golden-gate-park

We met in New York when I auditioned for a play she’d written. She didn’t cast me. I struck her as being too intelligent for the part, or so she told me later by way of softening the blow. She’d done some acting herself, mostly in musical theater, where she excelled as a dancer. Then she hurt her back, and so turned to playwriting, graduating from the Yale School of Drama—an impressive achievement for a girl from a small town in Arkansas.

She was pretty, though she didn’t believe she was. She had a dancer’s lithe build, dark hair, and fair features that came off as wan in photos. She walked daintily, with mincing steps, and her voice had a kind of tremor, hinting at something brittle at her core. Still, she definitely attracted attention on the street, which surprised and, at times, amused her.

We didn’t get involved right away. She was with somebody else at the time, and we gradually began an affair that ended before I left New York for L.A. Then, with a new boyfriend, she also moved to L.A., where she, like me, wrote screenplays. Two of her scripts were produced, one with a lot of fanfare, though we seldom saw each other during that period, her boyfriend being jealous of me. Eventually, when they were done, she and I resumed.

She influenced my writing considerably, not so much in style as the fact of her encouragement. She was the first serious writer I knew, so praise from her went a long way. But she was finally competitive as a writer, and grew stingy with praise over time. I would show her a story or script I’d written, and she’d say things like: “Well, I suppose it’s pretty good . . . for its genre.”

We fought about that. We also fought when I dared to criticize her fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton. We fought about almost everything, including clumsy remarks on my part. Once, when we were discussing our aborted affair in New York, I said, “I think I was afraid you weren’t cool enough”—meaning I was a rocker type, while she still listened to show tunes. She never let me live it down. Every time we fought afterward, she’d say at some point: “Well, as you know, I’m not cool.”

We broke up and got back together again. We did this several times before we decided we were better off as friends, but even then we fought. She wasn’t a heavy drinker, but when she did drink, I knew we were likely to fight. She’d phone to needle me, often late at night, and I’d say, “Have you been drinking?”

“Why?”

“You’re trying to pick a fight.”

“Yeah, well. That’s what people who aren’t cool do.”

In spite of myself, I almost always took the bait, and she almost always hung up on me. Nothing riled me more, as she knew, and one night after she did it still again, I called her back and left a message when she naturally didn’t answer.

“Don’t you ever call me again,” I said. “And I mean ever! I don’t want to ever hear from you again! We’re fucking done!”

I don’t remember what prompted that fight, though I know, and knew, she was going through a difficult time. Her screenwriting career had fallen apart, and she was working a Christmas job in retail. She didn’t know where, or if, she’d find a job after the first of the year. She sometimes spoke of returning to Arkansas.

So things stood when we stopped talking. It was a period when I fell out with a number of people, but she was the only one I missed. Was she okay? Was she working? Did she go back to Arkansas? Yet I couldn’t bring myself to contact her, just as, for a year and a half, she didn’t contact me.

Then she sent me a letter. I recognized her handwriting the second I saw the envelope, and I noted the return address in Arkansas. I was sure the contents would amount to an analysis of our relationship. She’d sent me such letters in the past.

But this letter was different. She described a pain in her chest that came on while she was still in California. The doctors initially blamed the pain on acid reflux. Eventually, when the pain intensified, an MRI was performed, revealing a large tumor in her lung. The tumor was too close to her heart to be removed. She was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, and was now undergoing chemotherapy in Little Rock, where she was living with her sister.

I was floored, of course. She’d always been a hypochondriac—a frequent cause of fights—but even hypochondriacs get sick. Still, lung cancer? Yes, she smoked, but not much: a cigarette a day, if that.

I called immediately. She answered with a hoarse voice. She was weak from the chemo, she said, but she’d just gotten the results of her latest tests, which were promising: the tumor was shrinking. Still, she emphasized, the prognosis for lung cancer is never good: at best, she might live for another five years. She attributed the cancer to depression, not smoking.

We talked about the fight that led to our long estrangement—what was that about, anyway? We laughed when neither of us could remember. Despite her illness, she sounded good—that is, clearheaded. We got on better than we had in years. At least, I thought, the cancer had accomplished that much.

She asked me to come see her. I would, I promised, but she was officially in remission the next time we spoke, and there seemed to be no special hurry. I told her I would send her the novel I’d recently finished. In fact, it wasn’t finished, but I thought otherwise. I didn’t expect her to read it; I simply wanted her to see the manuscript and realize that, like me, she could write a novel. Maybe if she started one, it would help her to further rally.

She read my novel. She liked it, she said in an offhand way, as if she didn’t like it at all. I was irked. She was as competitive as ever, I thought. The cancer had changed nothing. We often spoke on the phone during her summer of remission, with touches of our old tension, though we never openly fought as we’d done in the past.

Then new test results came back. The cancer had spread: it was now in her ovaries as well as her brain. The tumors in her brain were tiny, but if they grew, they could result in dementia or seizures or both. She was more frightened by brain cancer than she was of death, she told me.

The doctors thought she was a poor candidate for another round of chemo, since she’d been so weakened by the first round. Still, the choice was hers: she could take a chance on the chemo, but her quality of life, even if the chemo extended her life, might be poor, to say the least.

She ultimately decided against the chemo. She did, however, have radiation for the brain cancer. It worked: the tumors disappeared.

One night in November we had an especially long talk on the phone. Her final wish had been to see Paris again, she said, but she was now too sick for such a big trip. Instead, she wanted to spend a weekend in San Francisco, where she could see the ocean one last time. She could also see the ocean in L.A., of course, but she didn’t want to return to L.A. She asked if I’d meet her in San Francisco. Absolutely, I said; how soon did she have in mind?

“Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” she said. “I won’t last until the spring.”

I’m still struck by her phrasing. Somehow, despite the constant updates about her condition, I’d failed to understand that time was running out. Now I understood. She said she had to go. I couldn’t speak, knowing that I’d cry if I did.

“Are you there?” she asked. I made a small noise to let her know I was.

“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s all going to be okay.”

“It’s not going to be okay,” I barely managed, my voice cracking.

“Yes, it is. It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay.”

I was overcome with depression. It wasn’t just her. My novel, I now recognized, needed a lot of work, and I was unable to do the work, since I kept having to write scripts for practically nothing. It was Christmas, and I hadn’t seen my family in a few years, so it was either let another year pass without seeing them or use my rent money to pay for a flight home. My landlords would try to evict me. My novel would never be finished. I wished I were dead and said as much the next time she called. I knew it was an awful thing to say to someone on the verge of death, but it was nonetheless true, and I wanted to be able to speak to her as I used to do, without pretense. Maybe she would appreciate my honesty, I thought, especially since everyone she knew was bound to be tiptoeing around her. Surely those people were depressed at times, but they’d never admit it—not to her. Here was a chance to be herself—a person who’d struggled with depression, like me—instead of, generically, a person who was dying.

