Monday, August 13, 2012


Your Grief Has Taken the Form of a Witch!

Your grief has taken the form of a witch!

It is less correct to say that she appears than it is to say you are brought into sudden awareness of her presence. You become conscious of the fact that as a host you possess particular duties toward her.

“Hello,” you say.

Hello, she says, and her voice bumbles through the open spaces of your head and lungs. Hello, hello. She has the warmth and heft of a hummingbird as she rests nervously below your throat. It is possible that if you hold completely and entirely still — if you do not move with her movements — she will collect her loose and unformed selves up into a bundle and leave.

“Hello,” you say again.

She flutters and presses against the soft corners of your eyes, then stops moving. She says nothing. You wonder if she is tired.

I don’t know you, she says. You’re a stranger to me. Yes?

“Mostly. To you, yes,” you say.

Then I don’t know anyone here, she says. Nobody knows my name here and I don’t know you at all.

“I could learn your name.”

Are you real? she asks.

Who can answer a question like that intelligently? “Yes.”

Real like I’m real, or in the other way?

She doesn't wait for you to answer but takes flight from her resting place. She moves. Wherever she travels within you, she burrows, demolishing the core of any red kidney or vertebrate she enters.

I don’t like it here, she says (she is not yet much of a witch, but she is learning). Her voice is thick and you hear the suggestion of stones in it. I liked it where I was before.

“I’m sorry,” you say, and you realize that she has just this minute grown eyes. She opens all of them.

Ahh, she says, and now she is beginning to notice you.

I’ll need to leave soon. I’ll need to take stock. I’ll need to figure out the state of things. I can’t stay here, you know. I can’t possibly.

Your stomach shrinks to the size of a silver dollar as she tapers over it.

No, I don’t like you, she decides. You have poor powers — only kitchen spells — and it isn’t clean in here, your hands are dirty and nothing here is clean. I’ll be lonely here. You can’t make me stay.

It seems as useless now to apologize as it would to ask her to leave. You are crying, of course, as she gorges and grows and totters into thicker substance. She hides herself within your pocket now and grips your leg fiercely in four points. The skin where she pricks you seeps and puckers.

You’ll have to carry me around, she chortles, and you can see how much the idea pleases her. I wouldn’t go back in there for anything. You’ll carry me here.

All of her eyes are gray and also her cheek, which is wattled and high.

And I’ll remember how you treat me, she says in a merry burble as you haul her stiff-leggedly about (she is not a great witch yet, but there are no restrictions on her now). I’ll build a tower for you and you’ll live in it. I’ll see you live in it.

You do not speak to her, the aching clot glommed onto your leg. You walk. Other people — less clear, less foot-heavy than you and your witch — blur in and out, walking quickly toward and then away from you.

If I’d come to you sooner, she says one day, I wouldn’t have taken it as hard. If I'd been younger. Less ugly.

She could go back to where she was before, you suggest. Where she had liked it.

It’s not there now. She grows warm against your skin. Where else. Where else. 

You can think of nowhere, of course.

She scuttles forth from your pocket, now the size and density of a rabbit, but she moves like nothing else. The shape of your loss is compact and agile — she slinks and blurs from your sight almost as soon as you can fix your eyes upon her.

She is building you a place to live, she tells you.

Mallory Ortberg is a writer in the Bay Area. Her work has also appeared on Slacktory and Ecosalon.

83 Comments / Post A Comment

The Lady of Shalott



@The Lady of Shalott YES, MELIS.

And this is about how it is, I think.


i adore You!@a


Everyone always comments, "I"m crying at my desk!" but I never cry at my desk... Until now. I'm crying at my desk.


@KJZ ^^ This ^^ This, in every size, color, and configuration available.


Jesus, I get so excited every time a post is accompanied by "By Mallory Ortberg".

evil melis

Probably more correct to list "By Evil Mallory Ortberg."


@evil melis Any Mallory Ortberg is a good Mallory Ortberg.

Princess Slayer

I'm never writing again. There's no point.


@Princess Slayer I'm right there with you. I give up, I'm going home.


Holy shit this blew me away.



Such gaunting prose.


@steve gaunting!


Damn, girl. I can't even explain the number of levels on which this is amazing.


Pocket witch.

Pocket Witch

@SisterCity Hi!

In seriousness, wow this was mind-bending. The tower's not the best place to be, but there's no CTRL+Z here in the real world, and bad things happen so terribly quickly.


Every time someone mentions the stages of grief, I'm just going to send them a hyperlink to this.


