Writing the hard book

Sixteen years ago, my best friend committed suicide. She hung herself in her mother’s garage.

It was many years before I could speak it out loud without having a panic attack.

May 29, 1995. Memorial Day in fact. Although I didn’t need help memorializing the date. It was carved into my heart.

It was 2:33 pm when I heard from a mutual friend. Afterwards I used to see those numbers everywhere, sort of like when your birth date pops up on the digital alarm clock at the exact moment you glance at it, and you think ‘surely that must mean something lucky for me’?

But this was more like a knife to the chest. I’d see them on license plates, the VCR, houses, highway signs. I felt assaulted by them.
I don’t know the exact time she died but I feel I should have known. It should have stopped me in my tracks. It killed me that I was probably doing something mundane- eating, brushing my teeth, laughing. I thought the moment she ceased to be, that perhaps I should have ceased to be as well.

Like if our hearts were entwined as we felt them to be, then how could I still be walking around?

I’ve had many good friends. I’ve been blessed with them. But me and her, we chose each other. I remember seeing her on the other side of a chain link fence at a punk show in our warehouse. For weeks people had been telling me I had to meet this girl, that we would totally like each other. I had almost decided not to like her at all but as soon as I saw her shorn head, hair dyed blue, her nose ring, her big combat boots, I knew her. Just like that we were inseparable. We were both 18.

She died when she was 29. She was a little older and I was so pissed that she left me to turn 30 by myself.

I had 11 years with her always in my life, every day, and yet it passed in a breath. Now she has been dead longer than we were friends. It seems impossible and wrong. There isn’t a day I don’t think of everything she has missed.

So I had to write a book. But not about her death, because she wasn’t about that. She was about life and deep friendship and doing crazy shit with your best friend and laughing and having your back and generosity. Oh she was a kind soul!
It took me 10 years to write it. And I wrote it every which way- memoir, adult novel, fictional narrative- until I realized I could only write it as a novel, and not as a piece of my life.

God, I cried and raged over this book. I had panic attacks. My throat closed up, my chest felt tight when I wrote about her and me and everything innocent and carefree that we were, and all the awful crap too which comes from feeling things too much.

I had to be free to change things and make things up and toss it all around until it fell into the right order which was something new and true.

And that is FIERCE.

I don’t know what will happen with the book. It may just sit in my drawer forever. But for me that is enough.

11 thoughts on “Writing the hard book

    1. It was definitely hard to write this post but I think we have to sometimes dig deep and feel uncomfortable to get something out; sometimes relive the pain. I don’t know. I know I wanted to tell it no matter how much it hurt. Thanks, Em!

  1. Wow, Jo. I can only imagine how much it must have killed you when she died… My best friend and I are close like that too, and I know how much I would break if she died. I hope you can get it published someday.

  2. I understand this so well. I’ve been trying for years to write about something along a similar vein and it is not easy to wrench the experiences out of you. Fingers crossed your story gets out there, now that you’ve worked so hard to get it from your soul.

    1. Thanks Trish and E. I think I wrote the book for me so even if it never actually becomes a book, I have no regrets.
      It is the most true book I have written. So far. 😉

  3. Jeez.
    You needed time in order to make the story “new and true.” Only seen with the distance of time can raw life make real art.
    “Time gives poetry to a battlefield” can’t remember whose words those are (Greene?), but they seems apropos.
    I admire you for this.
    I hope that when the story’s ready, it’s published.
    Fierce. That says it all.

    1. Thanks Lynn. These comments are killing me! I did try to capture a time, a sense of something bigger, once in a lifetime, special with this book. Don’t know if I achieved that, but the important thing is to try, right?

  4. I always say that writing is about exercising our demons and dealing with shit in our lives. And here, you prove that ten fold. How brave of you to write this book. What an amazing friend you are to write this book. How HONORED your fans, friends and readers will be to some day read this book. Courage and kindness, you got oodles of both, girl.

  5. That was a terrible thing to endure, and to live with and pass through, and to write about: the writing, though, I hope is a sort of alchemy which will turn the pain into some sort of hard beauty and be a way of remembering your friend in the way she would want for you both.

    Thinking of you, Jo.

    1. Thanks Kath. I hope I wrote a book in which she would recognize herself, her true self and also see herself the way I saw her, strong and scared and tough and flawed and determined and full of fire and so beautiful.

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