Thursday, March 31, 2011
Me and Joyce Carol Oates
The last time my mom was at her favorite place, her trailer at Mountain Shadows Lake in Newton, N.J.
Joyce Carol Oates lost her husband unexpectedly when she drove him to the hospital because he had pneumonia and he caught something there. A staph infection or C-diff or something, just like what was always getting my mother sick. A week later he was dead.
I hold up Raven’s Wing and think—she wrote this when she was innocent. When she didn’t know what pain was. I think about when I met her over twenty years ago at a reading she gave in a library in Princeton. I asked a question. I always ask questions even if I’m scared. She was a famous writer! Now I look back and I think about how she and I didn’t know what we were in for. Being scared is nothing compared to losing someone who means the world to you. We could have never imagined our futures back then when our paths crossed and we shook hands, she in a grey wool coat and beret, me in a twenty-nine dollar jacket from Bradlees. She was smaller than I’d imagined. Her hand was cool. I said something nice about her work. I worried that I sounded like a jerk. I worried that I smelled like cigarette smoke. It was an innocent time when all I had to worry about was what a famous writer thought of me.