There was a reminder on the refrigerator door that day, left for me by my brother saying
“Let out the dog”
This he wrote in bleedy purple ink that made a frost-like border around the letters. I let out the dog and went upstairs. In my bedroom, there was a strong smell of fake lemon from this morning when I had cleaned off that spot of hardened slobber the dog left there last week. Right next the patch of lemony scent (which had replaced the slobber as equally gunky), there was a paper that detailed the reason for my “unfortunate” term three English grade.
It said I was doing well. It said I was intelligent. It said I had an obvious insight into the world around me and that I was sure to be a phenomenal speaker if only I would participate outside of class. It also said I couldn’t stop writing. That’s what was bad, that I couldn’t stop writing.
They all told me I was a bad writer. They said I rarely used punctuation. They said I wasn’t focused or clear or careful about my word choice. They told me I had “atrocious grammar” and that I needed to stop writing for myself and start writing for real assignments or they wouldn’t know whether I was practicing “syntax” or not.
I wrote about this. I told God and Grandma and Mr. Casey to please save a spot for me in Heaven so I could write however I felt like writing, focus, clarity, grammar or not. I figured that if I couldn’t do my favorite thing right on Earth, I may as well hope I could do it in Heaven. That’s all I ever did that day after letting the dog out: write to God and Grandma and Mr. Casey.
My brother found me.
They told him there were barbiturates in my blood and did he know anyone I might have gotten them from. He said
“Patty. Down the street.”
And then he excused himself to go let the dog inside because she was whining on the back steps.
I didn’t know who Patty down the street was. I don’t know how my brother did, or why Patty would go around giving people barbiturates because that’s a pretty dangerous thing to do. You’d have kids dying right and left, like me, except that I’m a special case. I just wanted to write in Heaven.
When I got to Heaven, God and Grandma and Mr. Casey all looked at me with these faces that made me feel a little ashamed of myself and a little giddy at the same time. I was just happy to be with them because they were nicer people than the teacher who gave me an “unfortunate” grade in English. I started writing right away.
The thing about Heaven is that there’s always a radio playing. It’s a radio that only plays one station: The Life You Left Behind. So I could hear my brother and my mom and Billy from next door and the dog, who was always whining and slobbering and going into my bedroom where my mom wouldn’t go because she thought going in there would make me more dead somehow. I hated that radio. It was always on and I couldn’t write, with or without “syntax,” because there were all these voices and sounds and other people’s playlists going on and it was like they were all competing for space in my head.
I stopped writing in Heaven. I stopped writing and I started just listening to what was happening on Earth. When I stopped writing and started just listening, I got to hear stories. They were constantly playing out, these stories. Playing out and moving on and living out lifetimes. People were writing; I heard people writing and could listen to their thought processes and make corrections to their punctuation, focus, clarity, word choice, and syntax.
And when I’d listened to lots of stories and made lots of edits to them in my head, God and Grandma and Mr. Casey told me that that was an important part in the “learning process” and that, yes, I could write without the radio now, provided I made sure to write with proper syntax.