She, who when she was teaching and got up much earlier than I did, would suddenly appear at my bedside in the morning. I’d open my eyes, and she’d be standing there, holding the paper. After a few of those visits, I knew the drill.

“Guess who died?” she’d ask.

If it was somebody not so close, like a politician or the produce manager at Ralph’s Market, someone like that, she’d tell me.

If it was someone very close, she’d sit on the bed first. That would wake me up.

When after some time passed and she stopped coming in, I asked why?

“Maybe everybody you know is dead.”

Wow! That’s cold.

Then I wondered how I could use all of that darkness to make a buck.

One hot day in August, as the sales for my first book, “Will Write for Food,” began to decline, I decided to write a second book, titled “Everybody I Know is Dead.” I would fill it up with details: how and where they died, what they died of, was I mentioned in obits?

She thought that was too dark. “People don’t like it when you’re dark. People like it when you’re funny.”

“Hemingway wasn’t funny,” I replied.

She sighed. “Have you gone to the bathroom this morning?”

She always thinks everything I do is connected to irregularity.

Then I got a better idea. I thought about these 12 people who, at one point in my life, were important to me, and who have since passed. These were also people I hurt. I don’t mean hurt feelings. I’m talking about real heartbreak with hysterical sobbing. I’m talking broken hearts here.

A few, I admit, had young tender hearts, breakable hearts that I should have been more gentle with. Someone once said, ” In every man’s life, there is a summer…and a girl.” I’ve had eighty summers, and each one had a girl. Well, for the last 57 of those, it’s been the same one, and she’s apparently unbreakable. But the others? Do the math. We’re talking major guilt here.

Now that I’ve opened that door, many of those summers have been coming back to haunt me. Faces I thought I’d forgotten are haunting my dreams with memories of tears spilled behind locked dressing rooms, sobbing on summer lawns, and upstairs hallway promises broken. What to do with all this guilt?

So I’ve decided to restructure and re-title my new book.

“I’m Sorry You Died Before I Could Say ‘I’m Sorry.'” How do you like it?

No, I’m serious; that’s the title. It will require naming all of the girls involved except for She, who was always too smart to fall for my moves and wisely kept her heart locked up when I made those moves.

She is the survivor of my slaughter of the innocents and agrees that as long as she’s left out of it, it would be good for me to cleanse my soul. Confession is out of the question, so it’s got to be a book.

As I see it, “I’m Sorry” is a kind of better-late-than-never 12-step program that I think women readers in particular will love. Men, not so much. Every man, as the quote reminds us, has had that summer, even in downtown Albion or on Johnson Pond, and doesn’t want to be reminded of it, especially since he still sees that girl in aisle 7 at the supermarket.

So this is my list from a misspent youth: Rosemary, of course; Louise; Mary, who was so hurt she entered the convent; Joya; Joyce; Carla; Veronica; Jeanne; Mimi; Laura; Mary Jane; and Barbara, who followed me to Japan. She will take up a whole chapter.

Now the hard part. I have to do some intensive research to make sure that those I select are really in the ground. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. They won’t be on Facebook. Girls grow up and change their names.

Oh well. How about “Will Write For Food, Part Two”?

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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