But she was understandably aghast that I would say such a thing. I tried to explain my reasoning, selfish as it was, but she wasn’t interested in listening. She made an excuse to get off the phone and quickly hung up, and I flew home for Christmas feeling worse than ever. When I returned, I saw that she’d sent me a card. The front of the card was white, except for a few words in black:

card

Inside, she’d written to chide me for what I’d said on the phone. She was “weary” of my “inability to accept change,” she wrote. That was an old complaint. She’d always seen me as clinging to youth, and it was true, I did cling, but she, unlike me, had never been invested in youth culture.

Yes, the cancer had changed nothing. Our new relationship—the one that started with the letter that broke our long silence—had followed our old relationship: we’d gotten along wonderfully, followed by tension and a fight of a kind. And yet, she wrote in the card, she forgave me, which felt like final words.

I called her again and again. She didn’t answer. I wondered if her condition had deteriorated or if she was simply avoiding me. Then one night the phone rang, and by the time I got to the phone, the call had gone to voice mail. I listened to the message. It was her. She was in the hospital, she said, where the doctors were trying to resolve some problems, including fluid in her lungs, and she expected to go home in a couple of days. She could barely speak, her voice was so hoarse, and I decided not to call back right away. Let her rest, I thought. I would call in a few days, after she’d gone home. For now, it was gratifying simply to know she was alive.

Weeks passed. She didn’t respond to my messages. I Googled for an obituary and found nothing.

One night a friend called to ask if I’d heard from her. I hadn’t, I told him, and hung up and Googled again. An obituary came up this time. She’d died a few days after she called from the hospital. Why didn’t I call back right away?

I was too staggered to cry. Her tremulous voice, her dainty walk, her lithe body, which I knew so well: how could it be here, then gone forever? I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it, despite the months I’d had to prepare.

But I did cry later, and never when I thought I would. For instance, seven months after she died, I went to San Francisco to see friends, and I thought of her as I crossed the Oakland Bridge. I didn’t cry then; I cried when I spoke of her to my friends in a North Beach bar, and they’d never met her. She and I had talked about getting together in San Francisco, I blubbered, and here I was without her. I could tell my friends didn’t understand. I didn’t understand myself. I’d known so many people who’d died, but she was different, and so was the way I grieved.

One day my friends and I took a bus to the beach at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. A tickling breeze was blowing off the bay, and gentle waves were breaking, and I remembered her wish to see the ocean one last time. Why the ocean? Maybe, I thought, to be reminded of her smallness in the scheme of things, as we’re all small, except to those whose lives we’ve changed.

I walked to a shelf of rocks, where, hidden from my friends, I leaned down and tried to write her name with my finger in the sand beside the water. I did this repeatedly, never able to finish before a wave swept up and erased the letters. Finally I managed to write a whole phrase, which remained for only a moment.

The phrase included her name, preceded by the three words that I never sufficiently expressed but always deeply felt, even when we weren’t speaking at a time when speaking was still possible.

 

This piece is excerpted from SUBVERSIA, published by TNB Books in October 2010.

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D. R. HANEY is the author of a novel, Banned for Life, and a nonfiction collection, Subversia, the inaugural publication of TNB Books. Known to friends as Duke, he lives in Los Angeles.

110 responses to “That’s What I’ve Been Trying to Tell You”

  1. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

    Wow, Duke.
    You took me off guard with this one. Very sweet and heartfelt and at one point, I found myself holding back tears.

    Great piece.

    • Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

      Just for the record, I read SUBVERSIA.
      Apparently, I spaced out for this part when I first read it because it seems more alive now. I must have been distracted.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I think it’s easy to forget pieces in collections. I was thinking about this only yesterday in relation to a collection by Walter Kirn. I only remember a handful of the stories in it, and a few crumbs of others. I guess we fasten on to the pieces that especially strike us, and the rest melt into a kind of gestalt.

        Anyway, I’m glad it did something for you, Ashley. It’s strange, after my experience with TNB, to write a short piece and not get an immediate reaction to it, and with this piece I finally thought, Oh, what the hell; maybe it’ll help the book to put it out there. You never know.

        • Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

          Whew!
          I thought you would fuss at me for not remembering this piece in SUBVERSIA. In my defense, I’m a stay at home mom to a 4 year old little boy. I’m lucky if I get to read at all.

          Also, I think I need SUBVERSIA in book form. I’m not a big fan of kindle-type reading. Maybe I’ll order one and read it again.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Well, of course that would please me no end (as well, I’m sure, as Brad), but I don’t want that to read like emotional blackmail or anything. And of course I wouldn’t fuss at you for not remembering! My vanity knows many forms, but not that one. I never assume that anything I’ve written is remembered by anyone.

          Meanwhile, my personal reason for being unable to read is — get this — writing. Ain’t it ironic? I started writing because I read, and now that I write, I barely have time to read.

        • Irene Zion says:

          The not-having-enough-time thing is on my mind constantly, Duke.
          My writing is so not in the caliber as yours, God knows, but, whatever it is, it still takes time, and my painting takes time,
          and I have all these responsibilities.
          The thing you have in your favor is that you are still young.
          I’m counting down the days here.
          I’m trying not to think about it.
          But there it is.

          • D.R. Haney says:

            Dear Irene:

            TNB has been undergoing an upgrade of late, which has created a lot of formatting problems with my posts, and I just checked this one to see if it’s okay, and only now do I discover this comment you left months ago. I’m sorry that I somehow missed it.

            None of us know how long we have. By the law of averages, we should last to around eighty, but some don’t even survive childhood. Meanwhile, all art takes time, even the art that takes no time. Years go into the writing of a song, for instance, that was dashed off in minutes.

            I’m not so young, and I have very little time to write, and as things stand, I don’t see myself leaving any sort of legacy, and I gave up a great deal on the theory that I would leave a legacy. But at the rate I’m going, I’ll be lucky if I can write even one more book — a book that, even if I were able to write it, would only be read by a handful of people. I write slowly and laboriously. It takes a long time for me to figure out what I’m doing even with the shortest and seemingly simplest piece.

            I’m not sure what I mean to say with all this except that I want to assure you that you’re not alone in anything you may feel. But I do hope that you enjoy writing when you find the time to do it. I don’t, not usually. Writing is torture, which is one of the reasons, I’m sure, that I resisted doing it for as long as I did. I do it — why? But if I began to attempt an answer, I would be here for a long time, and I should really try to sleep for an hour or so before I wake to deal with the usual horror, such as trying to save my gas from being turned off, and trying to prevent my landlords from learning that I have a roommate, which could lead to another eviction drama. No, the writing life is no fun at all. But it was nice to see the comment you left months ago, and I hope, wherever you are the moment, you’re having fun.

