March 25

Last Saturday, as I was driving up Mount Lemmon for a Girl Scout camping trip, I realized it was March 25–the second anniversary of the day local writer Katherine Lawrence calmly drove down to the San Pedro River and took her own life.

Katherine was one of my first Tucson friends, and moved here the same week I did; she was one of the two witnesses at lnhammer and mine’s wedding; we were in a critique group together, for a time; she was difficult and generous in turns; she had health problems she thought were insurmountable, in part because one of the problems, depression, likely helped her believe that; and I saw a lot less of her her last few years in Tucson than the first few.

She died on the banks of the San Pedro River, but her ashes are scattered on Mount Lemmon. So I pulled off of Catalina Highway at the overlook where they’d been scattered–also the overlook where, almost thirteen years ago, dancinghorse, lnhammer, Katherine and I stared down at the city, watching lightning dance across the desert. I hiked a short ways out into the desert, gave Katherine a few moments of silence, built a small cairn at what felt like the right spot.

And then I continued on up the mountain, and on with the business of living.

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.

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