Seven years ago today, Martha Corey-Ochoa jumped to her death from the fourteenth-story window of her Columbia dorm. In memory of her, and as a way of exorcising her ghost, I have just finished writing a memoir, After Martha.
The first half of the book tells of Martha's life from conception to her last night. The second half tells of my seven years since, struggling with my grief and my own suicidal impulses, until at last I feel I have come to some kind of peace.
Martha and I shared many things in common--writing, madness, wild religiosity. One thing I didn't realize we shared until recently was that we were both in love with a ghost. She was in love with the Russian prince Aleksei, who died 300 years ago; and for the past seven years I was in love with her.
Martha wrote in her diary that her love for Aleksei was a species of complicated grief, that type of grief that can destroy the bereaved. Her complicated grief for Aleksei did destroy her in the end. For seven years I have been fighting not to let my complicated grief for Martha destroy me.
I think that fight is over, or at least one phase of the fight. I love Martha and always will. But she is dead and I accept that. Nothing I do can bring her back, and there are other things I want to do, more life that I want to live. She doesn't need to be part of my life for me to be happy. After seven years, I am finally saying goodbye to Martha. To explain how I got to that point, I would have to write a book about it, and I have. After Martha is that story.
When Martha was alive and we would say goodbye, we would always say "I love you" just before we parted, in case we never saw each other again. Seven years ago tonight, I had my last phone call with her, and, in keeping with our custom, the last thing we must have said to each other was "I love you." So I know she heard what was important, and so did I. The rest is just goodbye.