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December 7th, 2013 - Paula Bomer

On December 7, 2013, there are no entries in my diary. I think of myself, incorrectly as this assignment bluntly showed me, as a diligent record keeper of my life. December 7th is my father’s birthday. Panic set it in. I scrolled around my diary, which is often pedestrian, a reason why I like to read writers’ diaries late at night, where they complain about knee pain, or burnt coffee, or home repairs. I find the tedious details comforting before bed.

And then I remembered. Often, during dark times, I don’t record my life. The shame is too great. A few months ago, I bought a textbook called Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame. Every time I try to read it, shame and rage overcomes me. I’ve never read more than a few paragraphs.

In the fall of 2013, months went by and I wrote nothing in my diary. I do remember I was in galleys for my 3rd book in 4 years. This sounds great, except that it was a lot, and my father had committed suicide three years before, when I was in galleys for my first book ever to be published. It was too much. Everything, even the good, was too much. This is something that sounds ridiculous. Even the good was too much. But when it happens on top of a brutal, violent suicide, where is there to go? My life was split in two.

There is no island for grief. I gave interviews, went to readings, read edits. Looked after the house, went to my children’s piano recitals, ran a small press from home. I wore the suit of a normal person, sliding from the outside world, back into my personal hell. When I studied evolutionary theory in college in the 1980s, I was enamored with the theory of punctuated equilibrium. There is no gradualism, things seem the same (think of simmering) but really, they are about to blow up.

Determined to write this essay, upset that I had no recall, I went to my emails. On December 6, 2013, I found an email to a writer whose novel I published on my small press saying, to be exact- “Bad traffic! So sorry!- very close”. He was having a party. Later that week, I emailed my partner at my small press that I sold 25 copies that night.

Also, on December 6th, and I emailed Emily Gould and Ruth Curry about my essay, “My Father’s Suicide and The Days of Abandonment”, which they commissioned for Emily Books.

This, I remember. 2013 was the year that finally, I wrote of my grief. Harry Crews said about writing his near perfect memoir, “It nearly killed me, but it purged nothing.” This is and is not true for me. As another hero of mine Graham Greene said, who I’ll paraphrase, it gave me a moment of relief.

I looked up the etymology of the word “decade”. This definition touched me “each of the five divisions of each chapter of the rosary.” And then by example, "a local priest led the mourners in a decade of the rosary".

Mourning. I mourned too long. I mourned the wrong way. I didn’t mourn- I had work to do! I mourned loudly when drunk, which was almost always. I mourned privately. I reached out, crying on the phone to everyone I knew. His suicide marked me. I didn’t survive his suicide intact. As one horrific human said to me once- “you didn’t handle it well.” Her saying that? Made things worse. If you kick a dog when it’s down, what are you?

So here is my guess about December 7th, 2013- My father loved to celebrate, as do I, and that often my family, which was still intact as far as I knew, went out for dinner and celebrated his birthday. His 70th birthday was his last, and he had spent it with us and it had been lovely.

With the loss of my father, other losses fell in line. My husband left, my children grew and left, my mother died after an ungodly length of suffering, my health disintegrated. I taught for a while, I traveled. I did reiki, I got certified to teach yoga, I went to group therapy. I wrote. It may seem like I wasn’t doing my best, but with what I had- which was mostly the loss of all I had had- like an animal in the wild, I was just surviving.

Weak with loss, I made good prey. Weakness is a drug for the powerful. They will find you, they will revel in you. I am here but the path here was filled with destruction. Once, I walked late at night from a drug den in Goa to the edge of the Indian Ocean, stopping when I realized I couldn’t see where the dirt ended and the water began. There was only darkness. I listened to the soft waves barely making it to the bit of shore, shrouded by paltry trees, and thought, I will never be found.

Here is what is left after all that loss: my sons love me. My friends love me. One friend brought me flowers and made a painting for me after my first hospital stay, and again, after my second. I have an awe-like gratitude for my sons, my friends. Love is why I am here, looking at the sun lighting up the tree in my backyard, love is why I can pet my dogs, feel their heat and aliveness under my hand. I know I am one of the luckiest of people, because I am here and I am writing this. And it is because of love.

In the Australian movie Gallipoli, Archy Hamilton is a young man who enlisted to fight for the British during World War 1. He believes in the war, believes he is doing something important, believes he is fighting the enemy for the good of mankind. He had been a sprinter, a race winner, a youth full of ideas of glory and righteousness. And he smiles broadly and proudly, running meaningfully, purposefully in the sunlight, through a wide, open field, his chest pushed forward, into a barrage of bullets. The image of him, so handsome, so alive with all that hope pushing forward in his beautiful body, is as fresh in my mind as the day of December 7th, 2013 is lost. I watched it only once, in my apartment on Atlantic Avenue when I was pregnant with my second son. It never leaves me. It haunts me. A movie, for fucks sake. So foolish. Such a waste. Such self-delusion. And yet. He died near painlessly, and so, so happy. With purpose. Who are we to judge?


Paula Bomer is the author of the novels Tante Eva and Nine Months, the story collections Inside Madeleine and Baby and other Stories, and the essay collection, Mystery and Mortality. Her work has appeared in Bomb Magazine, The Mississippi Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Cut, Volume 1 Brooklyn and elsewhere. She grew up in South Bend, Indiana and has lived for over 30 years in Brooklyn. Her forthcoming novel, The Stalker, will be published by Soho Press in 2025.


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