Reading, Writing, Observing

(Dictated by Dru to Art)


When I was five my mother, three-year-old brother, and I sailed from New York to Melbourne on the Merchant Marine Freighter, S.S. Rattler. This was the first U.S. ship to go through the Panama Canal and across the South Pacific after the Second World War. My Australian grandfather, who was at the time an executive working for British United Shoe Machinery, had secured passage for the three of us while my dad finished out his Navy stint in Australia. We’d be gone six months.


The Rattler sailed out of New York Harbor on a foggy night. The Statue of Liberty loomed off to one side but became partially obscured by another ship, plowing toward the sea. Passengers were lined up on its deck, waving. We watched as it maneuvered behind us, its outlines growing dimmer in the swirling fog.


Mom and I were the only females aboard the Rattler. As I understand it now, the captain had read the riot act to his crew before we boarded. There was to be no funny business, no hanky-panky, and absolutely no fraternization. While this was a worthy admonition, it wasn’t very realistic, considering the trip would last from five to seven weeks and the men aboard had been away from their wives, kids, and girlfriends for many months.


As a result, my brother and I became the pets of the ship, and Mom was treated like the elegant lady she was. We celebrated Christmas somewhere near the equator. For years I kept the gifts given to me by the sailors, particularly a doll purchased from a street vendor in Colon, Panama.


But the best gift came from the First Mate who taught me how to read. Once or twice a week we would sit on the deck, shielded from the wind by a bulkhead. I imagine he had a daughter somewhere for whom his heart ached, and during our lessons my excitement over words and stories helped him cope with the last days of an interminable war.


Someone aboard ship found a book which I still have today. The cheap wartime binding is coming apart; one of my siblings colored some pages with red and blue and green lines. It’s called The Land Of The Lost. The story is about toys lost in the deepest part of the ocean and a heroic and very ugly fish— Red Lantern— who saves them. I read that book until I had it memorized.


Since then I’ve read thousands of books and I can say that day-to-day nothing has given me greater joy than words and stories. That is one of the many reasons why, this time of life, this cancer time, brings me such grief. I can still read, but in such an unfocused way that the story loses its impact.


In the middle of the night insomnia and sadness poke me with jabs. I take out my Kindle and try to lose myself in a story. But I find myself going over the same paragraph again and again— while the story loses its meaning in a jumble of words. Occasionally I catch a metaphor and think, “Ah yes, that’s good!” Or a humorous line makes me grin in the half-dark. But the joy of reading is gone, washed out to sea by a dozen pain-killing, mind-scrambling drugs.


When I try writing, during brief intervals when I’m able to concentrate, my words elude the leash of felicity or logic. A long time ago my agent told me she thought I’d never run out of stories. We laughed because that seemed so obvious. I didn’t know then how cruel a disease cancer could be to me.


If I can no can longer read or write about life, I can still observe it. But a fog is rolling in. I see less clearly than before, certainly less than when I was five. The woman in the mirror across the room is still me. I recognize her despite her sunken cheeks and tired eyes. I watch her slow inexorable slide into grayness.

Filed under Books, Family & Friends, Life Matters, Writing | Tags: , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “Reading, Writing, Observing”

  1. Laurel Corona says:

    Your words did not elude the leash of felicity or logic here, so don’t write yourself off. I am so sorry to see joy fading. That’s pain.

  2. Lisa Wood says:

    I lost another dear friend to ovarian cancer last year. She was studying bats, and that was her passion. Each time I came to visit her at her bedside, she pulled out her laptop and fought her way through the morphine to tell me what she thought I needed to know to carry on her research. I cannot do the work she was doing – it is different now. Her study sites have been modified, and her protocol changed. I hope, somehow, we gain a better understanding of bats as reuslt of this work. In that undertanding, a little piece of her will live on.

    I know that you live on in the many writers you have mentored. I will never forget your eyebrow arch at my opening line “When I dream . . ..” With just your eyebrow, you made me a better writer.

    Now, Dru, when I dream, I dream of a world in which cancer does not take precious lives away from us before their time.

  3. Ellen Siemens says:

    Now I have to go back and see if your last musing said “dictated” …. I read “dedicated ….” ;~)

  4. Jennifer Silva Redmond says:

    A lovely story that comes full circle. are fighting another war now, your fog obscures your vision. But I have faith in peace, in your time. Keep writing! Sending love.

  5. Bill says:

    Hey Dru; getting back to your Sept. 15 entry entitled “Time” – and in case you don’t look back to see delinquent replies like mine, or the fog of your voyage swallows it up – wow – “time, death and Chargers football!” Great wisdom; great imagery. Of course, American football is played against the clock, and if “time” runs out and neither team has the lead, the game goes into sudden “death” overtime. Time, death, and football – also made me think of the following:

    Time. On this one, Dru, you echoed the wisdom of the ancients. In Psalm 39 vs. 4 & 5 – written nearly 2500 years ago – the author prays to his Maker: “LORD, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but a vapor.” Then Psalm 90 vs. 9-11: “For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; we finish our years like a sigh. The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow. For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

    Death. Bulls-eye again, Dru. Back in 1973-1975, I was in college and had a few hours in my schedule to kill (pun intended), so I signed up for “University Chorus.” Two or three times a week we rehearsed Handel’s “Messiah.” Back then, I had no idea what I was singing; they were just words some guy had put to orchestral music. But one portion stuck in my head through the years (strange how we remember lyrics when they’re attached to a tune); it went “since by man came death . . . for as in Adam all die . . . .” It’d be well over a decade later when I’d learn I was singing – and had memorized – an excerpt from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, vs. 21-22. Just like Paul, you nailed it, Dru. Everybody dies. But Paul gives the reason – “since BY MAN came death/for as IN ADAM all die” – to wit: we INherited death (just like hair or eye color, height, etc.) from our parents, who INherited death from their’s, who INherited it from their’s, and on back to the beginning. Bummer – but wait; here’s what Paul wrote in its entirety: “Since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The solution to “death by inheritance” is “resurrection life by inheritance” also known as “everlasting life” i.e., just put a Non-human parent in your ancestry and presto: you inherit everlasting, resurrection life. “As many as received Him [Jesus of Nazareth], to them gave He the right/the power [the “metagenetics” if you will] to become children of God, to those who merely believe in His name.” John ch. 1 vs. 12. So, when God is our parent, we get by nature what He’s got: everlasting life. It’s very cool, and it’s free for the receiving – we don’t even have to ask for it – it’s already gift-wrapped with our name tag on it! Just take it!

    Football. Again, Dru, nice job: you were rooting for the winning team. The Chargers beat the Seahawks back (now) two Sundays ago. And I’ll bet you haven’t worried about or feared the outcome of that game since it ended, have you? Me neither. Because it’s behind us, in the past, forever, in the same place where Jesus puts death for all who merely bank on Him. John ch. 5 vs. 24: “Most assuredly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him Who sent Me, has EVERLASTING life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

  6. Bill says:

    PS: Dru, this truth, locked down by Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead, made Paul sing and actually taunt death: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Oh death: where is your sting? Oh grave: where is your victory?” 1 Corinthians 15:34-35. It’s the victory song of the victor over the vanquished! Chargers over the Seahawks! Jesus over death on our behalf! Game over, death and Seahawks! You’re both history!

  7. Cheryl says:

    The comments have helped make sense and hope over my grieving of my husband’s recent death. Thank you. I am a new fan of your novels and your husband’s poetry.