Paper pulp has a gelatinous feel to it. I stir it with my hand, dip a small plastic tray in and pull it slowly up through the cloudy water, a fine layer of pulp settling across the inset screen. I lay a piece of screen on top and press the excess water out with a simple tool. I peel off the mesh and blot the new paper with dry linen and take it out into the sun to dry. I do this over a hundred times, while my weeds remained rooted in the garden and supper is left unprepared.
I am grieving, and grief for me needs a task; some blank stretch of mindless handiwork that will accommodate the billows of pain that have me awash inside. When I had a miscarriage years ago I tore out our dining room floor to expose the 100+ year old wood floors beneath, removing tile, wood planks, sub flooring, and thousands of nails, one by one. I sweated, I cried, I wrenched nails, and heaved chunks of plywood and boxes of broken tile. I don’t know why it helps me.
I have a coal bucket that serves as my trash can at my work table. It was full to the brim with paper trimmings from wrapping soaps and cutting labels. I was taking it to my paper recycling bin, and my grief whispered, “We can use this.”
There was a couch we couldn’t get out of. It was blue and outdated and deliciously soft and enveloping. Andrea and I were marooned within it, our pregnant bellies anchoring us firmly. I remember our husbands laughing as they pulled us up and out of there. We were all on the cusp of a new adventure; beginning our families. I rested my hand on her belly, and she on mine; we felt those babies moving about as we melted in Pennsylvania’s late summer heat.
I hugged that baby tonight; he who now towers over me at nearly fifteen years old. I hugged his five younger siblings one by one, and tears choked my voice, and ran down my cheeks, and dripped on these ones who feel like my own children. I hugged my dear friend and sobbed, there under a late summer night’s sky, with our many children saying their own goodbyes, crying their own tears.
What an enormous thing love is. What a precious thing is friendship. I thank God for all of the goodness of it; I hold onto Him as these dear ones move away, far away.
Can something of beauty, of use, come from a waste can of scraps? From old newspaper, paper flour bags, junk mail, envelopes from bills, and used notebook pages? Is there redemption here?
I tore it all into bits. I soaked it overnight. My grief waited patiently.
We’re all a mess, this little community of ours. We are knit together, and this separation has us frayed, torn. It is pain, thorough, inescapable pain.
I walked through their home, through rooms nearly emptied, and every space had stories that I could see and hear and nearly touch; the past recalled in the space where the memory was formed feels ever so present. I’ll never be in that house again; I won’t live those memories in that space again. I could barely look at my friend, at my dear friend.
I have said goodbye, under that late summer night sky, and hours later here I sit; me and a hundred sheets of beautiful paper.