Some Words are Worth a Thousand Pictures

*A bit of a warning that this is not my usual post about books. It is deeply personal and sad.

What a difference a day makes. Isn’t that how the song goes?

On July 1st I was in the garden reading poetry, lots and lots of poetry and Esther Kinsky’s book Grove which is newly translated into English by Caroline Schmidt and thinking about a review of it for Music & Literature; I had finally just gotten my hair done since the moratorium on such things because of Covid had lifted. And I stopped at the pet food store to buy more (a lot more) food for the birds and chipmunks I’ve been feeding on our deck.

On the afternoon of July 2nd my daughter and I were just about to go swimming when we noticed a car in our driveway which startled both of us. We live in the country, out in the woods, and have a quarter mile long driveway so random, unannounced visitors are a rare occurrence. It was my daughter who first said, “That’s a state police car” and my heart started beating even faster. Different things began to go through my mind as to what the police could possibly want with us. Was I speeding somewhere? But I hadn’t driven on the highway, or much at all really, because of Covid. Did I go into a business without wearing a mask? But, once again, I had barely left the house since the pandemic. When I think back on all of the petty and ridiculous scenarios going through my head I feel silly and naive. When the officer asked me to identify myself and to speak to me alone without my daughter I was still clueless.

“Your husband was riding his motorcycle on US-24 east in Indiana ma’am and there was an accident.”

And desperately, “Well where is he now?

“At the coroner’s in Wabash County, ma’am. You’ll have to contact the Indiana state police.”

Alan had left on June 20th for what would be his third cross country trip from our home in New England to Montana. On that horrible day, July 2nd, a Thursday, he was on his way back home to us and was expected to arrive on Friday. He was a serious and avid motorcyclist and camper and enjoyed every minute of planning his trips and taking them. Locally he would meet with his friends from the Connecticut Rockers to ride and talk bikes but he also had a wonderful network of friends he met through Adventure Rider that were scattered across the US and Canada. A tough, stoic, yet gentle and kind group of men, their meet up in Montana had become a yearly tradition that they enthusiastically looked forward to. Alan considered them brothers—as an only child he always said that friendships were particularly important to him.

I met Alan in 1997 when we were both graduate students in the PhD program for Classics at the University at Buffalo. We liked each other instantly and like quickly grew into love. He had a bike, a Honda CX 500, when I met him so his passion for this hobby is something he had for more than 20 years. He learned everything he could about motorcycles and was meticulous about maintenance and repairs. He was also obsessed with safety, researching and discussing with his friends the most up-to-date safety gear. On the day he was killed it was 90 degrees f. and he had on a brand new, full-face helmet, a custom made Aerostich riding suit, and the highest quality gloves and boots he could find. He had certain rules about riding as well: he never went over the speed limit, he didn’t ride with other groups of bikes, and he didn’t ride at night. To say that he was careful would be a gross understatement.

But he was killed anyway. Yes, killed. He didn’t just die. He didn’t have bad luck, it was not an “accident”—I hate that word. The driver of the truck that killed him went through a yield sign and pulled across the highway–yes, the highway since such things are allowed in Indiana—directly into Alan’s path. A “failure to yield the right of way.” Negligence, stupidity, carelessness.

Two broken legs, two broken arms, a fractured pelvis, a fractured skull, broken ribs, fractured vertebrae, internal bleeding, lacerated organs and a complete atlanto occipital dislocation. A destroyed Triumph Tiger and all of his carefully packed belongings broken and strewn across the highway. And in that moment my life—our life together—was shattered as well.

November 18th of this year would have been our 20th wedding anniversary. We were happy, very happy. Our relationship wasn’t perfect. No relationship is, especially if it lasts 20 years. We both made mistakes. But there was a lot of kindness, and patience and forgiveness and love. A lot of love. We both taught Latin in secondary schools in New England which is where we decided to move after our days in Buffalo. I always thought it was hilarious that we did well for ourselves as teachers of what people call a “dead language.” But Latin, and sometimes Ancient Greek, sustained our household quite adequately and, more importantly, we both loved what we did. In 2006, after suffering an initial miscarriage, we had a daughter who is the best of both of us. She is kind and funny and smart and adorable.

And now my 14 year-old daughter asks me questions like, “Is daddy in heaven?” “Are we going to be poor?” “Will we ever be happy again?” “Are kids going to treat me differently at school because I don’t have a dad anymore?”

