—Dedicated, with love, to Emily and Katie
“I carry tattooed upon my heart a list of names of women who did not survive, and there is always space left for one more, my own. That is to remind me that even survival is only part of the task. The other part is teaching.” –Audre Lorde
When I found out that Katie had died, I was sitting on the toilet in the dark, the baby kicking me in the belly as I tried to pee after a midnight train ride from Denver back to Lincoln. I had been in Colorado to visit my sisters and mom for a girls’ weekend I’d had to grit my teeth through.
There were the same old nostalgic jokes about TV shows like Friends and my sisters’ random friends from college, my mother trying to tell stories about dad and the farm that would make me want to visit, a brutal hike in toothy Nederland, where my sisters stormed up the mountain in terrible moods about “feeling fat” without actually saying that’s why they were angry, then got mad at my mother and me for not being able to keep up on the way down, mom on account of aging knees, me because I was 22-weeks pregnant and tired.
The usual surface layer of good cheer and adult conversation got everyone through, I guess, and then it was me on the train, texting Kiernan things like I miss you so much even though I’d see him, I’d be in his arms in less than six hours’ time. All I had to do was sit tight and pee, every few minutes it seemed, lumping down the tight Amtrak stairs to the tiny restrooms, sending up fucking thank yous that I wasn’t too pregnant to fit into the squat stalls.
At home, several hours later but still feeling like midnight in the black-and-white tiled bathroom Kiernan had remodeled with some of my student loan money, I was fine spending a little extra time enjoying the expansive quiet. I felt happy, in all those little clichéd ways: Happy to be home, happy to be back with a person who loved me without having to make small talk, happy to have a Tuesday-Thursday teaching schedule, meaning the whole Monday lay stretched out ahead of me, to read and write and lesson plan for my introduction to poetry class, doomily titled “Poems of Force: Climate Change and War,” even if the feeling of my students’ and my conversations was anything but doomy most days. Was more like expectant, was more like willing to suspend doom for an hour while we got to talk about poetry and try our hands at writing it.
Sometimes it happens like that: you plan for a semester to go one way—all focused on politics and dismay and the proper poetic response to the world burning up around you—and instead it goes the opposite—all swept up in personal stories and connection and weird digressions about relationships and what sex looks like in sonnet form. Sometimes it happens like that: you plan to write an essay about abolishing academia and instead you write an essay about a friend who died of despair when you were living one of the more peaceful moments of your life.