Title: The Pharmacist’s Mate
Author: Amy Fusselman
Release date: June 2001
Source: Personal collection (memoir class)
Rating: 5 out of 5 (or more!)
This is what I believe:
When someone dies, they don’t go to some pearlescent afterlife or some sulfurous hellhole.
Instead, they live on in the memories of those who loved them.
The memories are real. Even when others can’t hear or see them, you can play endless short films of those you love in your head, and they are still there, with you. That is real. That is where they are alive—in the memories, the spaces you cleared for them in your life.
You can hear them, echoing in your head. And they are there with you.
Before my dad died I saw the world as a place. By place I mean space. Fixed. Space did not move, but people moved in space. People and space could touch each other, but not very deeply.
After he died, I saw that people and space are permeable to each other in a way that people and people are not. I saw that space is like water. People can go inside it.
They loom large in the absence—bigger in death, at times, than they were in life. Overwhelming you, sometimes, and the scariest part is the thought of a day when they might not overwhelm you any longer. When you might begin to forget all of the memories that press down on you now, the way he smiled, the way you joked.
And you know that nothing will be right again, nothing will be as happy as it could have been, because a part of your life was ripped away when their life ended, and that will never be OK. Never.
But you also know that there will be other people in your life who will slowly edge into the space you have inside you and around you. You know that you will love other people, even people you maybe haven’t met yet.
Things will happen to you, amazing things that you will want to share with the person who is no longer there, and that will make you sad. But these things will still be amazing, and you will be proud of yourself, and you will know that that person would have been so proud of you too. Sometimes, you may imagine that person next to you, maybe just out of the corner of your eye, smiling at you, bursting with pride and love.
My dad is dead. It’s a haunting refrain that echoes throughout Amy Fusselman’s short memoir. The pain becomes a beautiful companion of sorts. If she has a son, she writes, she wants to name him My Dad Is Dead.
Having a son, of course, is the other half of the story. Life is death’s yin. Fusselman is caught between grieving the recent death of her father and trying to get pregnant. It is this in-between world, a space of people who have departed and who have not yet arrived, where The Pharmacist’s Mate exists—the briefest shimmer of a moment, raw in simultaneous grief and hope.
It’s a shivering silver spider-web: Tiny and elaborate, effortless and artful, fleeting, a sliver of beauty and pain that cannot last and that is part of why it is so breathtaking. A prose poem stark and stunning in its intimate honesty.
My dad is dead. And as I type this, by the window, on the rainy day, I am alive, yes. I am living. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like I am doing it fast enough, or hard enough, or all the way. And it is times like that when I can understand wanting a cigarette in my hand, then my mouth, then my hand again. Holding the cigarette. Tending to the cigarette. Giving the cigarette what it needs. Tapping it in the ashtray. Sucking on it.
Then flicking it in the street, like it meant nothing to me.
It’s a book that has no proper ending. Even after the last page, it flickers in your mind, replaying itself, echoing in ways you don’t realize. Like a ghost, or something waiting to be born.
And check out Oliver Gray’s beautiful essay about his dad, John Gray.