I had been working on a few other posts, unsure which order to push them to the site, when I received some terrible news, and lost interest in the blog for a bit. I wrote what you see below, and have been sitting on it for a month, thinking I’d come to some moment of clarity or at least understanding. I did not.

Melissa Rosella Marion

I met Melissa in middle school. I think we first connected over being northerners in Nashville (she being from Perth, Ontario, and me being from Buffalo). We graduated in the same high school class, ended up at different colleges in Tennessee, but stayed in loose touch through social media.

When she was traveling in her early 20s (and I was dreaming about it), she would send me postcards. I saved them, but after a dozen moves, I’m not sure anymore what container they’re stored in. At the time (say, mid 20-aughts), she said Ireland was the most beautiful place she had ever seen.

On one Facebook comment in which I was screaming into the void about our broken, imperialist country, she commented that this kind of conviction was one reason she had a crush on me in middle school. I think I laughed because this seemed like the kind of thing she would never have said in person.

We used to read & comment on each others blogs: Livejournal, Xanga, Myspace. On these platforms & others, she often used the handle Girl of the North Country after the Dylan song of the same name. She was the first person to tell me I had talent as a writer; and so she was the first person I thought of to acknowledge in my book. I took it for granted that I’d get to tell her when I finished.

Melissa died on February 20th. She was 35, same as me (we were born in the same month, in fact). To my knowledge, the cause of death is still unknown. She was married, and many of her friends are people I also grew up with. She was an accomplished & award-winning photographer (see her Instagram). She was also in the process of writing three different novels.

I imagine she had no idea that her belief in my writing had an impact on me—why would she? It was the simple generosity of attention. At the time, even I had no real practice or plans to “be” a writer. I’ve probably weighed it too heavily in my memory, but her support made me feel like it was worth pursuing—that if I wrote, people who had no connection or obligation to me might read & connect with it.

It’s simple to say that we were friends. Truthfully, we didn’t really stay in touch, and only once met up in person after high school (I was working in Baltimore for a summer, where she lived at the time). We had a particular connection during a particular time in our lives. We don’t have a word for that.

It’s hard to articulate the grief I’m feeling, mostly because, as I said, we weren’t close in any conventional way. She just felt like an important person to me. I don’t know her husband or other family; her best friend was also a high school classmate. I know I cannot comprehend the magnitude of their pain right now, but still feel like I have to express the despair I’m experiencing right now. I never got to tell this woman that her presence mattered, and I don’t understand why that’s impossible now. I feel anger at my inability to understand, and overwhelmed with regret for not maintaining this relationship.

I know I’m rambling. Trying to make sense of death. All our myths & archetypes, but I don’t know anyone who has said anything comforting or illuminating without reducing it to some paternalistic fairy tale.

I started a poem in her memory that I plan to include in the book, assuming it comes together in a way that feels complete & respectful.

Melissa, I miss you. To whatever extent I can be considered successful as a writer, you deserve some of the credit. Thank you.