Something Particular and Real

Almost six years ago, my husband Charles taped his medicine schedule to the inside of a kitchen cabinet. I couldn’t remove it after he died. Sometimes, I’d get out of bed in the night, open that cabinet, and run my fingers over his handwriting, pressing my palm against it. I thought the tape eventually would become brittle, that its integrity would fail. It didn’t.

Last Thursday the condo was listed. When my agent told me someone wanted a looksee, I began to tidy the place. Just before the appointment, I made a decision. I began to peel the tape carefully, to preserve the handwriting. And then I put the medicine schedule in the smelly box. This was significant, an affirmation that I can leave this apartment where Charles died.

And the smelly box—well, it’s an ornamental ruse a designer positioned in Charles’s office when the space was redecorated for his tenure at Vanderbilt. The container appears to be a set of books, classics. But it’s a device, hinged to conceal whatever’s inside. I’m staring at it now. I once said we should fill it with the books whose titles are emblazoned in gold across the leather.

When we left Nashville for Manhattan, son H wanted it for his bedroom. He loaded it with sticks of incense. Later, he left the nest, without this object that made yet another journey—to Baltimore—minus the incense whose aroma lingers faintly, still.

After Charles’s diagnosis, when we knew, when we just knew, a dear friend sent a poem, When Death Comes, by Mary Oliver. We read it over and over. Mostly, I read it to him. “Where should we put it?” he asked.

We’d never called the fake books anything. But that day, I christened it: “In the smelly box.” Only the memorable resides there.

When I removed the medicine schedule, I touched the sticky side of the tape, as if to absorb Charles’s molecules. Then I opened the smelly box, folded the paper and put the sad reminder of his diminishment among so many other memories. I removed the poem, even though most of the verses are tattooed across my heart. I wanted to see the words, the letters black against white paper. This is the verse I could not read to him without weeping:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

I read it now and cry. But there’s this:

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

So, almost five years after Charles’s death and with a couple of weapons-grade involvements behind me, I know “I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real.” I do not want to have just “visited this world.”  I want to live in it. Be in it. Gasp at its wonder. At its possibilities.

… and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular…

Each life is a flower. Mine. Yours. All the little children of the world.

Two flowers made an offer on my condo within eight hours of its addition to the market. I’ve signed the contract. Moving on.  Determined to make of what’s left “something particular, and real.”

Missy Beattie can be reached at


Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: