Disbelief in her voice.
“With dinner.” I gesture to the pan of lasagna on the counter. And the pot of soup on the stove.
“I hear the confusion – and skepticism – in your voice, Emily.” I look at her for a moment. “Never underestimate the power of food.” I move away from her, rummaging in my pantry for bags.
“No buts. Food is magical.”
“I still don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Why?” I poke my head around the corner, looking at her curiously.
“Because.” She shrugs, then crosses her arms over her chest. “You are intruding.”
“Am I? I don’t think so.” I return to my search for bags.
“You are showing up at their house – unannounced!”
“Seriously. Have you thought beyond the food?”
“Emily.” I find the bags. “Ah!” I snag them, then come around the corner. I see her staring at me, hands on hips. “The food is almost beside the point.”
“Wait. You just said food is magical. But that’s not the point?”
“These are our friends. We can’t just sit here and do nothing at all.”
“But, they are…” She gestures vaguely with one hand, then lets that hand drop to her side. She shrugs, obviously uncomfortable.
“What? Upset? Sad? Devastated?” I drop the bags on the counter next to the lasagna pan, then put my hands on my hips. “Yes, they are. Doesn’t that mean they need us more? Not less?”
“Well, I just didn’t think…”
“That’s the problem. Few people think logically about this.”
“What?” She leans forward, then back, confusion obvious on her face. The longer she stares at me, the more irritation and insult filter onto her features.
“Don’t look at me like that. I don’t mean to insult, or anyone, really. It’s just that, for some reason lost to time, a good chunk of people think you should just leave people alone.”
“Well, yeah. People want to be alone.” She shrugs. “Everyone knows that.”
“Do they? Have you asked?”
“This is what I mean.” I shake my head, turning back to the counter. I pick up one bag, putting the lasagna pan into it.
“Why would I ask?”
“Why wouldn’t you ask?”
“Why – wait.” She makes an irritated sound in the back of her throat. “You aren’t exactly asking.”
“I will. When I get there.” I crouch down, pulling out a new set of tupperware containers, then stand back up, pulling the containers from the package.
“Wait.” She puts out a hand. “What are you saying?”
“Did you think I was just going to hang out awkwardly?” I look toward her. “You did! Emily!”
“What! You spent all afternoon baking and cooking!”
“Yes, because that is one truth. Having access to food you don’t have to cook is a great help and comfort. You might actually eat, since there is no stress about trying to get it done.”
“This is about your dad.”
“It’s not about my dad. It comes from when my dad died, yes.” I pick up a ladle and one of the containers, turning to the stove. I start putting the soup into the container.
“What’s the difference?”
“Kelly.” I look at her a moment, then look back to what I’m doing. “Consider this. You have this huge, unexpected event. You don’t know what to do with yourself. So, you stare blankly at your fridge and your pantry, trying to find not just something to make, but the motivation to actually make it. And you are standing there because you know you are supposed to be doing it, but you don’t really want to do it.”
“Just trying to put together a simple meal can seem overwhelming.”
“Well, okay. I guess.”
“Granted, some people, like me, found comfort in that. It was something which allowed me to avoid dealing with the event itself.”
“But what about – ”
“Sure.” Having filled one container, I put it to the side and turn to her. “Schedule the church. See about flowers. Talk to the deacon. Decide on music. Visit the funeral home.” I stop, frowning. “That last one isn’t that much of a detail. That one is hard.”
“Is? Don’t you mean was?”
“Is.” I focus on her again. “Time doesn’t really heal the wound. It just teaches you how to cope with having it.”
“That’s rather – depressing.”
“No. It’s just realistic.” I turn from her, picking up another container. I start filling this one with soup as I had the first.
“It doesn’t really hurt less.”
“Jesus. That’s – no. Just stop.”
“Stop?” I look up to see her shaking her head. “It’s true, though. You pretend it hurts less to keep your sanity. You tell other people you are fine. You aren’t fine. Perhaps, one day, you’ll be fine, but you’re different. And fine has a completely different definition.”
“Christ, this isn’t about you.”
“I beg your pardon?” I put the ladle down, turning toward her fully. I can see on her face she has regrets about what she said. And also that she doesn’t have regrets about saying it.
“This isn’t your dad. This isn’t your problem.”
“Not. My. Problem.” I cross my arms over my chest, hearing a coldness enter my voice. The look on her face shows that she is floundering.
“I just meant, you shouldn’t assume what you would want is what they would want.”
“No. I don’t think that’s what you meant. But, let’s suppose you did.” I drop my arms to my sides. “You must have an extraordinarily low opinion of me.”
“You just told me not to do this for me.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I think you should go.”
“But, I was just – ”
“Please.” I gesture toward the door to the kitchen, meaning more than just my kitchen.
“Fine.” She gives me a look which holds disdain and irritation, then moves across the room. I wait until I hear the click of the front door, then follow her to lock it behind her. I rest my forehead against the door, closing my eyes.
Was I doing this for me? Possibly. More, I just wanted to give my friends something. Anything. I had experienced loss, sure. But not like this. I had no idea what to say to them.
What do you say when good people lose a son? How do you even begin to find words to express what you feel, knowing it’s a mere drop in the bucket to how they feel?
Shoving away from the door, I shake my head. I figure, you don’t. Because you can’t. You hurt for them, you feel for them, but there really aren’t words for that. Thus, you feed them. With copious amounts of food, hoping to make their day just a little easier.
Back in the kitchen, I finish ladling the soup into the containers I had purchased just for that purpose. I pack the soup into one bag, the lasagna pan into another. Fresh bread goes into a third. Perhaps I’d overdone it a tad. Oh, well. Soup freezes. I take all of the bags out to the car and load them into the back seat. I get into the car and start it, hoping inspiration will strike on the way there. I wanted to have more to say than “I’m sorry.”
What a horribly inadequate pair of words. Who decided they were appropriate for when you made a mistake and needed to make amends, but were also what you say for something like this? Morons, that’s who.
Seems to me, something like this needs its own phrase, something which conveys sorrow, regret, love, companionship, and the sentiment – “I will be there for you, when you need a hand.”
Perhaps that was the answer. Instead of less words, use more words. “You are important to me. I hurt because you hurt. Here’s my hand. I won’t let go.”
I stop at a stoplight, waiting. Maybe that was the actual answer. The offer of support and strength, for as long as needed. Perhaps not the most poetic, but it would work for me.
“Here’s my hand. I won’t let go.”