            Love,
            Duke

  2. duke… i miss your amazing words.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Actually, Robin, I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I liked “Light Your Fire.” I’ve been in heavy-duty survival mode of late, so haven’t had much time to comment at TNB. But that piece was a standout.

      On a somewhat related note, I may be expressing a few thoughts on Jim Morrison in the weeks ahead.

  3. […] The Nervous Breakdown thenervousbreakdown.com/drhaney/2011/02/thats-what-ive-been-trying-to-tell-you/ – view page – cached All love stories end in one of two ways. This one ended in both., All love stories end in one of two ways. This one ended in both. […]

  4. Greg Olear says:

    My favorite piece in the collection.

  5. Lenore Zion says:

    when i bought Subversia this is the first piece i read in the book because i knew which essay it was. i was so happy you wrote this, and i’m still happy you wrote it. i think it’s strange how expressions of emotion (like crying) never come when they would be appropriate, but instead sneak up after the fact.

  6. Gloria says:

    I’m sorry you lost your friend, Duke.

    This piece is beautiful and so sad. It’s different than anything I’ve read from you before – more vulnerable, maybe.

    Your stories are always a pleasure to read though. I value your honesty.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Likewise, Gloria.

      I always think of myself, in the writing department, as a person without skin, or at least not much skin, but that isn’t the same, somehow, as being vulnerable. But I suppose I did admit here to crying. As an actor, I used to think of crying real tears as a difficult thing to achieve, so I used to encourage myself to cry as much as possible, as if I were loosening up the tear ducts or something. I stopped that, fortunately, and since then, I rarely cry. Maybe, being out of practice, that’s why it took me so long to cry for the person I wrote about here.

      She was pretty flinty, in some ways, herself. I remember her telling me about the death of an acquaintance and not evincing, I thought, the least bit of sympathy for him. He died of a heart attack at a fat farm, and her attitude was sort of: “He should never have let himself get that fat in the first place.” I wonder how she would’ve reacted had I died.

      This is a long-ass reply, huh?

      • Gloria says:

        I don’t know. I think maybe it feels more vulnerable because, unless I’m mistaken (which is nowhere outside the scope of possibility), it’s the first time you’ve shared a story about someone you were in love with. I don’t suppose I ever pictured you as asexual or anything like that, but it seems like you’re more private about romance and being in love and describing some specific person you were in love with – especially in such a tender way. Even the descriptions of your fights are imbued with warmth. And that felt vulnerable for me.

        I have a dear, dear friend, an atheist, who sort of regards people the way your friend did. Like, she has a enormous capacity for empathy, but if someone dies of a heart attack ’cause they were fat or lung cancer ’cause they smoke (and even my recent ill health – and she’s my dearest friend!) then she’s able to be like, “Well? What’d you expect?” and move on. It’s a fascinating characteristic.

        Feel free to reply to me at any length, Duke. 🙂

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I have written a little about my love life at TNB, but not much. I’ve started other pieces that bogged down for one reason or another. I find it a tough subject to write about. It’s like trying to write a really good love song — how to pull it off when so many love songs have been written already? It can be done, of course, and is all the time, but I don’t feel like I have a knack for it to find a fresh take that feels like it’s illuminating some corner of love that hasn’t been illuminated already.

          This was an interesting piece for me in the sense that I’d been trying to write it for two or three years. I made numerous stabs, and they always fell apart. Then, when I was putting together material for the book, I made another stab, and it proved, compared to every previous effort, surprisingly easy. I guess it was just ready to be born. I’m a bit of a fatalist when it comes to writing.

          K. (the subject of the piece) wasn’t uniformly stony. As with your friend, she was empathetic, and then she wasn’t. There were no patterns that I could discern. She didn’t always take a stern outlook on matters of health, for instance. She was full of contradictions, as we all are, but maybe more than the norm. It certainly made her consistently interesting. I wish she’d been able to accomplish more than she did with her writing. She was very talented.

  7. Nelly says:

    This is nice. Wow. Very touching

  8. Richard Cox says:

    This is a tough one, Duke. It hurts to read it, even again, because it hurt you so much to write it. And live it.

    Your prose is so clear and straightforward. No pretense. With a story like this there’s no reason to dress it up. It’s painful and touching and you seem to have rendered it as faithfully and honestly as you could.

    I’m sorry to her and to you for what you went through. But your experiences together are still a part of you, and now part of anyone who reads it here or in Subversia.

    I’m sure she would love you for that.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      She would undoubtedly quibble with my take on things. We had a few fights over the way we represented one another in fiction. I pretended I was above all that, but I remember reading a story in which she there was a character who was clearly based on me, and some of what she wrote annoyed me to no end. I thought, “Is that what she really thinks?” Even though I knew, and know, that it’s never that simple when it comes to drawing on real-life models for characters, and it’s also not that simple in life. I mean, we have a variety of reactions, and many are fleeting.

      Anyway, thanks, man, both for what you say and for reading it a second time. I posted it bearing in mind those who hadn’t already read it, so it’s flattering that anyone who did would give it a second go.

  9. jonathan evison says:

    . . .lovely, duke . . . i’ve not had the chance to read subversia . . .i can only hope for more of this!

    • D.R. Haney says:

      And I can only hope that you wouldn’t feel that you’d hoped in vain.

      Big congrats for all the great things coming your way. It’s kind of awe-inspiring to observe.

  10. Tom Hansen says:

    Excellent piece bud. Love it.

    This is a long story, and a damned shitty excuse, but I haven’t picked up Subversia yet, it’s not that I haven’t wanted to, because I have, but I have to get it off amazon and because I’m a dirt poor cheap shit writer I can’t afford internet at my house–I’m kind of stealing wireless from the City of Seattle utility company across the street as we speak (don’t tell anyone) –but it’s an unsecured network, and I will not use my credit card info on this unsecured network, so I have to go down to my old college where I did my BA, Antioch, and where I have computer privileges, and where people look at me like “There’s that alum who wrote that book!” and use their secure computers to order books from amazon, and I’ve been meaning to for a while, because all the books I want you can’t find in bookstores anyway, and who’s dumb idea was that right? and I have about five books on my amazon list right now, including another copy of Lila Says (you should check it out, it’s in my top five–and Kate Moss named her daughter after the book) and Subversia.

    I can has run-on sentence. Ha! You rock buddy

    • D.R. Haney says:

      No excuse needed. It’s not like I expect people to buy the book. I desire it, of course, but that’s another matter. And I posted the piece precisely for people who haven’t read the book, hoping I wouldn’t incite eye rolling in those who have.

      As for being a “poor cheap shit writer” — sir, that’s my own book to write, and don’t you dare fucking think it’s yours, or at least not yours alone. Someone told me yesterday that I always seem to be “in turmoil.” He seemed convinced that it had to do with drugs. Nope. It’s poverty — at least in large part. It might interest you to know that a certain person with whom we’re both acquainted assisted me in having my gas service restored last year. I didn’t have a working stove or hot water (except when heated in the microwave) for a week. And things haven’t really improved much since. But hope springs, etc.

