A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

January 20, 2009
By Meredith Pochily, Conklin, NY

I slam the door behind me and toss my backpack on the kitchen table. Mom comes down the stairs. Her arms wrap me in a comforting embrace and I bury my face in her sweater.

“It’s alright, honey, it’s alright,” she tells me. “Grandma’s in a peaceful place now.” I want to stay in those warm arms forever, but I tear away.

“I’m going to write,” I tell her, and she lets me go with a pained look in her eyes.

Writing always helps me feel better when I’m sad. It takes me to another world, unrelated to my real life problems. That’s why I like to write fantasy.

I stare at the words on the pages of The Queen of Amak, but I don’t comprehend them. My fingers are poised on the keys, waiting for the thoughts to come.

Usually my thoughts flow faster than I can type them. That is saying something, because I can type at one hundred and six words per minute. But now my brain is dead. All I can think of is Grandma.

Her sweet face floats in front of my eyes. My vision blurs and I no longer see the computer screen. I see Grandma’s wrinkled face and her dimpled cheeks, her frizzy hair, and her crooked smile. I hear the gentle scraping of her rocker on the floor and smell the scent of her powder. I see the summer evenings of cards on the front porch and I hear the soft crackle of the wood in the fireplace as I read her my stories on cold winter nights. I hear her husky voice saying, “Lizzy, you’re going to be a writer some day.”

And when I hear those words played back in my head, I know I can never write again. I close my story and stare miserably at the sunny Jamaican scene on my computer wallpaper. It used to conjure so many ideas that I could not write them all down before they went out of my head. But now it appears frozen and dead, a split second of happiness in time.

My heart hurts. I cannot cry, but there is a dull ache in my chest that won’t go away, a deep hollowness that refuses to cease. I try to realize that Grandma is gone forever. But I don’t want to believe it. I want to sit here and forget that anything ever happened. I want to pretend that Grandma is still alive and that this is any other day, that tonight I will sit on the floor next to her rocker and read her the newest chapter of The Queen of Amak. Whenever I make a feeble attempt to coax myself that she is really gone, denial blots out the thought, like my pen when I criticize an idea.

No matter how much I try to imagine, though, I can’t. I face reality and my stories won’t shield me now. The fantasy worlds I dream up seem distant and removed. I think of the elves that once seemed so alive in The Queen of Amak - Nagin, with the long beard and booming laugh, and all the others. They feel flat and lifeless now.

Nagin was Grandma’s favorite. “I can hear him laughing,” she told me once as I read her a chapter. She gave me a sketch of him she drew herself for my fourteenth birthday, and ever since, I have used it to describe him. The picture holds a place of honor, always tucked safely inside my brainstorming notebook.

Grandma never hesitated to criticize my writing. She always spoke her mind about it. If it was good, she said so. If it was bad, she told me.

I remember the first time I read my work to her. I was in sixth grade and it was an essay called My Dog, Charlie. Her response indicated she wasn’t going to be satisfied easily with any of my writing, from essays for school to creative stories.

“Lizzy dear, that’s awful. It’s so meaningless,” she’d told me. “There’s no feeling. You’ve got to write from the heart. It sounds like Charlie’s just a thing. You do love him, don’t you?” How meekly I had nodded and how miserable I had felt on the trek to school that morning.

I never was much of a writer before that day and I didn’t want to be. But thereafter, I strived hard to please Grandma. I carefully wrote and meticulously revised everything until it was suitable for Grandma’s eyes, simultaneously developing a tendency to lacerate my work. I thrived on her praise and accepted her criticism as a challenge to do better. The pages I worked tirelessly to perfect came back from Grandma littered with arrows, comments, and lines zigzagging across the once neat rows of type. There were days when I thought I could never please her. But when a word of praise, however subtle, escaped her lips, it was enough to keep me going.

But never again will Grandma criticize my writing or commend it. I wish I could thank her and tell her how much I appreciate her criticism. I know that without her I would still be the girl who wrote with no feeling or life.

I stare blankly out the window and get to my feet in a reverie. I reach for a hair tie, but instead of the familiar loop, I feel paper.

There on my dresser, is the sketch of Nagin.

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