Just over a year ago, I spent the evening at a small gathering for local writer Katherine Lawrence, who was celebrating her seven-squared birthday. lnhammer, dancinghorse, and windrose were also there, and we all had a really nice time. lnhammer and I had both been been close to Katherine when she’d first moved to Tucson; she was one of the witnesses at our elopement. We’d since drifted farther apart, especially once I left the writer’s group we’d been in together–but before then, too, really. Yet I left that December gathering feeling like we were reconnecting again, and feeling good about that.
When Katherine decided to take her own life three months later, I was not expecting it, but neither was I surprised. Katherine wasn’t one for half measures, and she had little patience for incompetence; the moment the note she sent to windrose arrived, I knew she meant it, and that only some unanticipated flaw in her planning would stop her. I also knew how unlikely such a flaw was; I’d been in a gaming group with her, too, and knew how good she was at planning.
This Isn’t a Story
I’m sorry, Katherine,
but dying isn’t a story.
I saw your careful outline,
your well-researched notes:
first the heroine died,
then her adventures began.
You knew every detail:
the ghost town by the river,
when the trains ran,
the reasons why bullets were
better than pills.
You wrote and rewrote
the opening scenes. Nothing more.
Because dying isn’t a story.
We argued about story. We argued
when you stopped writing.
No, edit that. I argued. You said
you’d keep your notes and walked away.
You understood pacing and tension.
You mailed your goodbyes as you drove out of town;
walked down to the river, leaned back, looked up at the sky—
But no. Dying isn’t a story.
The hikers who found you,
that was a story. The police officer
with the half-finished novel;
the county parks manager in cutoff jeans
who told us he was sorry,
who told us he’d done this before.
A story is a long drive home through the dark,
both my hands steady on the wheel.
Your empty apartment was a story,
at least once we opened the door:
The answering machine blinking its silence,
the solstice cards lining the hall.
The borrowed books set on the counter,
labeled with sticky notes, bearing our names.
Nothing left to the reader:
no loose ends, no unresolved threads.
But a story is messier than a body by a river,
a bullet to the head. A story is
your mother packing your dishes
and your silver and a fifth of Scotch,
filling out the paperwork
to transport your gun across state lines.
You had a promising start:
the opening lines, the rising tension,
the chilling sense of things
that couldn’t happen any other way.
But those things aren’t a story,
and dying doesn’t make them one.
You knew how to outline
and you knew how to plot.
So how could you not know
what all writers know,
I still don’t know.
I’m sorry, Katherine.
This poem isn’t a story,
but I’m not driving away.