A failure to yield the right of way….

I keep having these conversations with him in my head about what happened to his precious bike and his camping things and what paperwork I have to file and who I have to call and how his students and colleagues and motorcycle friends have all been stricken with such grief by his sudden death and how to carry on now. But there is no “we” anymore. Just a mountain of paperwork and chores and decisions that need to be made on my own. The little routines we had are what I miss most—going to bed together, him making me coffee in the morning, watching silly TV, sharing bad jokes, debating over who Henry our tuxedo cat liked better. The loneliness and the emptiness without him is the worst pain I’ve ever suffered. Truly unbearable.

Now that our daughter is about to begin high school we had had many discussions about what we wanted to do when we retired. Various ideas about moving farther north in New England or closer to where our daughter might attend college were always tossed around. But no matter what we decided to do, it would be together—just the two of us, empty-nesters.

But these plans, too, were shattered on that highway in Indiana.

Alan and our daughter.

Alan really had a dislike for social media—the only place he really engaged with people in a meaningful way was on his Adventurer Rider motorcycle forum. So out of respect I never posted about him or shared photos. But since he was killed it has felt cathartic and therapeutic for me to post photos and memories and anecdotes—a small glimpse into the man he was and our happy life together. His quick and sardonic wit were unmatched—one of the qualities that attracted me to him the most. He wore bow ties to work (when we were at work) nearly every day; he was a gifted teacher who connected with students and prided himself on his ability to lecture and engage kids at every level (he was voted faculty member who is most quotable three years in a row); he loved notebooks and fountain pens; even in winter he would work on, improve, and maintain his two motorcycles and camp in the woods on our property. And more recently he took up blacksmithing and set up a makeshift forge in the yard. I’m still not sure what to do with the anvil and giant bag of coal I have sitting in his workshop.

Alan and Henry.

Alan’s belongings, scattered across that highway, have been respectfully and lovingly packed and returned to me by one of his motorcycle friends—the last person to see him alive—who happens to live in Indiana. Today his travel journal arrived and I began reading it and looking through his various notebooks. He had an obsession with notebooks and today, alone, I found a dozen of them around the house and in his workshop. They are mostly filled with to-do lists, travel plans, travel descriptions, packing lists and notes for teaching. His wit, his talent as a teacher, and our everyday life together–those little routines I mentioned—are all present in these notebooks. I felt closer to him reading these than I have since he was killed—as he wrote in one of them, “Some words are worth a thousand pictures.” And a passage he composed for a lecture to first year Latin students felt like he was speaking to me now:

The Greeks and Romans thought of the universe by picturing it as a tapestry—one that was constantly being woven, but never to be completed. Three divine weavers called the Fates created the tapestry of the universe—Lachesis, Clotho, & Atropos—who spin the wool, measure the thread, and cut it. Each thread is a human life. And all of these threads interconnect. You cannot tamper with one without unraveling the others. Although individual life-threads come to an end, they still have their place and interact with others.

That thread, Alan’s thread, cut too soon on that highway in Indiana. And my thread and my daughter’s so interconnected with his own. And all of the wonderful people interconnected with me—friends, and colleagues and Twitter people and readers of this blog who have reached out with love and support. Proof that his theory of those interconnected life threads is so true.

Teacher, friend, colleague, husband, father.

July 2nd.

A failure to yield the right of way.


Filed under Opinion Posts

73 responses to “Some Words are Worth a Thousand Pictures

  1. A beautiful work of mourning…Trauerarbeit…I’m grateful you shared it and wish you well

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Melissa, thank you for sharing your and Alan’s beautiful words, minds, and hearts with us. I treasure your precious threads and send you all my sympathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such beautiful words, thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dorian Stuber

    This is lovely, Melissa. Really moving–it gives such a clear sense of Alan. I hope writing it was helpful. Thinking of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Liz

    Dear Melissa, it is a privilege to be able to share your mourning of Alan. Thank you for the gift of your and his and words in your darkest of times. May your writing and posting, and the consequent love and support from us, your online friends, continue to bring you solace. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Achingly, hauntingly beautiful tribute for a clearly very special person. Glad you found some of his notebooks. Wishing you strength.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Once again, I am so, so sorry about everything that’s happened. It’s obvious from this post and all of your tweets about him how deeply he loved and was loved. I hope you and your daughter can find some peace soon, and some comfort in the memory of that love.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t know what to say except that I thank you, deeply, for sharing him with us and that I will be thinking of you and your daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lovely and heartbreaking post, Melissa. Thank you for sharing.
    I’m very sorry for your loss and I’ll be thinking of you and Claire.
    Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yelena Furman

