One September morning in 2008, my friend Lou called to tell me that David Foster Wallace, my favorite living writer, had hanged himself. Everything slowed, then stilled: tiny hexagons of porch screen filmed with dust, thirsty plants everywhere I looked. Our garden emerging from a valiant August struggle, not pretty but still cranking out tomatoes.
It took only an instant to understand that I would never again settle down with a new Wallace short story or novel opened before me like a feast. It took longer to understand that his old work would now be read through the blurry, irritating filter of his suicide.
He didn't have children. But he had two dogs: Warner and Bella. He had spoken about how he didn't like to leave them alone, even for a couple of hours. He considered quitting writing and opening a dog shelter.
I bounced from anger (Guess what, Mr. Wallace: you don't get to be my favorite dead writer!) to compassion: I can't imagine pain so great that you volunteer to leave this beautiful world one minute sooner than necessary. It's a step beyond what we call "crippling pain" or "debilitating pain." It's deadly pain.
Now I have Ivy and Revel, whose needs are simple: give us some food and don't ever go away! Unlike my children, they're never going to fire me. So that contract I signed when my babies were born is more binding than ever. Eat good food and drink lots of water. No extreme sports or texting while driving. When I feel sad, get off my butt and do something for someone else. Keep planting tomatoes, even though the hammer of August awaits. Boys: I'll be here whenever you need me. Dogs: I'll be here until you're not. I'll throw the ball until I can't, and cheer when you bring it back.