How We Spend Our Days: Elizabeth Marro

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer ELIZABETH MARRO.

IMG_20151225_143059622~2Today begins in the dark. My husband and I lie side by side, trying to breathe quietly, each hoping to give the other a little more time to rest.

If I roll over and look at the floor beside the bed I’ll see only floor and a small blue rug no longer obscured by the dog’s bed. There is plenty of room for both of my feet, no need to twist and turn to get past Chloe’s sleeping form. I’d gotten good at that. I could rise from sleep at the first cough and gurgle that might turn into a vomiting episode. I could follow the scratch of her nails on the floor and find her wherever she’d wandered and gotten stuck. I could navigate entirely by the light available to me.

Today is the first time in fourteen years we’ve woken without her.

“You awake?” my husband whispers.

We hold each other for a while but the day has begun. We get up.

A little later, I’m in my office, looking at the first essay I’d drafted for this column. My computer screen is filled with the details of Sunday, January 3, the first Sunday of the year. That day wanted my attention; it marked the end of a holiday and the real beginning of the year with all the unknowns and promises that come with publishing for the first time. Between waking up at 4:30 a.m. and going to bed at 10, I’d packed in a surprising amount of writing, although not the writing I’d set out to do. There were musings about the nature of Sundays. Cookies were made. I confessed that a speech I’d intended to start writing that day went untouched as did everything on a list of things large and small to do with launching a book, a list that seemed to be splitting and reproducing at frightening rate every time my anxious mind touched on it. I walked at sunset and let its colors and music enter me with each step.IMG_20160128_125602915

Only once in the essay did I mention my old friend and companion, the reason I woke at 4:30 a.m. in the first place. She was the witness to every word I wrote that day as well as every word I’ve written and the many I have failed to write for fourteen years. Not this word, though, or this one. Today, I am on my own. Her empty bed is still in my office when I come in to try to finish at least one of the things on that still-growing list: the essay about the Sunday I tried to catch and pin down. Now I can’t read it without seeing what I left out because I knew what was coming and it hurt. The tone rings false.

That essay and I stare at each other for an hour or so and then I start to peck at this one. I worry about writing when my grief is so raw and then I tell myself, just write.

My husband and I eat lunch and while we eat, we go through the dishes and the medicines and the dog food deciding who might be able to use any of it. When I return to my office, I notice that Chloe’s bed is gone. After telling my husband I wanted to keep it near me for a while, I’d changed my mind and added it to the pile of beds and blankets he’s been washing and packing away all day. After fourteen years with two dogs and then just one, we are a household of two humans. We cannot conceive of a time when we will not want to try again. But it isn’t now.

IMG_20160128_125130644_HDRI head for the chair and this screen and this essay and a memory finds me. Then another one, then a flood of them. I start to try to catch them but it it’s too early to put these on the page. I get a FaceTime call from the man in Germany who runs my website. Server issues. Then other issues, all worrisome. The list of to-do’s still includes that thirty-minute speech I’m expected to deliver in a few weeks. Last week I was in a panic about these things. I may well be panicking tomorrow if they don’t resolve. Now, though, I can’t drum up much worry. It feels okay to be working, even if it’s a struggle.

At 2:38 p.m. I get up to take a walk with my husband to the post office where I will send my book to another writer who wants to read and, perhaps, review it. I shove my hands into my pocket and find an empty plastic bag. I don’t think I have a pocket in any piece of outdoor clothing that doesn’t hold a plastic bag. Of all things, it is the bag crinkling in my palm that brings back the tears. It is also the thing that makes me smile. This is the time of day when she would stir and look at me. Walk time. Get the leash, check the pockets for a bag, let’s go. Today, instead of her leash, my husband and I will hold each other’s hands.

I have written a little over eight hundred words. They have gotten me through most of this day. I am grateful for that. Later, I will make dinner with my husband and we will watch something on television and tomorrow the work will be here waiting for me. I am grateful for that too.

I pull the bag out of my pocket, fold it, and then I leave it behind.

~

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AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…

1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • I’m reading short story collections because I love them and because I want to write one. They are tough for me to write but a pleasure, always, to read. I’ve fallen in love with the sentences, voices, and the compact beauty of short stories by Jim Ruland (The Big Lonesome) and Lucy Corin (The Entire Predicament). Jason Brown’s collection Why the Devil Chose New England For His Work has a great title and uses place as a character in a way that I love. I’ve been re-reading most of Alice Munro’s stories, most recently the collection The Runaway.

2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • Find a physical exercise that works for you and do it so that your body will let you sit or stand in front of the computer or desk for as long as it takes. I never realized how critical a role my body would play in my ability to write the way I want to until it stopped me a couple of times.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • When I get stuck or feel I am dodging the heart of what I need to write about, I write a letter to my mother, one of my siblings, my best friend or my husband telling them all about it. Sometimes I mail them, most of the time I don’t. I often find I’ve found the words I need buried in a paragraph or two of these letters.

