When I first met Jo Ann Beard, her demeanor surprised me. She was quiet, reserved, and in constant thought. Her speech was deliberate-- you could almost see her thoughts forming as she searched the air for what she wanted to say. During the week I spent with her, she spoke of the importance of trusting the reader, trusting your own mind, and most importantly, the power of moments. She had us read many short pieces of nonfiction that were based on singular moments that retained all their emotional resonance. I thought I understood what she was talking about, but I didn’t fully until a moment during the following week:
As I drive to school, my boyfriend texts me saying that our dog, Sidney, has had a stroke. I press him for details to make sure it's not just an allergy attack, which she's had a few times this past year. But the more he tells me, the more obvious it becomes. I speed down 95 fighting the urge to cry. 16 years old now, we'd rescued her from an abusive home years ago, and we'd always commented that she'd saved her youth for her aged years. That she must have been the runt because she was small enough to be a large teacup, and large enough to be a small miniature. Tears well up in my eyes. Her white fur, her front legs imperfect, bowed out like a bulldog’s. My mom hated the poodle cut, so we always gave her a puppy cut. When she was completely shaved, she looked like Dobby the House Elf, when her hair got too long, she looked like a Muppet. My mom had adopted her when I went away for my first year of college, her empty nest syndrome replacement for me. My mom’s fiancé didn’t like pets, so I'd taken over care of Sid for her final three years. For a while it was she and I, alone in the house. We depended on each other.
My mom moved back home a month before Sidney had her stroke. Jo Ann Beard's ideas were still reverberating loudly in my mind. I wanted to spend my time reading and writing, but my mom interrupted everything. Tensions flared. Emotions frayed. Her passive aggressive, cutting comments needled me. It hadn’t been a week and I already wanted her gone. I resented how she was treating me like a moving service; she undid anything I started in the house, she took over, and she wasn’t sorry about it. Then, Sidney happened:
I come home that night, and my mom is standing in a room she'd re-carpeted during the sudden move. She and my grandma had torn down wallpaper, sanded, and repainted. The walls are now a beach sand color, but the baseboards are still a palm frond green, a remnant from my childhood. The room is otherwise empty. She stands in the dead center, arms crossed, staring into an empty corner. I lean against the doorframe, feeling the vacuum Sidney left behind. My mom eventually turns around and we chat. First about the move, and then the work she'd done on the empty room; anything, really, except Sidney.
Finally, she fills me in. She'd been getting ready when she'd heard Sid’s nails scratch irregularly on the tile. She'd stepped into the hall and saw Sid, her neck contorted back, convulsing on the floor. She picked her up to comfort her, also trying to comfort herself. She explains how she had felt Sid’s tiny body go rigid, her neck stiff and little legs locked. All she could do was stand there, trying to comfort her, crying. When the episode was over, Sid started wailing, unsure of what just happened. This only instigated more sobs from my mom.
Here in the empty room, I listen to my mom, fighting back my own tears. We avoid eye contact. After Sid's seizure, my mom had stayed home, watching her walk crookedly, bumping into everything, falling over. I bite my lower lip and turn my head, looking out into the hall. When she took Sid to the vet, the doctor said she could live a happy life after the stroke, but in his professional opinion, it was time. My mom is crying again. We stand, completely at odds, avoiding each other, watching one another fall apart. She'd stayed the entire time. The vet commented that people usually only stay until their pet is anesthetized. My mom had stayed until Sid was completely gone; she explains to me that she wouldn’t have been able to live with herself if there was any minuscule chance Sid could still sense her presence. This gets me. I can’t hold it back any longer, no amount of chewing my lower lip can stop the deluge. This prompts my mom to keen with me. I grab tissues for both of us. One tug and the box is empty; two tissues are all that is left, and they are both in my hand. My mom and I spend the rest of the night standing in the incomplete room, sobbing into each other’s shoulders.
This moment would have been lost to me, but Jo Ann, still ringing in my mind, enhanced it for me. The details stick out-- there's no way to ignore them. The last two tissues, the incomplete room, the tension between my mom and myself, the remaining green paint from my childhood bedroom. They all add to the moment, are each somehow necessary, and I see that we weren’t only crying over the sudden deterioration of Sidney, but also our deteriorating relationship.
And Jo Ann Beard gave all of this to me.
Scott Rachesky is a first year MFA fiction candidate at FAU. Aside from singing Carmina Burana in community choir, being a photographer, solving imaginary murders, and raising Unipegs, he enjoys to write…go figure. His writerly influences include Chuck Palahniuk, Jennifer Egan, Lori Moore, and Joseph Heller. Some people have described his writing style as similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald, but he doesn’t believe those people and thinks they only make the connection because of the shared name of Scott.