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nine years

I'll get to yesterday later on, in this entry or in one later today or tomorrow.

If you've been reading this journal for a while, then you know how I feel about segregating my personal life from my public life. They are two things, distinct, only occasionally intersecting. As such, I do not generally discuss my private life here. But I'm about to make an exception, a big exception. I only hope I can do it in such a way that I won't regret the decision.

Today is the ninth anniversary of the suicide of Elizabeth Tillman Aldridge, a girl with whom I was deeply in love. But it was a bad time for both of us, a bad time in a bad place, and she went away to one city, and I went away to another. Afterwards, we hardly spoke. The last time was in late July of 1995, a couple of weeks before her death. It was very brief and very uncomfortable, our last conversation. That summer, my writing was just beginning to sell, and I was spending a lot of time in New Orleans at Poppy's house. I was about to write "Giants in the Earth" and was reading Michael Moorcock's The Dancers at the End of Time series. Poppy and I had been asked to pitch an X-Files novel, and we were working on the proposal. I was very preoccupied. So, I was there, in New Orleans, on this day, August 3rd, 1995, nine years ago, when Elizabeth finally gave up. We had demons and ghosts, both of us, more than anyone's fair share, and I'd always assumed mine were the more virulent. But on the morning of this day, which was a Thursday that year, she checked into a motel in Huntsville, Alabama, swallowed a month or so's worth of pills and slit her wrists. She died a few hours later in a local hospital. That's only a small part of what I know happened (which is, surely, only a small part of what happened).

A few weeks before, she'd graduated from college, with her undergraduate degree in Sociology. She was twenty four. I'm tempted to mention other things about her, such as her fondness for T. H. White and the Sundays, but maybe that sort of thing is best saved for some other place and day.

In New Orleans, on Thursday, August 3rd, 1995 — for the first time in three years — I was beginning to think that I could be happy again. I can't recall exactly what I was doing on this morning, nine years ago. I wasn't keeping a journal at the time, so it's been lost to me. Mostly, I recall that the weather was extraordinarily hot, and I was very glad to be there. A few days later, I went home to Athens, Georgia, and a day after that, on the afternoon of August 9th, a Wednesday, a mutual friend called to tell me of Elizabeth's death the week before. Her memorial service had been held on Sunday. Friends had made the decision not to tell me what had happened until I got back to Athens.

And I will remember that moment, sitting on the floor, hearing impossible words being spoken through the phone, for as long as I live. When I am an old woman, should I live so long, I will remember the smallest details of that moment. The completely undeniable absurdity of it. The way that the entire world had been changed forever. What I'd lost. The utter senselessness of her death. And so on. And on. And on. I have all of that, forever, right fucking here, behind my eyes. It's more indelible than any photograph or journal entry.

A couple of days later, I wrote "Giants in the Earth," the first story that I wrote about Elizabeth's death. In the years ahead of me, I wrote about little else (and I did little but write, as work seemed the only vital thing I had left). Occassionally, someone would ask me who she was. After all, all my novels have been in memory of her, and there was Candles for Elizabeth, the little chapbook I did in 1998. Threshold was more about Elizabeth's death and my struggle to deal with it than it was about anything else. Ditto for Tales of Pain and Wonder. But I've always evaded the questions about her as tactfully as I could. It didn't seem appropriate to talk about her publicly. Truthfully, it still doesn't. And it probably never will. She almost certainly would not have approved.

But it's been nine years now, and I have to get from one side of this day to the other, again, and I felt like telling the truth about why that's going to be so hard. As regards her death, I've never had a single iota of what is so fashionably, so casually referred to as "closure." I don't expect it. But, four years after Elizabeth's suicide, I met Kathryn (Spooky). Three years after that, I realized that I was in love with her, in love when I'd been unable to even imagine I would ever feel so strongly for anyone ever again.

That she is here with me today does not diminish the meaning of this day, but it does make the crossing easier, and for that I am speechlessly grateful.

Jesus. I thought I'd be able to get through this without crying.

I'll light two candles at dusk this evening, in a west-facing window, just as I've done on this day and on her birthday every year for the past nine years. I'll let them burn until dawn. In this jaded, always-dying world, this may seem an unconscionably sentimental act, but I really don't give a shit any longer; I feel haven't truly been a part of this world for more than a decade.

It is my most sincere hope that this entry has done neither Elizabeth nor me any disservice. I'm just tired of the "secret."

Elizabeth Tillman Aldridge (1970-1995)

I watched you suffer a dull, aching pain
Now you decided to show me the same
No sweeping exits or offstage lines,
Can make me feel bitter or treat you unkind

Wild Horses,
Couldn't drag me away,
Wild, wild horses,
Couldn't drag me away...

And so it goes.



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