The Magic Has Gone
That morning in May 2008, when he called to tell me Mom had died.
I don’t know why, but I never stopped to imagine what that moment must’ve been like for him, after he was told.
I picture him in the kitchen, sipping coffee and looking out past the lanai—another Florida day of humidity and haze only just beginning.
The home hospice nurse—heck, I don’t even know her name—how did she deliver the news to Dad that morning? After she spoke with him, when he walked down the narrow hallway from the kitchen to the sewing room, which then served as Mom’s final bedroom, what was running through his mind?
And that moment he gazed upon her, so still—his wife, the love of his life—my mother, gone. How do you take something like that in?
There I was, 1,655 miles away, in St. Paul, gazing up at a brilliant blue May sky.
“Did you bring me back any of the magic?”
—Scratched in the new journal, National 43-571, in blue-black fountain pen at the top of page 7, on Oct. 5, 1981.
It was a Monday, and I was living at the farm in Minnetrista. Baby brother was off at college in northern Minnesota. Things were probably very quiet that day. Perhaps Dad had left for his office at the University downtown; Mom, off working as a school nurse in Waconia, Minn.
“I was just looking through Lisa Tepley’s letters to me,” the entry continues, “feeling very sad. I realized something and I want to be very firm about it: Things have changed…”
The “magic” quote was lifted from one of her letters, after I’d returned from Camp Shamineau—my last year ever at camp. I was lurching back to the past, when things seemed simpler and the future less hazy:
“How so? I feel too ill to answer but … the magic has gone. Everyone has grown up and become world-weary & culture shocked & sexually insecure. It’s all very scary and very ugly. [The] last time I saw Lisa Tepley she looked tired, like she wanted to lay down and die. Neither of us could feel excitement about anything. We talked achingly. She seemed wrinkled by emotional scrapes, rubbed red to the raw by day-to-day drudgery—into the evening lies, passionless activities, whatever succeeds at eating away at a young, bright & beautiful girl.”
Lisa and I were in our early 20s—me, turning 22 in November. I wanted to write a collection of short stories about a small town called Dumond. I was also writing letters to two young British women I’d discovered late that summer through a pen-pal service out of Brooklyn, called “Harmony.”
You see, when you’re young and you’ve yet to find a mentor—anyone who has already gone through what you’re going through—it’s easy to believe that inspiration comes before creation. It’s a common question: “Where do you get your ideas?”
Twenty days after that despairing entry, I wrote:
“…earlier today I had some thoughts on Dumond that I wanted to write down but I got home and didn’t think any more about it—I remember that it was a sort of ‘epic’ feeling I get every now and then, about some work I’m at.”
Ah, that epic feeling.
Touched by the magical muse. Inspiration over perspiration.
It’s ironic how the rest of the entry plays out:
“…But it was also more than a full heart and warm feet. I watched the families come out of the church. The sky was gray and snow was lightly coming down. I was complaining to myself: carrying on a sort of fantasy debate between myself and ferocious young Christians. I thought: ‘I don’t want some prefabricated peak experience thrust upon me at the sound of [an] organ prelude. Life will come to me nevertheless…’”
Back in the fold of the Family Project, I was aching to define myself. That day, Oct. 25, 1981, was a Sunday. I’d been at church with the folks. There I spied my high school girlfriend Kim’s younger sister Tracy:
“I saw Tracy in church and she is looking very pretty. I sat in the car and felt sad. Prettiness is a sad thing. I tried to think of snow lightly falling and prettiness shyly saying hello as very sad things. I felt that down Dumond’s shaggy streets, prettiness and sadness sit in the backseat of a new Lincoln Continental and sift some happiness from the sight of new-fallen snow and the scent of perfume and after shave … I had to write this down.”
Only, waiting because I wrongly believed that inspiration always trumps creation, when it’s actually the other way around.
The magic has gone, young man, because you left it.
It’s still around, just waiting for you to begin work.