    A beautiful tribute. Thinking of you and your daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Melissa, this is so beautiful. I wish I could help in a practical way, but I hope you know that your blog buddies are all thinking of you and sending you strength and love xx

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Danielle Reiss

    This is beautiful Melissa. Kevin, Brandon and I are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Oh, Melissa – it’s just heartbreaking to read this. Your husband Alan was obviously a wonderful man and I can’t begin to imagine how you and Claire are feeling, but you’re both in my thoughts every day. I understand how cathartic it is for you to share memories of him, and I feel we’re privileged to have known him a little through you. Take care of yourself and your daughter. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This is so beautifully written and so so tragic.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Mark Foss

    Dear Melissa, I am so sorry for your loss, this senseless loss. Thank you for sharing this part of yourself. I wish you and your daughter well.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. The passage that Alan wrote took my breath away. What a brilliant man. My heart is with you and Claire, Melissa.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. John Galbraith Simmons

    Moving beyond words around a tragedy beyond comprehension. With warm personal regards and still warmer wishes for life to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Mike Huett

    Dear Melissa,
    we have never met, nor is it likely we ever will, but your post proves your point as regards those threads that connect us; I felt, indeed feel, incredibly saddened by your husband’s death. One moment I am reading of a trip to get pet food, the next I realise I am reading about a man’s life ending, and being given an inkling into you and your daughter’s harsh reality.
    Two of my friends have died recently, so although I am a distant reader, I am not a disinterested voyeur. Bereavement and loss are sadly familiar to me, both personally and professionally. I have come to know them well, when I am struggling, tormented or experiencing those treacle days of grief – wherein time slows to meaningless routine – I tell myself again and again that it will pass. Most often I tell myself it is a journey; a train journey. I don’t want to take this journey, but I have to. What’s more, my train will stop at stations along the way; some may be surprisingly beautiful, such as ‘Good Times’ or ‘Feeling Loved.’ Other stations are really not where anyone would choose to visit, and I’ve hated my time there, however brief.
    I have found that this train journey metaphor helps me, it allows me to experience pain, or emptiness, yet not lose sight of the fact the train will eventually bring me home. Journeys have beginnings and middles, but they also have endings. Eventually I can smile again, even laugh.
    My words are feeble attempts to offer support. I do know, after much experience of grief, that thinking in the way I have mentioned, has helped me. I make no claim beyond that. Though I believe we all need something to act as navigation aid, some kind of map …

    Love and respect,

    Liked by 1 person

  19. So sorry for your heartbreaking loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. This is a beautiful tribute Melissa, and my heart aches for you and your daughter. Please accept my sincere condolences from across the miles.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Dear Melissa, you present a fine man and a meaningful shared life so clearly my heart really does out to you. Bisous from James in France

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Melissa, thank you for sharing all of this with your readers. I especially appreciate that you shared Alan’s words with us. My heart goes out to you and your daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. birdsandwords

    Dear Melissa,
    This is heartbreaking and so beautifully written. My heart goes out to you and Claire.
    xoxo Julia.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Di (Yee)

    This is heartbreaking. I really don’t know what to say. Life is so unfair.
    My heart is with you and Claire though.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I have been thinking of you a lot since I saw your news on Twitter. Life is cruel sometimes, random and unfair. What you have written is a beautiful memorial to a man who sounds like a very special person. I hope you and your daughter can continue to take strength in your memories and in one another.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Kurt Navratil

    So sorry for where you are now. Your’s is a beautiful and sad story. I saw your Twitter post back in early July and felt so sad for the world and for your daughter and you. Please know you are in many hearts, in many homes, and will be for a very long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Melissa, You are such a wonderful writer, even at such a terrible time. Please keep it up. We, your Twitter friends and others, are hungry to help take even the smallest bit of this burden off of you. If only we could do more. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for you to write that. I wish there was something I could say that might help. May I wish the very best to you and to your daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Vishy