By ELIZABETH MARRO

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Other Writers in the Series


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104 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Elizabeth Marro

  1. Pingback: How We Spend Our Days: Elizabeth Marro | Elizabeth Marro

  2. Pingback: Catching Days: A Guest Post and Goodbye | ELIZABETH MARRO

  3. As someone who personally knows this beautiful writer, and who personally knew this beautiful canine named Chloe, my heart and love for writing this equally beautiful piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Last night I was reading What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas. I underlined this sentence: “Grief is not a pleasure, but it makes me remember, and I am grateful.” And you showed what that looks like in your piece here.

    I look forward to reading Casualties and will buy it tomorrow!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Darrelyn, for sharing that quote. I’d not read it before but it is so perfectly true. Thanks too for letting me know what you found in the essay and for buying Casualties. Please let me know what you find there too.

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  5. Beautiful essay. Not only did we get a glimpse of how you spend your days, we got to see how you spent this day – vivid, immediate, and full of a familiar heartache. Sending peaceful thoughts as your heart heals from this loss.

    Congratulations on Casualties! I look forward to reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is truly beautiful, so real, honest, sad but incredibly reassuring, too, hearing about how you moved on and through your day. Losing pets is absolutely wrenching. They are the ones who comfort us when we’re sad; again and again the emptiness rings out when we search for them in tears.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Betsy, I just love how you reveal that the essay you “meant” to write didn’t ring true as you looked back at it, and that instead of forcing something that wasn’t authentic, you chose to write from exactly where you are, grieving and confronting work that’s undone and with a pub date around the corner. The emotional veracity of your writing always moves me, but never more so than in this beautiful essay, at once raw and transcendent. Life and death, joy and loss, all wrapped up together, as always. Wishing you a wonderful book launch.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Congratulations on the publication of your novel! It’s refreshing to read about a novelist who wants to write a story collection. It usually goes the other way. I, too, love short stories and Jason Brown’s collection is on my top list shelf. His stories have teeth. On a different note, I’m so very sorry about your dog. That’s one of the hardest losses in my experience. Thanks for writing about your day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I discovered Jason through a friend who loves stories, dark ones especially. I’m looking forward to reading more of his work. And thank you for your sympathy. It’s been three weeks and I’m still expecting to feel her nose nudging my leg at lunch time.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful. Though I’m reading (of course) through a sheen of tears, my own getting older dog sleeping near my feet. I’m very sorry about Chloe. I remember feeling the same when my own dog died 10 years ago…telling myself to just keep going. It works, though it isn’t easy. Thank you for sharing your grief with us in such a beautiful way. Hugs.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s the daily-ness of their presence, isn’t it? Our dogs, unlike some of the people we love very deeply, are with us every day. They are part of the fabric of our days, our lives and when they go — as they will — the loss is palpable. The memories are flooding in now to fill the spaces.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Wayne – I just did it again the other day and then emailed the letter to my sister. I don’t often but there is something about talking to someone you know and trying to explain yourself that removes a barrier for me. I’m glad you were intrigued. Anything that can help, right?

      Liked by 2 people

  10. “I pull the bag out of my pocket, fold it, and then I leave it behind.”
    These words wrench me in the gut and I feel the tears about ready to flow. We have two dogs, no kids. Our dogs are our kids. Our oldest is 9, but he’s purebred (but still a rescue) so I don’t know how long his days will be. I often think about moments like these.Losing a dog is so hard. They are your best friends and the closest thing to a God-like love we can see in front of our eyes. Thank you for the sad but beautiful post.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I know pretty well how you’re feeling.
    We lost two of our kitties in 2015.
    One was old & it was his time, but the second was only 17 months old & we’d only adopted her from the spca 5 months previously.
    We’re still not past losing her so suddenly, & the diagnosis was her blood did not produce red cells.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Thank you, & thoughts to your son’s kitty too.

        The suddenness of losing a young one is awful, but as time goes on, its getting better.

        We have 2 other cats, & one missed her pals so much, she took more than three months to begin being her usual bratty self again. Now that she’s back at it, we feel a little better.

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  12. I lost my dog on December 27th. Life has been misery without her. She was the most difficult animal I’ve ever had….and I don’t think I’ve ever loved an animal more. Almost two months later, today we are going to meet a new dog. I will never replace my Sasha, but I no longer can live without that friendly furry face. I feel like I’m cheating on Sasha and in quiet moments I ask her if it’s alright and tell her much I miss her. I am truly sorry for your loss and I hope that you and your husband can know some peace again soon.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I take so much encouragement from your words. Thank you. My husband and I both know we will try again but I never expected to feel so profoundly the loss I feel right now. I think it will take a little more time for us but it will happen and it will happen. I will remember your words and ask for Chloe’s blessing when we move ahead (she was always a bit of a princess though and while kind to other dogs, preferred the be the “only” – we’ll see!)

