I’ve been writing about this for ten years.
Every year, on the anniversary, I write something specific. Careful scholars may note there’s nothing two years ago – that’s not true, there is something I just didn’t share it.
I recalled today that I actually started writing about it just hours (minutes?) afterwards. The police handed me a form and I sat down backstage and I wrote down everything that I could remember. Occasionally I think about going to the police department and trying to find that file, that scrap of paper. That there’s an answer there waiting for me, that my fingers solved the riddle and it fell onto the page and it’s waiting for me. I feel like that about a lot of what I write.
I recall how then, sitting backstage, writing on that piece of paper, even then, just hours (minutes?) after I thought: no. I will not let this pass. I will hold this inside of me like a cannonball. I will not set it down, I will not pass it away. I have room inside me for this. This is mine and no one gets to tell me what to do with it.
There was the Week of Three Funerals. I spoke and laughed. There were gatherings for the survivors, mental health professionals to assist — I didn’t go. I worried my friends, drifted from my beloved. I went back to where it happened, I stepped over the ghosts. We painted ashes into the stage and I was embarrassed. Not like this, I thought. Not this way, not with others, not exposed and raw and pathetic. This is mine. I have learned that I can control nothing, but I will control my pain and I will control how I grieve.
I buried them on stage later, I held my funeral for them. The audience applauded and I was alone, the way that I wanted.
I began to write stories. Stories about a man with no home, changed forever by malice and love. My friends wrote with me, they chased the man. They fought him, hated him, hunted him across the land. When at last they had the villain at their mercy, they relented. They let him go. They let him go, even though they knew it would bring only ruin. I loved the freedom of the man and the kindness of my friends, my heroes.
My mother died. I wrote more stories. Stories about a girl to whom nothing was impossible except connection. I wrote alone now. I followed the girl and I gave her the thing she wanted least: a friend. I spun out demons and dragons for them to fight and prayed that the girl would win, prayed that she would defeat what I could not.
The cannonball. When I write, when I make– it levitates. When I stop it falls.
I wrote more stories, I wrote songs, I wrote secret limericks on the back of night. I look back at the scraps of paper and think maybe this one. This one will solve it, this one will atomize the weight in my chest. This story, this song – this is the secret, this is the riddle, waiting for me to solve.
I’ve been writing about this for ten years. I’ve taken a long look and I know the truth. I’m dying faster than the cannonball is rusting.
I wrote a new story. A story about a woman made empty by loss, frustrated by her fall from when the world was brighter. A friend wrote music, other friends sang, gave the story voices. I gave the woman the thing she wanted least: a reminder. A reminder that we are more than grief, we are more than our pain. Every day we choose our way, every day we can find a new beginning. I gave her a tiny push toward something like happiness – which, to be fair – was the absolute minimum I probably owe her.
It’s the first (sort of) happy ending I’ve written in a long time. It’s a step, a tiny step.
I’m not ready to put the cannonball down. I will hold it until I can’t. That is my way, that is my choice. This is not bravery. It is cowardice. The metal and my flesh are knit now, I don’t know who I’d be with it gone.
But I’m writing stories, I’m telling them to myself over and over. And slowly, scrap by scrap, I learn, I remember, I begin again. And I change.
This has been a time of leaving talismans behind, this year. I need to know I can survive without them. I’m leaving where it happened. I’m stepping back over the ghosts. I’m a story about a man who forgets but still finds his way. I’m a story about a leaky boat on a dark sea. I’m a story about a mask-maker. I’m a song about running away.
I’m writing about this and I’m writing about them and I’m writing about me and I don’t know where the edges are anymore, there never were any. Twenty years in the same room, ten years on the same page, five years on the same word. I’m almost the same age Tom was.
I write about this every year. I write about this every day. It is in the mortar of everything I make. I don’t want to feel so bound, so wrapped up in my own experience of the day, of the years. It feels crass, it feels pathetic and selfish.
But here. Another scrap of paper. Maybe this time. Maybe this time.
May it rain every April 25th from now until the end of the world.
I love you.
G. Derek Adams