      • Tom Hansen says:

        That’s cool. You can have the “poor cheap shit writer” and I will have the “insane ex-junkie who uses run-on sentences writer”

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Well, except for the ex-junkie part, I may match you in your new self-categorization as well, though I’ve learned to somewhat control my run-on sentence impulse. I was raised on Faulkner and Kerouac after all.

  11. Zara Potts says:

    I remember you telling me this story and then when Subversia arrived – it was the first piece I turned to.

    I love the way this is written. There is brutal honesty here and it can’t have been easy to put it all down on paper, so to speak. I think the fact that you unflinchingly don’t spare yourself in this piece is part of what makes it so strong.

    Can I mention how good it is to see your name on this masthead? It always seems too long between drinks.

    You know I adore you and your writing and this piece is really great example of why.

    People – Buy ‘Subversia’, You will not regret it.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Frankly, Z., it’s good for me to see my name on the masthead. Yeah, it has been a while since the last drink — literally, in my case, since I’m on the wagon.

      You know, I wasn’t sure if you’d read Subversia. I remember you saying that you’d sent for it, but I didn’t know if it ever arrived. I didn’t want to ask, and you’ve been, of course, insanely busy of late. But I’m happy, of course, to learn that it did arrive and that you read it.

      It was a hard piece to write, mainly in the sense that it took so long to do. I’d been wanting to write it since she died, pretty much, but I couldn’t find a way to do it. I guess I needed perspective. Also, I made a decision to write it as simply as possible, whereas in the past I kept getting caught in syntactical tangles.

      Did you have a different impression reading it than you did in hearing it? It always strikes me how a written account is at odds with the lived experience, even when I struggle to remain faithful to the experience in words — written words, specifically.

  12. Irene Zion says:

    Duke,

    Your writing is so stunning. This line at the beginning was enough for me to see her in my mind:
    “She walked daintily, with mincing steps, and her voice had a kind of tremor, hinting at something brittle at her core. ”
    In one line!
    In one line you made a person real to me. I can look all around her and see her. I can hear what she’s thinking.
    Other writers would kill for your gift.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, there are a lot of writers whose gifts make me want to kill them. There are so many things that others can do well what I can’t. For example, description: some writers can describe things at great length without ever being boring, but I can’t pull that off, so I try for a few quick strokes and hope it does the trick. That’s what I was going for with the description here, and I’m glad you say it created a picture for you. I couldn’t ask for a better compliment.

      Oh, and do you see any relationship between this piece and “Nevermore”? I do. I can easily imagine them in the same anthology.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Duke,
        You sell yourself short because you are too much of a perfectionist. Your descriptions are fabulous. Where did you get the idea that they weren’t? You need to look at your work as though it belonged to someone else. Could you try that? Divorce yourself from the work and look at it objectively.
        (I can see that, in my wildest hopes and dreams….)

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I think time makes it easier to see your work objectively, and not enough time has passed with my published work. When I thumb through it, I cringe a lot. But sometimes I think I got it right; it’s just never as consistent as I wish it were.

          (I know of at least one anthology in the works, and there may well be more, so your wildest dreams may yet come to pass.)

        • Irene Zion says:

          From your lips….

        • D.R. Haney says:

          …no alcohol will be upchucked, I can promise you that.

  13. Jude says:

    So haven’t had a lot of time as of late to turn to TNB, but tonight I did and was thrilled to see you there, top of the page with another piece of your wonderful writing. So sad, so truthful, so touching and so absorbing. You write the most exquisite ‘love’ stories – they are heartbreakingly beautiful.

    I am so sorry you lost someone who was obviously so special to you. Death is the hardest thing, especially when the person is so young and full of such promise and hope, and grief hits you when you least expect it. What a fitting tribute to your friend – not only this story, but your writing her name and the three words in the sand that you hadn’t been able to express while she was alive.
    Goddamit – sometimes life has a terrible habit of getting in the way of love.

    Much love to you Duke.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      And to you, Jude. It does kind of feel like a visit home. I started a lot of pieces last year, but none of them came to fruition. The two I’ve posted since the book came out were very atypical of me.

      I don’t quite know what I was thinking with the writing-in-the-sand thing. I just kind of wanted to be alone to reflect, and then I started writing her name, as if that made her present, somehow. And then to see it wash away, as I knew it would — I suppose it was like releasing her, and taking with her the way I felt so that they would be together always. But I never thought of any of that consciously.

      She had a friend who died, and she claimed that one night, while she was writing, he took hold of her hands and typed out a message on the keyboard. She was absolutely convinced it was him and not her. But nothing like that ever happened with me. I never got any “signs” from her, as people often say they do after someone close to them dies, and I don’t feel she hovers around me or anything like that. But she’s definitely there inside me. I think of her often.

      Oh, and you’re right, of course, about life and love. Unfortunately, in this case, she and I got in the way of each other, though she would probably say the fault was more mine. And, if so, she may have been right.

  14. I distinctly remember this one from the collection. In it, you do such a fine job capturing the fluctuating dynamics of your relationship with heart-breaking results. I imagine it was just as heart-breaking to write.

    Glad to see you back on here!

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thanks, Cynthia.

      As I somewhat wrote somewhere above, I was more concerned with how to write the piece than with my feelings. I always think that if you write something the right way, the feelings take care of themselves.

      Actually, I didn’t always think that way. I used to put the feelings first, and, as a result, I don’t believe they were usually felt — not by others.

  15. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Tension and tenderness are so coiled together in this piece, Duke. The emotions are authentic, even if they aren’t always pretty to behold. You describe this terrain with insight, and that’s what makes me as a reader flinch.

    I’m sorry your friend suffered from the inability to embrace her own beauty and light. Depression is complicated, but that disconnection is often at its core. No matter what struggles you had as a couple and as friends, you both encouraged and supported each other. These are gifts, in spite of the pain.

    You keep writing, Duke. She was right to urge you on.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Oh, she gave me many gifts, to be sure. She was the first to identify me as a writer. She thought I was wasting my time with acting. She’d tell me to write more, and I’d say I didn’t feel it, and she’d say, “Well, writing is like being in prison, so take your time. No need to rush going to prison.”

      That may give some insight into the way she thought.

      She was, in fact, very complicated. I’m complicated, too, and two complicated people — it’s not a great recipe for romantic success. Yet when I simplified, as I did to some extent, I felt like she almost resented me for it.

      Of course I realize you were speaking of depression as being complicated, but it’s a word that applies to her also. I think her depression owed to a number of factors, including the death of her father when she was very young, her various medical problems (her back injury, for instance, gave her years of pain), and her thwarted ambitions. She was never appreciated as a writer to the extent that she should’ve been. I remember a review in the LA Weekly that referred to one of her plays as “familiar,” and she said, “Great. I spend years working on a play, only to have it dismissed as ‘familiar.'”

