a story about a pen

letting go

I do not have a recipe for you today, though I will have one for you soon. First, I must tell you a story about a pen. I wasn’t planning on telling any pen stories, because who tells stories about pens? But then I started writing, and this is what needed to come out. A story about a pen.

Or maybe it’s just a story about loss.

*   *   *   *   *

I lost my favorite pen two days ago. When I left my clinic the evening before, I had left it there, on accident. I knew that it was there; I realized it as soon as I walked out of the building to head to my office, in another building. I stopped walking when I thought of it. I paused on the sidewalk, and patients who were leaving their various appointments had to walk around me.

My pen, I thought. I should go back for it.

But…no. Who goes back for a pen? That would be ridiculous. I would not go back into the building, up the stairs, through the clinic space and into the doctors’ workroom…just for a pen. I would have gone back for my wallet, or my ID badge, but not for a silly pen. So I did not go back.

I had left my favorite pen in my white coat pocket; the upper left one, along with a couple of other black-ink pens, the same pocket I keep my iPhone and reading glasses in when I’m seeing patients in clinic. And if it wasn’t there, I could swear I left it right on the desk, nestled up next to the keyboard.

My pen is a black fountain pen, a Pilot Vanishing Point with a blue ink cartridge inside. It’s an expensive pen, the most expensive pen I own, and certainly the most expensive pen I’ve ever brought to work. The point on the pen is very fine, and writing with it is addictive. The pen’s nib glides across paper without a hitch, leaving a smooth line of ink in its wake. It feels good in my hand, and it makes me want to write.

The following morning, after first attending a 7:30 a.m. conference, I walked over to my clinic. When I arrived at my desk, I leaned over the desk chair to put my bag on the floor, and I noticed that there were only two pens in my coat pocket, neither of which was my favorite pen. I tried not to panic. I followed my usual routine – I removed my cell phone and my reading glasses from my bag and placed them on the desk. I draped the lanyard holding my ID badge around my neck, while I waited for my computer to wake up. I lifted the keyboard to check underneath. No pen. I looked behind the computer monitor, and I pushed the rolling chair back from the desk and looked underneath, but no pen.

It was gone. My pen must have been stolen, right out of my coat, or right off my desk. Maybe the janitorial staff did it? A sense of loss overcame me. My pen was gone, and I had been so careless as to bring it to work, to think that I could use it in a crowded clinic, with doctors and staff in and out all day long, without losing it.

I realized then exactly how important that pen had become to me.

Half and hour later, or maybe less, my nurse, Eric, appeared at my side, as he often does, to see if I needed anything. I probably should have told him about the patient who needed to be called about some test results, or about the upcoming chemotherapy plan on that other patient, or an update on another patient who’d developed a recurrence.

Instead, I said, “I lost my pen.” I tried to keep the panic out of my voice.

I described my pen to him, and how it was really no big deal (it was), but I’d really love it if someone turned found it and turned it in. He remembered it. He had seen it, when I left the pen lying on my desk at some point, and he’d used it to sign something. He remarked on how nice the pen wrote.

Eric turned to leave the room, promising to let me know if it turned up, and I turned back to my computer screen. A patient’s record was on the screen, but in my head I was berating myself for being so stupid, for bringing that pen to work. I mean, really. Who needs a nice writing pen when the clinic uses an electronic medical record? I couldn’t believe I’d been so dumb.

“Is this it?” my nurse asked, turning back to me from the doorway. He was holding up a distinctive black pen – my pen! – that he’d just picked up off another desk near the workroom door.

I did not hug Eric, but I wanted to and I should have.

*   *   *   *   *

A couple of weeks ago, which was about a month after my father died of the stroke, I had a night of fitful dreams. This was not uncommon then. Nor is it uncommon now.

But that night, my father was there, in his hospital bed, in the nursing home right next to the hospital in which I work. Even though he was completely disabled in my dream, just as he was at the end, he was fully aware – of his condition, of his impending death, of me, and of my grief at losing him slowly (or maybe not so slowly) to dementia. In life, he had not had that awareness. In life, he had denied his dementia thoroughly and adamantly. But the father who returned to me in my dream was completely aware. In that dream, he and I both knew what was coming.

In my dream, I knew that he and I would go through his death again, and it would be just as hard to lose him a second time, if not harder. There was a sense of urgency, of time passing at triple speed, of time running out.

In the dream, my father wanted me to find a fountain pen. He needed me to find a specific pen, one he had been searching for. This pen he wanted me to find was to be for me, though, not for him. He needed me to have it before he died. In that dream, I was with him at one moment, and in the next, I was in an antique shop or in a thrift shop, looking through boxes and bags and drawers of old pens. They were all fountain pens, these pens, and I knew that was the kind of pen Dad wanted me to find. In one dust-covered shoebox filled with old pens and half-filled ink bottles, I found it. I held up the pen, a black fountain pen with a shiny, silver nib – yes, this was the one Dad wanted. I needed to get it to him before time ran out.

And then I woke up.

The next day, I bought a fountain pen online. It was an impulsive decision, just like getting a new kitten. But it felt right, just like the kitten did, and in my dream, my father had wanted me to have a fountain pen.

The pen came in the mail a couple of days later. I fell in love with it immediately. Writing with it feels luxurious. The words seemed to flow more easily out of my head and onto the paper. It is heavy in my hand, with a weight that feels comfortable and comforting.

