“Keep the machine running.” This is a quote given to me from Michael and to him from a veteran machinist. When Michael asked the older man (back in his machine shop days) what the secret was to his reputation for high production, he advised, “just keep the machine running.”
This has become a joke around the house, the perfect answer to substantial progress against a frightening blob of laundry, clutter, yard work, or phone calls that need to be returned — one of us has really bent to the task and kept the machine running.
At first, when death doesn’t knock politely, but kicks through the door as it did with Stephie, everything stops. Details to be taken care of: necessary arrangements, who needs to be called, who needs shoes for the funeral, what do we do with all these flowers? The machine just runs, by what power, who knows. But it does run.
The sputtering starts weeks later. Brain sputters trying to answer email. Heart hesitations. Knee weakness in the grocery. For my part, I haven’t been able to write at all except for a few blog entries. Poetry demands feeling, and I can’t risk it (see above re: knee weakness). And I spend a lot of time wrestling with the what-ifs and I worry about what is: About Katie. About Doug. About Kelly. A lot about little Scottie.
Granana, will you turn on the TV for me?
You can do it, sweetie.
No, only Stephie is allowed to turn on the TV.
When he was shown the video about Ben before Granny camp, his response was:
Is Ben dead, too?
Visiting Michael’s mom: “I remember when we came here last summer. That was before Stephie got dead.”
Scottie is four. He doesn’t even know what forever means and developmentally he won’t for another two years. He still believes in Santa. He thinks that Spiderman can save the entire city and that being a pirate is just as serious job aspiration as becoming a fireman. His daycare provider pointed out to Kelly last weekend that if someone were to tell him Stephie would be back tomorrow, he would believe it. His entire life revolved around doing what his big sister wanted him to do or negotiating a way NOT to do what his big sister wanted him to do. At night, when he lays down his head to sleep on Stephie’s pink princess pillow, what does he dream?
How will this play out in his life? Will he have trust issues? Will he be angry? Will this keep him from caring because caring sometimes hurts? Who knows?
The day after the funeral, the day formerly known as Wednesday, as a family we backed out of the drive and turned separate ways into the unknown. We talk all the time, but ultimately we each need to find our own way and there are no maps, no single directive that is right for all. Little Scottie, like the rest of us, will just have to find a way forward.
A teacher at the Ohio Writing Project at Miami University asked me last week why I blog. Some of is it very personal, she observed. I don’t remember what I mumbled in response, not sure it made any sense at all, in fact. My lips were moving, but my brain is still sputtering. As I think about it, I guess I blog because writing prose is like swimming the sidestroke compared to writing poetry. I’m all caught up with the laundry and my garden is doing well (see lettuce and strawberries above). We are all fed, bills are paid. I’m being a bit more reclusive than normal and have a tendency to turn the other way when I see someone I know. It’s getting a little better and I’m sure (hope) that the part of me that can focus on book commitments is going to kick in here one of these days. Meantime, every morning and several times each day I just remind myself of the wisdom of that old machinist.