After losing his legs in a car collision, writer Andre Dubus sought the counsel of crippled friends. In a 1991 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, printed in All I Did Was Ask, Dubus summarized their advice.
I’ve come to expect honesty like this in Dubus’s stories. An exceptional figure in contemporary American writing, Dubus demonstrated genuine love for his characters by allowing them complexity. His stories end without pretending to resolve or explain his subjects’ suffering — or expecting them to overcome it.
In art as in life, neither did he make excuses for his own suffering. Even though, he said, over time he stopped hoping to see his legs each morning, he still despaired over their absence.
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One year ago today, my sister woke for the last time. As I’ve written before, she left her Iowa City apartment for work just after 10 AM, stood at a corner waiting for the walk signal, and, when it came, entered the crosswalk. Seconds later, a Ford Explorer knocked her to the street.
Somehow I’ve passed an entire year without Amanda, born when I was two. On Wednesday I turn 24.
I recognize that she is not coming back, that I’ll never again speak with her, that the kiss I gave her in the hospital was the final one I’d ever give her, and that somehow, between then and now, a whole year has passed.
Unlike the first few weeks, last September and October, I don’t expect her to be alive when I wake. I wake knowing that Amanda Skolnick lives in photographs, memories, and in the stories these prompt. Except through these, I know I must live without her. I have no other choice.
A family friend who lost his wife placed an inch of air between his thumb and index finger. “It gets about this much better,” he said. Between then and now, a woman recommended pills to my mother (“to get over the hump”). Twice a man advised me that “there’s a time to move on” with my life.
That is, to act as though I don’t still sense her absence. In essence, to forget.
This is not a setback: this is loss. I wake missing my sister, and I don’t expect to ever get over that.