      Still, she wasn’t always gloomy, not by a long shot. She found me very funny — that is, when she wasn’t annoyed with me — and it’s a comfort to know that I could make her almost hysterical with laughter. And every once in a while she could make me laugh hard, too. I wish she’d exercised her sense of humor more often.

      • Ronlyn Domingue says:

        “Writing is like being in prison.” Hmmm. Yeah, with the book I’m working on, I agree with that. Insightful.

        Perhaps you’ll revisit her in other works. There’s so much energy to her, a creative force that still has fuel even though she’s not physically here. It’s almost as if you get to carry out the legacy she had the potential, but not the time, to bring. (I feel like I’m fulfilling something for a grandmother or two myself.) Peace to her, and to you.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Oh, she’ll always be revisited in other works, though not necessarily in a direct way.

          I love what you say about your grandmothers. I remember you posting about your grandfather after the Saints won the Super Bowl. Even the longest human life span is so brief in the scheme of things that we all end up carrying out the legacies of others in one fashion or another, and sometimes the others are strangers.

  16. Art Edwards says:

    The great part of that beach is its history as a nude beach. You’d go there on Saturday afternoon and there’d be all of these people and families and whatnot. Then there’d be this one guy–probably in his fifties, long flowing gray hair, built like a cover model of a romance novel–who clearly wasn’t going to give up his nude beach. He liked to sit by himself, and every once in a while he’d go for a jog along the edge of the water, with this funny, effeminate gate. He’d jog all the way to the end and back, his bits bouncing, smiling at anyone who caught his eye. No one paid him much attention.

    Anyway, that’s what that photo reminded me of.

    Lovely piece, D.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Someone else told me that it used to be a nude beach, which shouldn’t have surprised me.

      It’s kind of a long piece by Internet standards, and whenever I write something longish, I tend to want to insert pictures to break it up. Long stretches of prose can be intimidating to an online reader. Anyway, I tried to find pictures for this one, and that was the only one that worked, and then, ironically, I ended up using it at the very end of the piece, where it was breaking up nothing.

      I’m pretty sure you already read this once, yes? If so, thanks for reading it a second time, as well as for what you say.

      • Art Edwards says:

        First time. I have your lovely tome on ebook, and I haven’t yet gravitated to the form, so I’m picking at it.

        Although I found this piece completely engrossing and not at all long, I shoot for 1000 words for the web. If it’s more than 1750, it becomes two pieces.

        But pictures are a good idea, too. It had a lovely effect at the end.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Pictures were part of the “official” TNB 1.0 format, as I understand it, following Brad’s successful use of them on his MySpace blog. (I didn’t come along until TNB 2.0.) He once told me that he still considers use of pictures a good idea. I agree. I mean, why not, if they’re available.

          I’m relieved to learn that you hadn’t read the piece before. I had kind of a fear, before posting, of annoying those people who’d read it already. “What, this again?” Etc.

        • Art Edwards says:

          Duke, you slay. We all wait for you to post.

          The pictures are a great idea. Brad’s style of blogging was (is?) very innovative. We could all do worse than copy his style. I know I’ve copied it here and there.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I guess TNB was kind of founded on others copying Brad’s style. And I’m galvanized by the “slay” remark. I wish I could hold to the one-post-a-month rule. I’ll eventually return to it. I’ve been in a recuperative mode in more ways than one.

          Oh, and your bow tie is killer, by the way. I had quite an array of bow ties as a kid. Clip-on ties too.

        • Art Edwards says:

          This is a cherished picture from kindergarten. I still feel like that kid much of the time.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          That’s good to know. I worry sometimes that I feel very remote from myself as a child, and to that end I find myself trying to reconstruct events and locations with as much Proustian detail as I can. The kids of today are going to have it easier to remember, in that there’s so much more documentation.

  17. Tawni Freeland says:

    I read this transfixed to the screen with watery eyes, hoping she’d survive the illness. I’m so sorry you lost your friend, and didn’t get the closure with her in San Francisco that might have later helped you during your grieving process. Sad story and beautiful, honest writing, Duke. xoxo.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I’m afraid, had I seen her in San Francisco, I would have been a blubbering mess when we said goodbye, knowing it would have been the last time. I’m not sure that it would have been that way for her. She was bidding so many people goodbye, and she was remarkably strong during the last months of her life, so that, as you can see, she ended up comforting me that time on the phone. I didn’t understand how she could tell me everything was going to be okay, and really mean it, as she clearly did. I still don’t understand — not entirely.

      I’ve been meaning to welcome you to TNB as a contributor, so not having done it before: welcome! ‘Bout bloody time, eh? You becoming a contributor, I mean. But that could, and should, also apply to the welcome.

  18. J.M. Blaine says:

    This just tore me up
    Duke
    everything changes
    nothing changes

    a beautiful piece.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I’d never thought of it that way before, JMB: everything/nothing. That’s exactly right.

      One thing I love about writing is the way you only start to understand what you’ve written when a reader reacts — or a sensitive reader, anyway. This isn’t the first time you’ve opened my eyes to something I didn’t see in my own work. Thanks for using your eyes to open mine.

  19. This is one of the standout pieces from the book for me, so it’s nice to see it here too. You meet loss with a sensitive eye but also without flinching and that comes through as well here as anywhere. Always a lot to gain from reading your work.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thanks so much, Nat. I’m a little embarrassed, and humbled, to learn that so many have already read the piece. That’s one difference between a book and something posted online: with the latter, you have evidence of having been read in the form of commentary.

      I understand there’s the possibility that you may see M. Olear soon in your adopted homeland. Oh, and I mean to read your piece about L.A., not having realized, until I managed a glance at TNB when the piece was on the front page, that you’d lived in L.A. And you escaped! Lucky you.

  20. Dana says:

    I thought of this piece for days after I first read it. When I reached the title in context, in the text, I cried. Both times. Honest, poignant and haunting.

    Thank you Duke.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      You’re the greatest, Dana. I’ve experienced a surge in reading, thanks to you. There are a number of new books on my table.

      You know, the title of this piece pretty much gave the piece to me. As I’ve said elsewhere on the board, I’d been struggling to write it for a long time, and when I thought about those words — really pondered them — I was able to see how it all tied together: this thing of her trying to tell me something and me, finally, trying to tell her something back. I really needed that sense of direction; the piece had the potential to sort of wallow, which was what was happening in every previous attempt.

      It’s nice to know the piece has stayed with you. It makes her feel a little more present, somehow.

  21. Joe Daly says:

    Duke-

    One of the things I respect most about your writing is your unsparing view of yourself. In all truth, I’m envious of this. In the meantime, I enjoy your writing because I know it comes from the gut.

