Thursday, January 20, 2011

Recycled effort

I believe an event such as a suicide, whether acknowledged or ignored, becomes a force on a family compass that pulls on the directional arrow. For me, it has influenced in some way almost every decision I've since made.

It was even the reason I switched waste management companies.

I regularly walked the hilly roads within four miles of our country home. Before the suicide it was a way of shaking off my dying marriage by tending to self; after the suicide it was a necessary metaphor for putting one foot in front of the other. I loved the views my walks afforded of woods and farm animals and rolling countryside, and tried to ignore the fact that the roads were lined with litter.

I became increasingly aware that this litter was not only the evidence of rowdy teens out for a joy ride, dumping beer can evidence before they got home.

My trash company, at the time, had recently raised its community consciousness by offering recycling services. One such service had a revolutionary twist: they took properly disposed of trash and recycled it into roadside litter.

One day I watched as the driver of the open-bin recycling truck tried to improve on his zero-to-60 record while barreling down a narrow road near my home. As the truck hit uneven surfaces, two-liter soda bottles popped out of the bins onto adjacent yards.

That made me angry enough. Then, it got personal.

Weeks later, I walked out to the curb on trash day to pick up my mail to find a busted bag of trash. It was raining, and the bag’s contents were smeared all over the road. Dirty diapers, bags of a dog food brand I didn’t use—this was not my trash. I thought of the resume client I was expecting to pull up my drive that afternoon—this would not do. I took pictures and called the trash company. I told them if they didn’t come immediately to pick it up, I was sending the pictures to the newspaper. Within the hour, the manager was out there in a dressy raincoat, shoveling the waste into a few plastic bags he placed in the trunk of his sedan.

Anyone can make a mistake or two, right? I tried to forget about it. In those first years after Ron's death, I had bigger things to worry about.

While I pushed forward through the first few months of dealing with Ron’s death—the mountains of paperwork, the therapy issues, taking his clothes to Goodwill—there was one task I didn’t relish, and that was going through his desk in the house. Especially its second drawer, where we had kept all of the cards we’d exchanged over the fifteen years of our marriage. Valentines, birthdays, anniversaries. Three years later, when I got engaged to another man, I knew I finally had to face this drawer.

I wrote poem about it.


Words of My Own

Years of greeting cards
lined the drawers of the old desk
Hallmark words
offered a hollow history
of spent emotion
in a failed marriage.

How long did I stand
in store after store
searching for “my words,”
instead of listening to what was
inside of me?

At the dawn of a new marriage,
a hunt for the perfect wedding poem
once again has me searching
through book after book,
hoping to tap someone else’s wisdom
to give voice to my thoughts.

But a need for genuine expression blossoms within me
and won’t let me resort to old tricks.
And from deep within I hear the alpha queen whisper,
“It’s time to use your own words.”


I went through the desk drawer, card after card, reading for the last time Ron’s handwritten promise that he would always love me. Then I filled two large trash bags, sealed them in the toter, and wheeled them to the curb.

The next morning, walking a quarter-mile from home, I found one of the bags broken at the side of the road. The driver must have taken the turn too fast after leaving my house, and lost it. I lost it, too, seeing those cards spilled all over the shoulder of the road. Intimate exclamations of misguided love, our names written all over them, hanging out for any passerby to see.

I walked home, got the car and a few new bags, and began once again the process of saying goodbye.

Then called my waste management service and canceled our contract.


Lisa R. Tomarelli said...

Those walking workouts have become quite the adventure for you. My heart bleeds with yours in this story.

I valued the end of the story with your canceled contract. One of my foundational passions, self- responsibility, was given another notch in this world. You go, girl!

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks, Lisa. Creating boundaries in my marriage was not my forte--I had to practice somewhere!

Kate Brandes said...

I love how you have described that you once looked in books to find the words that you want to say instead of trusting your own words. I've done the same many times.

This post is full of powerful images.

Thanks for sharing it.

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks, Kate. It wasn't until after writing it that I realized it was in many ways a metaphor for writing about the suicide: a discarded life still available for recycling; a private struggle played out on a public stage.

Hope all is well in Spain.

Kate Brandes said...

It is a poignant metaphor.

Spain is great, If you're interested, check out:

Lynette Benton said...

Hi, Carolyn:

I'll look forward to reading more of your moving, beautifully written posts when I return from vacation (and jury duty!) in a couple of weeks.

Best wishes,
- Lynette