I wrote “Eloise” one night some time ago. A lot of people in my family have died over the last several years, and even though Eloise wasn’t a blood relative, I took her death the hardest. She did a great deal in raising me, and my brothers and I tended to think of her as a second mother. It was always difficult to explain to others – this woman and her son who vacationed with our family and lived with us sometimes. It was a regular thing for all of us, explaining the unconventional-but-perfect setup we had, and so we got used to it and pretty good at explaining it to those who asked.
I realized on this particular night that Eloise had been dead for long enough that I hadn’t had to explain the unconventional-but-perfect setup in a very long time. Inasmuch as death is a slow unfolding for those who remain, this seemed another layer: I could only explain how things had been, not how they are, or will be.
I dislike the idea of writing about the dead, mostly out of superstition. I decided to make an exception to this by making it a letter to her, addressing to her a few questions that weren’t really my business to ask while she was alive. Talking to her in this way led me back to a time before I was alive, and to a time when she was eagerly awaiting her own son.
I think I did with this piece what I tend to do when I have no answers. I drove as deeply as I could toward the beautiful interior of memory, sorting out the images along the way.
Jacob Newberry won the 2012 Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest in Nonfiction. His nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have been published or are forthcoming in Granta, Ploughshares, The Kenyan Review, The Iowa Review, The Southwest Review, Gulf Coast, The Colorado Review, Best New Poets 2011, Out Magazine and the North American Review.
Photo by Kabir Bakie in Eden Park Cincinnati Ohio May 2004