Last week, I talked about rediscovering pieces I wrote in workshop–I know I must have written them, because they’re in my computer, but they seem all new to me, though I almost certainly recognize the emotion and opinion that informs them. Sometimes, though, I remember the piece all too well, remember where I was, how I felt. “Marley is an example. I was at a writing retreat in New Hampshire two days after the death of a dear friend and neighbor. Rereading this little piece not only brought back my sorrow at losing Marley, but also the very great joy our friendship brought me. Once again, the AWA method created a space for me to shape my pain into art, my sorrow into a portrait of Marley that is both tribute and lament.

Marley, I can see you now, standing in your blue pajamas with the newspaper in your hand, standing beside the white Adirondack bench in my front yard, the one made with a birdhouse skyline along the top edge. You are shaking your head, and saying “Now, what do you think of that? Just what do you think of that?”

“Oh, Marley,” is all I can say, “Oh, Marley.” Time shifts a little. David goes in to make more coffee, and you sit beside me and pour half-and-half and hazelnut syrup into your cup. “You know me,” you say. “I put everything I can get into my coffee.”

“And your life.” My voice has the little rasp of black future creeping in.

“Well, that too.” And then you tell us more, about the MRI, and the tumor in your shoulder, and the places in your hips. How did we get here from that tiny, tiny spot in your 110%-capacity lungs? How did we get here from your three sets of tennis a week, and our morning appointments in the garden we made together between our houses?

You were my first neighbor here. Really, the first neighbor-neighbor of my adult life. The first on this seemingly charmed circle to invite us in for tea and cookies, for wine, for stories. You had friends of fifty years, but room in your heart for me, too.

“I love keeping house,” you said, as if that’s all you had to do, as if you didn’t teach, and act, and play bridge, and care for a husband who eluded cancer years ago. “I love doing the laundry.” The truth is, you were alive in every molecule to every moment of your life, an Episcopalian who didn’t know she was Zen.

One of the first oncologists said she could give you five years. ” You know what I’m going to do in those five years? I know all these wonderful people who have so much in common, but they don’t know each other. I’m going to have some parties. It’ll take some planning, but I can do it.”

So fast. It happened so fast. First the radiation. “My God,” you said in September.” They’ve damn near killed me. They want me to start chemo in December. I’m not doing it.”

You were up, then, sitting on your back deck, propped up near the table where you and Clint and Mary Pat ate nearly every night, that first summer I knew you. David and I ate outside, too, listening for the sweet trumpet of your laugh–and you always laughed, all of you, every night. This September evening you asked Mary Pat to call me, and I went over for a glass of wine.

The next week they referred you to hospice. You were astonished. “They say I’m going to die. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t.”

Now, even now, you’re sitting behind my shoulder, whispering–no, not whispering, you never whispered–“Wake up, wake up. There are roses to be pruned. There is dinner to cook. There is wine to be drunk. And there is laundry. Laundry to be washed, smoothed, perhaps even ironed, and laid, fresh and fragrant, in drawers.”

Thank you Marley.