The silliest thing of all? I feel connected to my father when I write with this pen.

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14 Responses to “a story about a pen”

  1. Paula — April 18, 2014 @ 9:33 am

    What a story! I’m sorry happy for you that Eric found your pen and can only imagine the relief you felt when he did. It is not just an expensive pen. It is definitely a connection to your father and that is priceless. Your dream of him wanting you to find a specific pen, in my mind at least, is his way of reaching out to you from beyond. He was an artist with a story to tell with his stained glass works. You are an artist with a story to tell with your pen. I think in wanting you to find a specific pen was his way of telling you to continue with your writing. I believe he is with, guiding you always but never moreso than when you are working at your craft.
    As for your nurse Eric, it is never too late for a hug 🙂 Wishing you a very blessed Easter.

  2. Heather hal — April 18, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    What a beautiful story. We cling to what feels good when we are grieving, even when it is a favorite pen, it elevates you by having a beautiful tool to use when the day gets hard or tedious or when you get tired or distracted by grief. I have a special pen that my sister gave me, I write with it at home loaded with deep verdigris ink, a Pelikan fountain pen with a gold nib. Whenever I use it I remember how it felt to be young, given a beautiful object to write my stories and thoughts, a personal object of beauty. It’s wonderful you’ve found a pen that helps you feel connected to your dad. Many hugs to you.

  3. Heidi @foodiecrush — April 18, 2014 @ 9:48 am

    This is a gorgeous, eloquent ode to your papa, and to finding the next step in the road. Thank you for sharing, for both you and for us to know you a little more. So sorry for your loss. But happy for your find 🙂

  4. Paula — April 18, 2014 @ 9:51 am

    I need to learn to proof read 🙁 That should have read *I’m so happy for you…”

  5. Sara — April 18, 2014 @ 11:14 am

    Right around the time you wrote about losing your father, mine was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme. I have been a reader for some time and always appreciate your recipe posts and your family/life posts. I am an RN so I can relate to your stories on many levels. While my father is still here with us, it is by no means easy or life like it “used” to be. After his resection he is not the same person he used to be. We are of course glad to have him here for however long we have but it is hard not to already mourn the loss of the man, and life we had before diagnosis. Our time with him is limited and I cannot read your posts without feeling a sense of foreshadowing of how our lives will soon be, without him. Thank you for sharing and giving me a sense that while it is hard, life will go on. He recently celebrated his 71st birthday and I was so honored to make his favorite dessert, pineapple upside down cake. It is often the little things that end up meaning so much, a pen, a cake, a memory.

  6. Candyce — April 18, 2014 @ 12:33 pm

    Beautifully written. Thank you.

  7. Lisa — April 18, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

    Oh, what a lovely story, Merry. I am a pen freak, myself, but as a Arts Dept graduate, I think it’s kinda normal. I didn’t know that MD’s could be so…. deep! I guess that’s the word. You obviously have lots of talent, and I enjoy your blogs immensely. My Mom always wrote with a fountain pen. The ink had to be peacock blue; nothing else. Never black or just blue… She passed away 2 years ago, but like you, I have a connection with my fountain pens….

  8. Macaroni Mama — April 18, 2014 @ 12:48 pm

    Beautiful, Merry Jennifer.

  9. jacquie — April 18, 2014 @ 7:17 pm

    what a beautiful, touching and heartfelt story. it is not at all silly that the pen links you to your father. why would it be? I’m so glad Eric found it for you. Why don’t you go ahead and give him a hug for it – it is never to late to express our gratitude for a kindness no matter how small it might seem to the other. in some ways it just a continued honoring of your father and your relationship. be gentle with yourself.

  10. Melanie — April 19, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

    My heart gave a little jump when you wrote Pilot Vanishing Point. Though not my first fountain pen, it IS my go-to fountain pen. I, too, have anxiety about “protecting” it which sometimes makes me use it less. My first one, also a black one, was a gift from my sister and I really love it. You asked “who tells stories about pens?” Well, MANY people do…..some very eloquent people do….. A pen can, as you experienced, make the writing experience wholly different and pleasurable. And, they can attach you to a memory. I’m glad you found your pen and I hope the temporary loss of it won’t dissuade you from using it regularly.

  11. jwlucasnc — April 20, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    Not even remotely silly. Lovely.

  12. Something important to you is not silly. I feel the same way about a ring of my grandmother’s. It’s this simple sterling silver ring that we had given her one mother’s day. She hardly ever wore it, if she ever did at all. To be honest, I don’t remember. It wasn’t really her style, but my sister and I had picked it out together, one of the few things we were in agreement on during our tumultuous teenage years. As we cleaned out her house and went through her jewelry boxes one last time, my mom and sister agreed I could have the ring. I wear it every single day. I don’t even take it off when I bathe. I had to take it off when I was pregnant, and just like my wedding set, not having it gave me severe anxiety. I would find it in its safe place at least once a day to assure myself it was safe. Wearing it connects me to her, and to my sister that lives far away. I understand the need to have that pen, dear Merry Jennifer. And I hope that you will use it constantly. In the clinic and not. Because it’s a little piece of everything he ever is to you, and a wonderful reminder every time you use it.

  13. Di — April 23, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

    You wanted more time to ask questions so you could tell his story. He couldn’t give you more time but it seems he gave you what you need to begin telling his story. I look forward to reading it when it’s published because I am sure it will be. I believe the world is ready to hear from you and your Dad.

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