    Everyone does their best at any given moment. I’m truly convinced of that. This story struck me as an example of that principle in action- two people trying to connect with each other, using all the tools and resources they have. Sometimes the physical and emotional challenges box us in. From the end of your story, it’s pretty clear that you found a way out of your box.

    Good stuff, man.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      If I’m unsparing of myself in my writing, I can’t help but think that I let myself off easy compared to what an ex might say, or someone else who’s annoyed with me. I’m sure I pull a few punches.

      I’m not sure that I agree that we always do the best we can. I know I don’t always operate at my best. I half-ass an awful lot of stuff, mainly of the practical sort. But in the relationship I wrote about here, I do think we both tried hard, though some critical understanding was missing. As you say, the emotional challenges boxed us in.

      Speaking of which, and in light of the first line of this comment, I wonder what she would’ve written about me had I been the first to die. I know she would’ve written about it, if only in fiction.

  22. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Very lovingly constructed, Duke, and a wonderful gift to her memory.

  23. Matt says:

    I’ve sung my praises to this piece elsewhere, so in lieu of that I’ll instead relay this anecdote: as I’ve mentioned to you, I gave a few copies of Subversia out as gifts this past holiday season. One of my the recipients (who lives in San Francisco, by the by) called me last week to let me know how much she was enjoying it, referencing this story specifically. I believe her exact words were, “You bastard, this book is breaking my heart, and I cannot put it down.”

    And, fuck it, there’s no limit to how many accolades this one deserves. I second Greg, this was my personal favorite in the collection.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      It’s funny to think that something that’s happened to you can have an effect on someone you’ve never met, even though it’s an everyday occurrence. We pass an accident, for instance, and find ourselves thinking about it for days afterward, wishing the survivors well. That would amount to a form of prayer, yes?

      In any case, please pass along my regards to your friend, and thanks for having given her a copy of my book — and that goes for the other copies too.

  24. Quenby Moone says:

    Of course I love this one. Of course I do. I remember it from Subversia, and I love reading it here. Of course it’s close to my heart, and is just right about all those long, last moments which always come much faster than you think.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Of course, QB. But it’s presumptuous of me to say “of course,” since, having gone through the protracted illness of a loved one, you might have felt this piece missed the mark. Meanwhile, I’ve never forgotten the boarding pass you posted some months past, and I suppose, in a far less thoughtful and beautiful way, I was attempting something similar by writing a name in the sand.

      • Quenby Moone says:

        You didn’t just write in the sand; here is your boarding pass.

        I remember when Dad was really winding things up, we would have these spats. Not arguments, just testiness. We were sick of the situation, sick of being sick, sick of being tired. Sometimes we were even sick of each other, which of course you can’t admit because of the situation.

        But every time we had a spat I would think, and sometimes even say, “Don’t let this be the last thing we say to each other, don’t let this be the last thing we say.”

        The truth is more complicated than that, though, because whatever we did say at the end wasn’t the most important thing. The last thing didn’t really matter after all, because he couldn’t speak. So I just told him I loved him.

        And she knew that too. That’s the most important thing.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Thanks for saying so. I hope it’s true.

          I have so many regrets, which is bound to be a common reaction. I regret that we didn’t speak for a year and a half, and I regret what I said on the phone, and I regret that I didn’t call her back right away, and maybe most of all, I regret that I didn’t fly out to see her. I had the opportunity, but, as I wrote, I figured there would be time.

          I once saw an interview with a well-known actress, and, asked to recount her most important lesson, she said, “To always be kind to people, because you never know if that’s the last time you’ll see them.” I’ve tried to bear that in mind, and yet despite my best intentions…

          Complicated. Yes. So many things are.

  25. Damn you and your ability to make me cry and just love you.

    I remember the first time I spoke with you on the phone, you and I talking about death
    and birth and death and this heartbreak of yours. Where do we go – where do they go?
    And shortly after, my old boyfriend was killed on his bike.
    Who knows how many more times I would have seen him in life – we were lightly in touch.
    But, I went into deep mourning for him – even though our relationship was ten years prior and
    at very different time. I don’t know – not even sure of my point.

    But what she said about Paris, this has made me determined to get myself back there even if it inconveniences everyone around me.

    This is my favorite of Subversia and I’m glad that you shared it.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I remember that talk, but I’d forgotten that we talked about this.

      I have a friend, now in his sixties, who’s twice broken down when discussing the death of a girlfriend almost forty years ago. It happened suddenly, as it didn’t in this case; she had some kind of viral infection, took to bed, and died. He wasn’t in love with her, but I remember him saying that there’s something about having been intimate with a person that makes their death especially hard to take. I think there may be some truth to that.

      On the other hand, there’s really no predicting emotion. People react in wildly differing ways to just about everything.

      I don’t think we should ever put off seeing Paris — or our version of Paris, if we have no particular feeling for Paris itself. But were you speaking specifically of your forthcoming excursion to France — oh yes, make a point of it.

      I’m glad that you’re glad I shared this. I had my doubts, and it was a talk with your husband that decided me.

      • We did speak of it – we talked about how strange it is to be so close to someone and then have then be gone. To have heard and felt their heartbeating and then to not have them with us anymore.
        I think you’re right – that when you are so intimate with someone, even if years have passed, linear time has no meaning.

        If you ever want to talk again about this, or anything, I, and we, are here.

        And no – not going to France with Greg. It is a big disappointment for me; I have life duties that I can’t leave. He and I went there for our honeymoon. I’m just going to trust that we’ll be able to go again one day.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          It may well come up again. And of course what you say about being there is true for me, too.

          I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, and it sometimes feels like, in another dimension, the past is still unfolding, and all of the people I knew in the past are still as they used to be. A friend of mine lost his father not so long ago, and he said, “It’s as if, somewhere, my father has yet to be born.” That’s sort of what I mean, and yet, when I quote my friend, I see that I still haven’t made myself clear. Very frustrating. But I’d like to add that my friend is about as far from a mystical type as possible. He hates that kind of thing, in fact.

          I’d forgotten that you aren’t going with Greg to France, just as I’d forgotten that you and Greg honeymooned in Paris. So did Brad and Kari, which I mention for no good reason. But definitely trust, or simply wish, very hard, and I’m sure it will happen. John and Yoko once took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to say that they believed very much in the power of wishes. Perversely, I can’t help but want to add that John was killed, I think, not long afterward. Forget I said that.

        • Oh.

          I’m laughing, even though I shouldn’t, at your last little addition here.
          Really??? I don’t know if I’m turned off by wishing now or full-page ads.