"I’ll build a tower for you and you’ll live in it. I’ll see you live in it."

LOVE. All of it but especially that.


@nowwhat I feel like my tiny silver dollar stomach has been cut out, and it's painful and I love it.


This is terrific. Reminds me a little of Bradbury's April Witch.




Well this was lovely AND TERRIFYING.


I feel physically ill. I mean that as a compliment. But a nauseous compliment.


@christonacracker Wow, me too. I feel sick and a little scared. This is one of the most affecting pieces of writing I've come across in a long time. Well done, melis!

evil melis



@evil melis If recently you've been like, yo, why is Twitter informing that some unknown rando with a locked feed is tweeting at me, that is me, posting this and "A Wizard Has Stolen Your Heart!" because yes yes yes, these things.

Reginal T. Squirge

Oh, no! Are you sick, melis? Is everybody ok?


@Reginal T. Squirge everybody's nauseous.


@Reginal T. Squirge
I will throw up.


this has a very Aimee-Bender-Kelly-Linkish quality to me. but, you know, even better.


It's really not fair to publish the best thing I'm going to read all week on a Monday. Now there's nowhere to go but down.


struggling to come up with a comment (something? anything?) worthy of this. All I can think of is MORE MELIS. ALWAYS MORE!


The character "Melis" annoys the socks off me sometimes but this was really excellent and moving. Abandon prejudice, all ye who enter here!

simone eastbro

@Kate Croy here is what i yell at my dog when he begs for table scraps and i will now yell at you.



@simone eastbro @Yahtzii Don't go ruining my faith in the 'Pin, please, friends. We can like different things sometimes.

simone eastbro

@Kate Croy You can like whatever you like. But you don't have to be rude about it. Mallory is a person. Melis is a username, not a character. You saying you think she is annoying doesn't sound so different from straight-up saying you don't like Mallory, except for this thing she wrote that you happen to like. It's not kind.


@simone eastbro Melis is a username, but also (it seems to me) a persona that the author, Mallory, uses. I don't know Mallory. I've never met her. I'm familiar with her writing. I don't always enjoy her writing. I enjoyed this piece. I don't think that that's a terribly hurtful, or even unkind, thing to say. I don't want to shock you, but--my taste isn't actually infallible.

Bowing out now, because I doubt this discussion is going anywhere good. Best wishes to everyone etc.

simone eastbro

@Kate Croy I think you don't understand. This has nothing--literally NOTHING--to do with your taste or with what you do or don't like.


@simone eastbro Redacted! I still think that my initial comment was innocuous but this has nothing--literally NOTHING--to do with my taste soooo I will leave you all to outdo each other with protestations of enjoyment.


@Kate Croy This is what I say to my dog when he makes a really rude comment on a website I like: "Dude, that was a seriously rude comment."

(ugh now it's edited and I look insane but this was in response to a VERY RUDE comment to Simone)


@Yahtzii Yes, that was Evil Kate Croy posting.


@Yahtzii Also you do look insane.


@Kate Croy AGHHGHGH!! Evil Kate again :(


@Kate Croy
"This person annoys the socks off of me."

"I don't think that's a terribly hurtful, or even unkind, thing to say."

This does not compute.


@cherrispryte Sometimes! I said she annoys the socks off me SOMETIMES!

Oh god. Clearly my initial comment did not read as I expected it to. We regret the error. But I don't think that comparing me to a dog and saying "RUUUUUUUUUDE!" is much less rude.


@Kate Croy disliked a person's writing and lived!

Here is a thing: When you make a snarky personal comment about a 'Pinner, and then cry "Don't ruin the 'Pin for me, guys!" when people use humor to defend her, I do not think "Don't ruin the 'Pin" means what you think it means.


@all I think it's very telling which comments in this thread got thumbs up and which ones didn't.


@Kate Croy disliked a person's writing and lived!
This is an amazing piece of writing, both deep and touching, and you are upset that people are giving you a hard time/calling you rude because you opened your comment by insulting the author?

Also, take some advice from a professional flouncer: once you make your big ole "i'm bowing out of this thread/taking my toys and leaving the playground" comment, coming back to dig yourself deeper into a hole just looks bad. You said something that was insulting, you were called out, you've sort of apologized. Let. it. go.


@cherrispryte She's gone! "Your Misguided Rage Has Taken the Form of a Flounce!"


@Yahtzii Dude. My grief witch is way more powerful than previously assumed.


We've already covered my inability to reply to Melis.

Yep. It's still there in all its non-functioning glory.