      Liked by 2 people

  13. I am so sorry for your loss! A beautiful piece and tribute to your Chloe! I know the pain of losing a such loving canine companions. I hope there will come a day when you can love again.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. So sorry for your loss. Although I have not lost a dog since I was a child, my husband and I are going through recurrent pregnancy loss right now and our two puppies (technically dogs, but they will always be my babies!) have been instrumental in helping us during a difficult season. I’m glad you are writing about it. I just started my blog on our losses and it is very healing to put thoughts and emotions to words and share your journey! Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 2 people

    • Our family knows what you are going through very well. Our children have struggled in the same way and their dog(s) have been the source of much healing. Dogs are wonderful that way. I wish you all good things and I’m glad you have your healing companions for the journey.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. I can only imagine the grief you are feeling. My dog is my family, as a single woman with no children, she is all I have. My heart goes out to you and your husband. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. So beautifully and sensitively written. I used to find plastic bags in the pockets of my old jackets left over from my the days of my first Basset Hound who died 10 years ago this June. I now have another one, a lovely ginger hound who keeps me alive. This essay has been a reminder of how precious our days are when we fill them with such loving creatures.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My son’s Bassett hound is sixteen (his birthday was on Valentine’s Day). They’ve been working out their goodbyes over the past month or so and it is very hard for him. Clearly, you understand. Our days are very precious with all those we love and one of the things my dogs have done for me is to remind me of that fact every day. Thank you so much for writing!

      Liked by 2 people

  17. I don’t know the pain of losing such a close and cherished friend, but it’s so interesting (and sad) how reading about someone else’s unique grief can resonate with your own. Thank you for sharing this honest and beautifully written piece.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for writing. That resonance you write of is important and doesn’t rely on having the same experiences. So many things can open us up to each other and to the feelings we carry within. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.

      Like

  18. Very interesting and heart felt. You express your feelings with much detail. You feel comfortable that someone else shares your days angst and joys! Truly, it makes one ponder on how to spend your time wisely each day and feel the moments, and embrace your day. Cute dog too!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Pingback: “And Then I Tell Myself, Just Write”: On Work and Loss | k8397

  20. Thank you for sharing such a poignant slice of your pile of sadness and grief. It’s no less searing and moving when a beloved dog dies than a human; it’s no less a life loved and shared. Your writing is beautiful; I look forward to reading your book. May Chloe RIP.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Your story brought tears to my eyes as I sit here with my 14 yr. old pup, I dread the day…..we lost his companion 2 yrs ago now, that was so hard…I hope each day gets easier, and you will always have great memories! Cry as much as you want, it does help!
    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – I guess you know very well how these relationships with our dogs go. Each day is indeed a little easier and the memories are truly special as you say. And when the tears come, it does feel okay. Enjoy every minute with your 14-year-old. If he is anything like Chloe, he loves being the only dog for a while. Thanks again for writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Pingback: “And Then I Tell Myself, Just Write”: On Work and Loss – I'm Misis E

  23. So sorry for your loss. I have four dogs and up until recently seven cats but the head count has now been reduced to five this past week. My two girls had been fighting their individual battles but went within days of each other aged 15 and 18 years old. In my mind I still hear their meow’s saying “hello” or “I want my lunch”, a fleeting glimpse of a tail belonging to another is a constant reminder that they’ve gone.
    Through the sadness comes the joy that I can offer another little soul an adoring home and I hope to meet her tomorrow. She’s been abandoned and is sleeping on a shelf in a neighbours shed, sounds like she’s the perfect candidate. I hope you find your fur baby very soon.

    Like

    • Thank you for sharing your story. I know exactly what you mean about catching a glimpse and then realizing the one you thought you saw is gone. You have a big heart and your animals are very lucky to have you. Good luck with the new girl.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh thank, what a lovely comment. We’re delighted to say that we have a new little girl in our family, we collected Dora this afternoon and she’s just venturing out from the bedroom. A completely white kitty with raggy ears and a loud meow. Never a replacement just a little soul that needs love which is what it’s all about.

        Liked by 1 person

  24. What a beautifully written piece. We have adopted, loved and lost rescue hounds over the years and their love and legacy continues to live on. Your dog’s love will always be with you.

    Sending you much love, the days will get easier.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thanks for writing about Chloe and the details of what it’s like when one of our loved ones dies: the sacks in the pockets or car; the washing of the bed and towels; the giving away to the pet sanctuary of the spare leashes and brushes and final meds and food; the phantom sightings just around the corner. She isn’t there? How is that possible? We lost our Lilly at 14 and our Molly at 15, and now our beloved Maine Coon kitty is headed that same direction at 15 too. All we can do is love them with every breath and yes, write about it. Again, thank you for doing that, and Cynthia for offering this haven.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. This is such a beautiful and honest essay. I could feel your sadness and your determination. The dailiness of writing and its stresses and rewards. I’m so sorry for your loss–it’s so hard to communicate the special bond of dogs and people–you do a wonderful job–you are so right that it has to do with physical presence and dailiness. Also, the advice of writing a letter to a loved one when stuff is brilliant. Thank you again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sari. We still miss her. And you are right, it is very difficult to write about the bond between animals and humans. I am struggling a bit to do it in my next novel — or at least the pages that may turn into that novel. Maybe it’s time for me to write one of those letters to my sister. Thanks again for the kind words.

      Like

  27. Loss of a loved one brings so much grief. It is a hollowness inside wrapped in sadness. Be still, and give it time to become smaller. I appreciate your writing, and will think of you as you grieve. It always seems better when there are others to hold us up in times like these. Blessings.

    Like

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