It’s not as though one can prepare for this, but there we are, Amy and I, sitting in the audience at the Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center. Tonight, like every other night, is a formal reading from some of the MFA faculty. Amy was an intern in the program a year ago and lives near the university. She makes a point to come to readings and events when she can. She’s a bright-eyed, gorgeous twenty-three year-old and she’s also on chemo for a tumor that’s the size of a grapefruit in her chest. It’s not a truth that seems congruous with the beautiful woman that she is, but it’s a truth this world has given many young women, many times over, and it’s not something that gets any easier to cope with.
So we’re sitting there and the lights dim, hushing the audience and cuing the introductory speaker. We applaud as the esteemed MG approaches the podium to read from her latest novel, a third-person limited story set in 1917. It is the kind of novel that brings history to life by employing modern insight into believable characters and the lives they lead, all in a historically accurate setting. For social studies dummies like me, it is a godsend and gift—at once entertaining, transformative, and educational.
MG disclaims nothing, but leans into the mic to say, “Today we heard [one of our faculty members] say, ‘Write through the tough stuff,’” then she dives straight into the story.
She’s not two sentences in before we realize that we’re dealing with a husband and wife, probably in their thirties, and their young son. The husband is dying of cancer and MG charts the slow loss of the character’s mind, then bodily functions. She depicts the spouse’s suffering, the child’s confusion, all of it, with such sudden and precise detail that I reach for Amy’s hand and find it already sweating. She drops my hand just as fast and clutches her face, covering tears. I wrap her in my arms, run my fingers through her hair. There. Right there. In row 32, seats F and G.
All I can think is, Stop. Stop now. Stop reading, stop writing, do not say another word. Let her be. I have never wanted to unplug a microphone more than I did in that moment, because MG’s prose was so feverishly dead on, and delivered with such cadence and heart, there could be no denying the parallels with Amy’s cancer. I whisper to Amy: “DO you want to go? Let’s leave. I’ll take you somewhere. You don’t have to stay.” MG keeps reading, something about how the parents of the character who is dying will feel as they watch their own child die.
Of course, this is a testament to the author’s crafted imagination, and she meant no malaise. That is not what this is about. But this is also a testament to Amy’s perseverance. To the fact that nothing, and I mean nothing, on this planet makes a person more beautiful than bravery.
I put my arm around her shoulder and keep it there for the entire reading. We’re both sniffling now, stifling tears and slightly more composed but still—my hand is on her back and I can feel her heartbeat pressing through her body. Her body—a body that is so full and young, so flush with life when you look at it. A body that has so much to give that it’s started growing this other entity inside itself, a bulb ready to burst out. Persephone’s pomegranate. The blessing. The curse.
When it’s all over, we both exhale a long breath. I turn to her and say, “Amy, that’s not you. That. Is not. You.”
“I know,” she says, little purple moons of smeared mascara haloing her eyes. “I know.”