August is a grim fucking month y/y

I want to say I hope everything is alright, but it sounds like it isn't, but I hope everything is alright. My stomach shrunk to the size of a silver dollar reading this.


@redheaded&crazie No, no, life is good (I mean, also life is stern and life is earnest, but life is good)! This is just how grief feels when it happens, I think.



sending good thoughts out into the 'pinnerverse for you

sceps yarx

@redheaded&crazie I've been in denial about my grief witch for a long time. Thinking about it as an organ-ravaging intelligence is seriously is helping me with my (aforementioned in many other comments) child-with-cancer PTSD. My grief witch spends most of her time chewing on my intestines and saying you'll never be the same again.

Yesterday was the very first time I cried in front of the hospital receptionist in over three years of treatment. What is creepier, having a grief witch inside you, or having a grief witch inside you and going around just PRETENDING it's not there???

So anyways, thank you Melis. xoxo

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

My dad recently came down with Stage-4 lymphoma. This essay makes me afraid of the witch in my chest.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

I'm so sorry. I wish you and your family the best.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose So sorry to hear that!

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@wee_ramekin @Slapfight Thanks, pals. He's doing well so far, just getting used to being bald and tired and out of control of his own body. Poor guy.

sceps yarx

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Dude, being out of control of your own body is sort of the worst part. My six-year-old son has cancer, and yesterday after a long hospital and chemo day, he said "mom, I'm just tired of pooping over and over because it takes up so much time." I hope your dad will have a lot of good days inbetween the hard ones! It sucks but even one day of life with people you love can be so beautiful.

The grief witch is real and scary, but it's better if you do what Mallory did and just name it and look it in the eye (eyes?). If you try to squeeze it down and pretend it's not there, it will eat you from the inside out. If you build a relationship with it and talk to it maybe you can come to some understanding.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@sceps yarx Oh man, I'm sorry for your son's circumstances, and that your family is dealing with such a bitch of a disease (named it!). My dad is doing OK, it's just exhausting, as you're well aware. I've worked on naming the grief witch, but have managed only to do so when I'm on hikes in the woods, away from other people. It's a start.


I can't breathe.


What a fantastic piece. I just did writing prompt exactly like this last week, "what does your grief look like." http://youtu.be/QVSe2gtBKL8 if anyone wants to try it out.


The witch is Helen Gurley Brown, yes?

I smell burnt toast

As soon as I read the title, I thought: Mallory Ortberg wrote this.


@I smell burnt toast Yup.


Aaaah I hate you :( But thank you for the words I can't say yet.


What are you supposed to do when you love this? If it was a book I would buy it and put it on the shelf under my nightstand, but it's not a book. Bookmarks are for your bank and Paperdoll Heaven.


@malperdy Good thing Mallory is in the process of writing a book that will be published soon! I don't have specifics, but I'll bet you all my hairpins that it will be featured on the 'Pin when it comes out.


Thank you Mallory. My grandma died yesterday and I am really far away (too far away to go home and see my family) and this piece captures my feelings so well. You are a wonderful writer.


@hollysh So sorry about your grandma.


@HereKitty Thank you. She was an awesome lady. Among many other accomplishments she was an actual riveter (Rosie style) during WWII.


Just so incredibly good. My guts hurt from being wrenched.


I hope that you see this, author. This is been a piece of writing that I have returned to again and again in the last year. It has helped me deeply. My grief has taken many forms, sometimes that of a witch, and you have helped me recognize them through the lens of this perspective.

It's an imperfect piece, I think the New Yorker would say approximately, "Not this time, but we'd like to see more of your work". (I mean that in the nicest and sincerest way, I hope you know.) But, there has been no piece I've read this year in TNY or Harper's or McSweeney's or wherever, that I have returned to as much. The emotional resonance that I feel with this piece happens rarely to anyone, and I appreciate it. When you feel that way with a person, book, piece of art; you're willing to overlook any minor flaw because who cares when it just feels so fucking true? Don''thateme. I am a chef, not a writer. But I think you should work on this and then send it EVERYWHERE.

So thank you, please keep writing, I will look for your work. This piece has meant a lot to me. I adore your mind,

I never comment, and I hope my admiration comes across as completely genuine. Have I been weirdly formal or rude? I hope notM Really, if pressed to make a list of the 10 pieces of writing I love most, this would be one of them.

You're raw as shit, lady.



P.S. You've read "The April Witch", right? If not, I'm jealous, ,because that whole collection is breathlessly wonderful.


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