          That’s really something what your friend said about his father having yet to be born.
          Really stopped me in my tracks (or in my coffee – I was drinking coffee)
          I think that may be truer than we know. Somehow, but when I try to explain it, I sound ridiculous. But I see our time here as a big ball – afterall, we’re just on this round thing that’s spinning in the air going around and around. Oh god, I hate myself right now.
          I can’t explain it. But, obviously, we can’t go backward and undo events – otherwise, we’d do it, right? Like, I would save James from being killed. Ok, going to stop now. Can’t explain.
          Time is less linear than we know. Ok. Stopping.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I’m sure most of us have a fear of sounding ridiculous when talking about the workings of time. For all the theories advanced, no one understands it, and the most seemingly brilliant explanation can, and will, be undone with a breakthrough that begs a new explanation, and that in turn will eventually be undone, and so on. So no need to hate yourself, even for a second, though I can certainly appreciate the frustration of having an idea that resists articulation, as I said earlier. But I think I know what you you mean. You’re talking about things working in a circular fashion. I’m not sure that I was thinking so much of that as an idea of time working concurrently or in so disjointed, and seemingly disorganized, a way as to defy logic. But I was influenced by something I once heard or read about there being hundreds — or was it thousands? — of dimensions, and that could have nothing to do with time. I admit defeat.

  26. I’m not sure what to say that hasn’t already been said above… Beautiful? Sad? Amazingly well written? Check check check. You are a fantastic writer. Seems to be the consensus but it couldn’t hurt to say it again.

    Thanks for posting this. I still haven’t got my copy posted from Scotland to China. I’ll be back in Scotland for a few days in July, I think, so hopefully I’ll get it then.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I’m tempted to mail you a copy, David, but I have a terrible feeling that it would end up lost.

      It’s hard to imagine any praise that can be repeated too much. In any case, yours certainly doesn’t hurt, and it’s meantime evident that you haven’t succumbed to the pollution in China. I have a friend who just returned from China, and the pollution colored (so to speak) her entire experience there. She was very happy to see a blue sky in California, she told me — and that really may be saying something, considering that L.A. is noted for smog.

      • I’ll get to it eventually, even if I have to wait until I’m in America again.

        The pollution here is awful but in Hefei there is usually a bluish sky. It never rains here, thankfully. I’m sure if it did the rain would strip your skin right off. The background picture on my computer is one I took in California and people always say, “Hey, is that California? It has to be – nowhere else has a sky like that.”

        • D.R. Haney says:

          It’s true that the sky here has a unique look, but many places have unique skies. There’s a distinct look that the English sky has, for example, and I think I might be able to identify the sky in Montana in a picture without a caption.

          Speaking of rain, I think I’d go mad if we didn’t get the little rain we do here. I used to hate it when it rained in New York, but if I were to move back, I doubt I’d ever feel that way again. Of course, if the rain stripped me of my skin, I’d have to reconsider. Then again, without skin, other considerations would take priority.

  27. Irene Zion says:

    Duke,

    When a person has to talk about loss, death, pain, the person needs to speak to one person who is empathetic. I don’t think it is possible to speak to a group of friends. None is able to say what he would, were he alone. The group dynamic is stilted. An individual in the group is not free to say what he might, were he alone. Always there is the thought in the back of the head: “what will these other people think if I say this?”
    You needed one person that day. Badly. It’s not that the group is unfeeling, it’s that it’s manacled by self- consciousness.
    I hope I am not bumbling what I mean to say, because this sort of loss is always with you and you still need to talk. You still need one single empathetic friend to listen to your pain.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, it just kind of overtook me. I had no idea I was on the verge of tears, and I wasn’t looking to unburden myself or anything like that. I remarked on what I’d thought as I was crossing the bridge, and next thing I knew I was crying. I was exhausted, not having slept for at least a day before making the trip, and emotionally exhausted due to an eviction drama that was playing out with my landlords. Anyway, once I broke down, I knew I’d made everyone, including myself, feel very awkward, but it was too late.

      It’s true that a loss like this is always with you, and that’s why I don’t think any amount of talking, even under the best of circumstances, will make it go away. I was able to expiate something by writing this, but something isn’t everything of course, and I’m okay with that now. I accept that I’ll continue to think about her for the rest of my life, and sometimes I’m going to feel sad about her, and other times I’m going to be annoyed with her, as if she were still alive. And that’s undoubtedly how she would’ve felt about me, had she been the one to survive.

      Oh, and you didn’t bumble at all. I appreciate that you would take the time to say what you do.

  28. Oh, Duke, you made me cry.

    Such a sad story, but I’m really glad I read it.

  29. sheree says:

    Fine writing Mr. Haney. Loved your books. I suspect you could tell me a story about anything and I’d want to listen. Hell, I’d even pay to hear it.
    You ever get around to reading that P. Leppin book that I sent you?

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I did. I started off wonderfully — very atmospheric, as well as illuminating, seeing that I knew next to nothing about Prague in that period — but at some point it seemed to bog down. The protagonist kept going from this girl to that one and then back again; it was hard to keep up. But I did finish, and there’s unquestionably beauty in the writing, as well as in the design of the book. It was a wonderful gift, as books almost always are.

      Unfortunately, I think I have unwittingly caused people to listen to me read my work aloud — there have been cover charges, which weren’t my own idea, at readings. But I hope never to inflict that on you.

  30. I have Subversia in the pile on my nightstand. I hope you’ll embrace my one man anti-technology protest in which I refuse to read this piece here, and instead will crack subversive spine in the near future, reading it off the page…

  31. Simon Smithson says:

    Ah, Duke. A story that remains sharp with loss, no matter how many times it’s re-read. Death would appear to walk the halls of TNB lately; it could perhaps be fitting for us all to take a moment to be thankful that so much life drives the site and makes it possible for us to share stories, even the sad ones.

    Apologies for taking a while to comment – it went up right as I was boarding my flight to the States.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      No, wait, I’ve made a liar of myself. That should have been as I was preparing to board my flight; packing and finalising.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Ah, so you already read it. I underestimated just how many people here had already read it. I thought maybe they’d bought Subversia, those that did, and forgot about it. I mean, we all have so many books waiting to be read. I certainly do.

      Speaking of forgetting, I know it’s, alas, all too easy for me to overlook those reasons I have to be thankful, and I have a feeling, as with reading, I’m not alone in that regard — but I’m speaking generally here, and not about TNB.

      You never have to apologize for taking a while to comment — just as long as you bloody well do, damn you. I should probably place a smiley face here, but I can’t. I just can’t.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Oh, and I thought you were already on a plane. In fact, I thought you were already in San Francisco. I thought you played for the Giants. As you can see, my mind is a morass.

  32. Erika Rae says:

    Subversia is a fantastic collection and this story is just…so very real. It just – spirals. Beautiful writing. It makes my head buzz.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Posting this was an experiment. I wasn’t sure as to the wisdom of posting something new from the collection. I’m still not sure, but your comment certainly makes for a strong check in the “yes” column.