    Dear Melissa, Thank you for this post. It is your beautiful love letter to Alan. I wish I could have met him. After reading your post, I remembered the Catullus poem, your version of it, that you shared elsewhere, and I can’t stop crying. It is just heartbreaking. Sending you and Claire lots of love and hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Dear Melissa, I have to confess that I cannot read your heartbreaking tribute or attempt a response without crying. But I do know that you will return to this beautiful post many times in the months ahead, and each time you will cry, but slowly your own inspired words will begin to guide your healing.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Melissa
    I came late to your blog over Catullus 76 and I’d just translated it tonight when I looked in here. Wrote you a poem which is on my website.It would have felt an intrusion here. We’re here in your community.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Pingback: Some Words are Worth a Thousand Pictures* – Mommyhood

  33. Patrick Coleman

    Melissa, I am so sorry to hear this. What a shock! You have my deepest sympathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. What a beautiful post, Melissa. I hope the days ahead with your daughter (and your cat) will bring you some comfort. I can’t even pretend to imagine what you’re going through. xo


  35. This is such a beautifully expressed tribute, Melissa. Yours was clearly a happy and loving family – it shines out from the photos you’ve posted both here and on Twitter. Little any of us can say of comfort in such difficult times but I hope those memories will help sustain both you and your daughter xx.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Dear Melissa,
    I don’t know you personally, but I follow you on Twitter. I remember the day when I read your first tweet to announce that the state police had been to your door. I have to say that at first I thought it was some kind of a play on words or something witty you were going to say about not going to be on Twitter for a while. But then the subsequent tweets made the reality too obviously clear and I felt a pang of sorrow for your loss. There really are no words that can ever help us make sense of the truth: that someone we love has been brutally taken away from us.
    Your journal of grief (for his is what I think of your tweets), and this post, are ways to connect with others who may not know you but who have also known a similar kind of grief. The sharing of the loss is all that can be done. I am sorry that this has happened to you, your daughter, and your husband. You will endure, for human experience tells us that we do endure great loss, but it stays with us forever, and it’s in that loss that we continue to connect with the loved one.
    My deepest sympathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Ana Acevedo

    Dear Melissa,
    Thank you for sharing with us your pain and your love for Alan. Words can’t express how sad and helpless I feel for not being there in person at a time when you need all of us. Alan was the best co worker. He always listened to all my silly comments and put up with me and Sharon Galligan during our common planning time. He always had something nice to say and was the voice of our department to admininstration. I cried while reading, but it was therapy for my broken heart. God Bless you and your daughter. You and your daughter have a home in Florida if your travels will ever bring you down south, please feel free to reach out.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. It took a lot of courage to write that Melissa.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. brigitteloignon

    This is lovely, Melissa.
    Keep writing. Even very short pieces will come together later.
    Here’s a quote from John Berger for you: It’s too long for a tweet in reply to your latest Twitter post.
    ‘According to whether we are in the same place or separated one from the other, I know you twice. There are two of you.
    When you are away, you are nevertheless present for me. This presence is multiform: it consists of countless images, passages, meanings, things known, landmarks, yet the whole remains marked by your absence, in that it is diffuse. It is as if your person becomes a place, your contours horizons. I live in you then like living in a country. You are everywhere’.
    (John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos)
    Sincere sympathy to you both,

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Words are my trade, as are yours, but I don’t have any for you, Melissa. This is awful. I hope you can find some consolations in the madness of all of this.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Melissa, I have thought of you often over the last month, and tears have never been far from my eyes as I’ve read your updates. Thank you for your generosity in sharing Alan with all of us who never got to meet him. I have loved seeing the photos, hearing the stories, and getting to know about his personality, sense of humor and hobbies. You have crafted a beautiful tribute here. I’m reminded of a line from Natasha Trethewey’s Memorial Drive, her memoir about her mother’s murder: “To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it.” There are so many unbearable details here that I know will haunt you, but you’ve started to tell the story, and I believe writing (and reading) will continue to help you get through.

    I also applaud your bravery in reaching out to the world, whereas I would probably retreat inward and only suffer all the more. When my sister lost her husband in early 2015, she tried many different types of counseling and support groups along with their young son, but what helped her the most was the Hot Young Widows Club (an online forum and, I believe, private Facebook group). We friends from the book blogging and Twitter world may not have met you in person, but you have our genuine sympathy, love and support.


  42. lornawbrown

    I am so sorry for your loss, and am in awe of the strength it must have taken for you to write this ode to Alan and your life. Heart-breaking.

    Liked by 1 person

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