This is the closing section of my 390 presentation paper, finally handed in Friday afternoon. I felt like sharing, largely because there are a few interesting insights in the paper. Interesting to me, anyhow. Just as a warning: this contains thoughtson and my remembrances of Jessica’s death.
There’s always a conclusion to these reflections, although my reflection on the class as a whole has already wrapped up. But this paper became more than just those two hours. It has become two years of avoidance, and for a reason.
I got home the night of August 3rd to Jessica still missing. I had a friend who lived in the same building she did, and I convinced him to let me into the building, to knock at her door. I knocked for a while. We discussed breaking in — we knew how; he’d been locked out of his apartment often enough that we’d perfected the technique. We ended up deciding not to, that it wasn’t our place to make that decision, and besides, she was just off studying somewhere, and forgetting to check in with us.
Her body was found a day later, in the bathtub. August was hot that year, and the body was badly decomposed. When the medical examiner finally released the cause of death he was also able to give us a time of death — August 1st. I didn’t know any of that at the time, though. All I knew was several people contacting me at once, and my world crashing down around me, and reacting the only way I knew how: I shut down. Jessica, my grounding point, my sanity, my support and my rock, was gone, and suddenly I had to be to everyone what she had been to me.
Beloved was the last book we were to read for 390, and I couldn’t. There was no way. I tried, I read it, I went to class, and I had to walk out. I couldn’t handle talking about death and ghosts and memory, rememory. And within that grief and shutting down and doing my best to maintain control and composure, my papers for 390 ended up wrapped up in the emotional mess of the time.
When I convinced myself I would finish it later, and focus for the time on Jessica’s possessions and funeral, I was able to cage the grief and lock it away. But several weeks later, trying my first of many attempts to write about this presentation, the grief roared up and ate me, and I staggered away from the project. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t process the grief.
Several more times, I tried to tackle this paper, and every time it was the same. I found some way to wrap myself around the paper, some novel hook and line into it. I would talk about it as a reflection of my confidence as a PF, and the differences between PFing and presenting for a single day, and why I felt the two experiences to be so different
For the record, I think it’s a matter of support. At least for me, I received an amazing amount of support the first time I PFed. I was told what to expect, common problems that come up, given advice on how to handle an unruly class, and so on and forth. None of this was made available to be as a presenter — I really felt like I was walking into the situation blind and unknowing. More prep and support would have really benefited me; as is, I left the experience convinced I could never PF or teach, because I so badly sucked at the entire thing.. I would look at it in a collage format, piecing together one class woven with the experience of the presentation. I would find some manner to engage the text that would remove the grief. I would, except that I never did, I never managed.
I discovered some time last summer that you have to deal with grief in the order you lock it into your heart. The older griefs have to be dealt with before you can deal with the younger, newer ones, and I had several things that had happened before Jessica’s death that I had to process before I could handle this. I also discovered that it seems like you have to be experiencing a new grief in order to pass through the old. Perhaps new grief gives the old perspective?
Any which way, as I experience the grief of moving and leaving, I find myself finally experiencing the pain of Jessica’s death. And as I explore and experience that grief and pain, I find myself finally able to write the paper that should have been finished several years ago.
Since first presenting in 390, I’ve had the chance to PF many times, and I’ve seen my mistakes repeated in other people. Too eager to please, too worried about what the instructor is thinking, trying too hard to involve everyone, never letting silence sit in the room as an invitation. But I stand by the belief that the presentation my partner and I chose to give was the right presentation for that time in the class. And another pattern I’ve noticed is that the 2nd to last group to present? That’s always the group that takes the chance, sticks their neck out on the line, and tries something a little different.