Joined at the Heart · Writers Write

Grief

The dog died. I didn’t write. She was a dog. Who cares? Right? I couldn’t justify my heartache. So, I cried. We buried her in the backyard. I held my family and wiped way little girl tears. Theirs and mine. We planted lilies, but I didn’t write.

Donald Maass answered the question in his seminar. “Is there any topic that’s off-limits in contemporary fiction?” He leveled his gaze at the class and lowered his pitch. “Don’t kill a dog.” The smirk and head shaking undermined the gravity of his answer. “Mutilation of any other life form is acceptable. Just don’t let the dog die.” I couldn’t write, and when I don’t write, bad things happen.

I got sick. At first with a rash that felt like leprosy. The doctor called it pityriasis rosea. She prescribed a blister pack of oral steroids. Three days later, no more leprosy, but the poison pills weakened my immune system. I caught the flu.

Back in her office, the quick test was negative. “I’m giving you antivirals anyway. Here swallow this. Your temp is 103.” I swallowed a horse pill of Tylenol. She sent me home with Tamiflu and called me on Memorial Day. “I’ve been worried about you.” What doctor calls you at home on Memorial Day? I still didn’t write.

The rash came back. Not as virulent, but just as ugly. School let out for summer. The girls had a swim meet. I missed it with dysentery. We got a puppy. She chewed her way into my heart. I didn’t write.

Bacon said it first, “You need to work.”

“I can’t.”

“You didn’t write. It made you sick.”

“No one wants to read about a dead dog. No one cares that I washed my cellphone with the laundry on the day she died, or that every time I reach into the freezer to fill a glass with ice, I expect her to beg for a cube, or that I found her, under Coco’s violin chair, as if she were waiting for her girl to play a lullaby. It’s a non-topic.”

“You aren’t going to get better until you work on the book.”

I have to start somewhere. If it bothers you that I grieve over a dog, fuck you. It’s the only way to soothe the itch.