      I just checked your TNB bio to see if there’s a date for the release of your book, but it only says “forthcoming in 2011,” alas. Is there a target month?

  33. Connie says:

    This piece brought tears to my eyes when I read Subversia and again today.
    Duke this piece is soft and powerful. I feel your pain when I read this story.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Last night I was going through some stuff while attempting to get my apartment into order — a diffficult task! — and I came upon a lot of stuff relating to the subject of this story, including a story that she’d written in which there’s a character based on me. I didn’t know I had a copy of that story, which of course led to a fight. But funny that I should stumble on this stuff just after I posted the piece about her, and looking at it, I realized that, yeah, there’s still some pain there. I kind of thought I’d exorcised more of it than I did by writing about it.

  34. Rachel James says:

    I just got off of the phone with my brother, who I gave Subversia to as a birthday gift two weeks ago. He had finished it and we were discussing, as we always do after book sharing. He said there were 4 stories in a row that brought him to tears, and I was kicking myself for forgetting to ask which ones so I could report back to you. I’m pretty sure I just discovered at least one of them. <3

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Rachel, it’s so nice to find a comment from you here. I think the last time may have been after I posted my Manson piece, and funnily enough, I was just talking last night about the strange responses it produced, including one that was a request for you to get in touch with whomever left the comment. Yes, I mentioned you too (you may remember that I passed the request along to you, and you wisely said no), and then, today, here you are.

      For me, there’s no better gift than a book, except to be told that one of my own books has been made a gift and, moreover, that it’s been well received. You really know the way to a writer’s heart, and so does your brother, just by saying what he did (though of course he didn’t say it to me personally). It makes it all seem worthwhile. I struggle a lot with doubt in that way.

      If I weren’t on the wagon, I’d raise a toast to you both. Oh, hell, I’ll do it anyway, while holding a phantom glass.

  35. Connie says:

    I never know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one; I truly hate platitudes. The phrase “He/she is in a better place” makes me want to punch someone right in the face. Chin up and keep writing stuff I enjoy reading.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Circumstances have created an unintended hiatus for the moment, Connie, but I mean to get back to writing the stuff that, for better or worse, I need to write, as soon as I can.

      Oh, and I share your hatred of platitudes. I had a relative who recently died — a really great guy — and I struggled like mad with what to say because I couldn’t wrench a statement such as “He’s in better place” from my lips or pen. Of course I mentioned that he was a great guy, but that didn’t seem comfort enough. And the difficulty is further compounded when you didn’t know the deceased, or, as it was in this case, it’s been a long time since the last meeting.

      But I don’t expect consolations with this piece. There was something I was trying to put across beyond my own feelings, though I’m not entirely sure what that is.

  36. Connie says:

    I am glad you put this piece up, reminds me to give my loved ones a “real hug” , to tell them honestly that I love them, and remind me how short life really is.
    I suppose this writing break you are on is for the pursuit of rent money? Well Not mY business one way or another but take care of you.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thanks. Yeah, it has to do with money, by and large. So much unfortunately does. And definitely part of the aim with this piece was to portray my foolishness, my taking life for granted, and on some level to say: Don’t let this happen to you. We all know better, deep down, but sometimes (often?) we forget, or we allow pettiness to get in the way.

  37. Nancey says:

    I really love this story, I found myself sad and then mad and a gigantic mix of emotions, which means that this story touched so many nerves for me. I was hoping for the best right up until the end. I love how raw and real this is, thank you for writing it. I read all the comments about loves and relationships that did not work out, yet you will always have this feeling for people you may have loved or been intimate with. I just found out that an ex-boyfriend who I was with for many years, but haven’t seen in about 15, is dying of cancer and I am so sad, so very very sad. He really meant a lot to me and it feels like such a big loss. Anyway- thanks for this story- I’d like to get the collection now.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your ex, Nancey. There’s something about having been romantically involved with a person that makes for a different reaction than we have with friends or relatives. So I found anyway.

      I did love the person about whom I wrote, but we just didn’t know how to communicate. Partly because she was overly sensitive, I was constantly upsetting her with casual remarks, so that I felt like a bull in a china shop. Yet there were times when I felt like we were on the verge of an understanding that would’ve made a more permanent arrangement possible. I don’t think that was illusory, necessarily. I think it’s a fine line, sometimes, why we end up with this person and not another. Timing comes into play: it’s never the same river, and so on.

      I can’t help but be curious as to which part, or parts, of the piece made you mad. I was expecting more censure as to my insensitivity, but no one has so far taken me to task for it. But I would more than understand if someone did.

      As a writer, you always hope your work isn’t just being read by people you already know, so your comment means more than you may realize. Thank you.

      • Nancey says:

        Ugh, he just died- the boyfriend. The last google I did brought it up. Horribly painful – I just re-read your story, made me feel a bit better, especially the part about how you can not explain the grief, people don’t understand it because life has gone on and you’ve been happy without that person for many years, but still I’m sad and weepy and everything feels all wrong. crazy I know.

        I was mad in the story in answer to the question you asked – because I wanted you to make it better somehow, especially after the hospital phone call, but that was just me trying to control the story. There probably was no making it better in actual life. I should know because of my own story with the ex, I couldn’t make it better either and hurt him terribly. love this story though, your writing is very real and wonderful.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I didn’t know that you’d learned about your ex’s death through Google, which of course is what happened in my case. For me, that added considerably to my bad feeling. I would’ve much preferred to learn about my ex’s death from a person and not, for all intents and purposes, a robot. Welcome to the future, I think, but then it strikes me (I can’t account for the delay) that the future is now.

          A week ago exactly, I did a reading of this piece at a bookstore — the first time I’ve ever read this piece aloud — and I found myself pausing after the bit about the hospital phone call and mumbling “Jesus Christ” before continuing, I suppose because it’s my biggest regret, in a story full of them, that I didn’t return the call immediately. We’d been saying goodbye for a long time, even before she got sick, but we never said a proper goodbye, and I’m sure that figured a great deal in the aftermath, that I, at least, never had — but I can’t bring myself to write that once-fashionable word that begins with a “c.” I don’t believe in that word. My ex remains a presence in my life, even though she’s no longer physically around, and so she’ll doubtlessly continue.

          The main reason I write, I’ve grown to learn, is that I hope for a dialogue of the kind you’ve provided. You don’t sound crazy at all. On the contrary, it’s reassuring to know that others have felt as I’ve felt about an ex, just as it’s reassuring to hear kind words about my writing. The norm is silence; I thank you for interrupting it.

  38. Ducky Wilson says:

    This hit too close to home. Honestly written. Made me choke up several times.
    So sorry for your loss, Duke.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I’m very flattered, and touched, that you say so, and that you would take the time to do it. Comments on archive pieces always have special meaning for me precisely because more time is required to unearth them. I mean, they’re not just sitting out on the front page.

      Thank you, Ducky.

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