78 Years Later: Virginia Woolf’s Death and Me

Today represents another difficult day in a very difficult week. There’s no need to get emotional about it (I’m from New England not “Let’s put on $85 yoga pants and read from our emotions diary” California) but I will say that food poisoning, poor health in the family, upcoming academic deadlines and chronic depression have made this a fairly unpleasant week. Today the poor health was upgraded (downgraded?) to bad health in the family and I attended a mildly stressful meeting about my academic future (Oh and also I discovered that today’s Zoloft tablet needs to last me until the replacement for my missing refill order is found.) Today I’m frazzled, burnt, frayed and liable to get weepy when no one’s around. In an attempt at some level of self-care I logged into recently neglected Feedly account to see what I’ve missed from my favorite sites this week and found out that today is the 78th anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s suicide.

In a normal week I would’ve remembered this soon after waking up, having spent the previous few days preparing myself for it. Today the date was hurled into my evening where it exploded, putting me into my own little pool of quiet. In a day that’s been dark, frantic, depressed and thick with worry this came as a welcomed respite.

If I’d been alive for Virginia Woolf’s death I think that its anniversary would be a sad one for me but my beloved Virginia has been dead for our entire relationship so being reminded that she’s now crumbling bones is just normal. This means that for me today isn’t a mourning and lamenting day. It’s a day of memory and my memories of Virginia Woolf are warm, comforting, honest and good, which is exactly what I needed to feel tonight.

I came across Virginia Woolf (Though I sometimes jokingly refer to her as  “my dear/beloved/darling Virginia”  I usually can only refer to her as “Virginia Woolf.” Ms. Woolf is too formal, Woolf too academic and Virginia too private to be shared with anyone else. Silly? Yes.) in high school and I fell hard. Since coming across To the Lighthouse (it was a plain red volume, the old sort that were available just to libraries with no decorations on the cover, printed on thin paper and with the title stamped in white on the spin) she’s been a companion to me, a friend who shares my interests,  personality flaws, birthday and a sense of humor that swings between bawdy and caustic.

When I wanted a genderless identity online (a time I know can see as the beginning of my transition) in my senior year of high school I was “Orlando.” When things are dark I quote her for comfort, normalcy, kinship. When I ride on a giddiness that combines joy and anxiety into one frightening emotion she’s there, not as a guide to stability (MFK Fisher provides that) but as someone next to me, someone walking in shoes like mine. Underneath my cold repression my emotions are raw and so is Virginia Woolf.

Tonight when I get off work I’m going to home where I’ll have a small cup of red wine (Franzia, which feels appropriate to drink in memory of a member of the Bloomsbury clique) and read from The Waves, my favorite of her novels. In what is an abominably  cliched move I will probably read from one of my favorite passages, the death of Bernard which closes the book:

‘And in me too the wave rises. It swells; it arches its back. I am aware once more of a new desire, something rising beneath me like the proud horse whose rider first spurs and then pulls him back. What enemy do we now perceive advancing against us, you whom I ride now, as we stand pawing this stretch of pavement? It is death. Death is the enemy. It is death against whom I ride with my spear couched and my hair flying back like a young man’s, like Percival’s, when he galloped in India. I strike spurs into my horse. Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!’

The waves broke on the shore.

Virginia Woolf (25.1.1882 – 18.3.1941) by her sister Vanessa Bell (dated 1911 or 1912)

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