Almost two months have passed and the tears still come.
Sorrowful drops splatting on my keyboard while I type.
I’m not ready to share images of us together at conferences and festivals. They are sacred.
Locked in the vault. As were all our conversations, whispered with our heads pressed together like kindergartners avoiding naptime. It’s an honor being considered a vault, a place where your mentor can relax, speak truths.
Terry Kay was more than a mentor, he was my friend. I loved him.
There, I said it. I loved him. I was not alone. If you knew him, you loved him.
I sought his approval. I listened and heeded his advice: “Renea, keep writing.”
My debut novel would still be under the bed were it not for Terry Kay. I didn’t want to let him down. If Terry took the time to invest in you then you tried to live up to his expectations.
He called after reading my debut novel, Outbound Train. He’d read my non-fiction works, but it was his encouragement to transition to fiction that fueled me. I listened as his voice rich and healthy, full of glorious encouragement said, “This is Terry.”
That was all it took. I began to cry.
“Now don’t you go telling anyone about our talk. Not a soul, or I’ll have every writer in Georgia mad at me . . .” he paused for effect, for he’s spent a bit of time on the stage. “Girl, you can write.”
I couldn’t breathe. The Emmy-Award-Winning, author, liked my novel. He not only liked it, he called to tell me so. He gifted me his time. (The rest of our conversation is pressed into the pages of my journal. Bury me with those words, for they sustain me still).
“It’s unfortunate Covid will kill this novel. No one will see it, you know that don’t you?” His voice had softened and took on the caress of a father kissing away tears of his daughter. I nodded. He was right.
“I am deeply sorry. You did everything right.”
I curled around the phone and sobbed. As I am now, pouring out my soul to you, the readers who sustain me.
“But, you can’t look behind you. You can’t look at what could have been. You’ve written one novel. It’s under your belt. You must get to work writing another.” His voice had changed to a velvety drill-sergeant. “Stay off Facebook. Start writing. Keep writing. Get an agent.”
+ + +
My friend’s life became measured in moments that no longer included me. Still, I vowed to write. To write Terry daily, until I became worried his family would deem me a stalker; I decreased the letters to three a week.
I wanted to call, more than anything in the world I wanted to hear his voice. But I understand how cancer robs the most valuable currency: time with loved ones.
I continued writing, praying someone would read my letters to him. I know he received them because he messaged me, “receiving letters, too weak to respond.”
I wrote about the first time we met at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference. How he’d picked me out of the crowd and said, his voice strong and confident, “You are a writer.”
Terry Kay made me believe I was a writer. No other writer supported fledgling writers like Terry. My experience wasn’t isolated, although when you were with him he always made you feel like you were the only writer in the world. We owe him everything. We craved his encouragement and discipline.
We needed Terry Kay to live forever.
And so the letters continued, hopeful-ever hopeful- for a healing, a miracle, or perhaps a letter postmarked from Athens, Georgia.
But no letter came.
It was selfish of me to hope for one last letter, a final email. He’d already sacrificed so much of his time for me, a nothing, a wannabe who sat at the feet of a master and licked crumbs that tumbled from the table. He’d given his time to readers, to writers and we’d devoured it like candy, then held out sticky hands begging for more.
The world could not get enough of Terry Kay.
As much as we loved him, his family loved him first, loved him more than we could imagine. To the Kay family, I am forever grateful for your gift, for the generosity in which you shared Terry with us.
Enough has been written about Terry Kay the writer. If you attended readings you’ve heard him recite While Reading. I link it here because the words are powerful. You should read it. Print it out.
You should read. Any book, any genre, worthy of your time, read it. Lesser known authors; read them first. Support those struggling to find a place at the literary table.
My favorite section: While reading, I have climbed mountains lost in clouds.
While reading, I’ve become people I cannot be, doing things I cannot do. And I do not know of any other experience that could have given me such a life—Terry Kay.
If you read any book this year, please pick up a copy of The Book of Marie. Today, I’m choosing to support Adventure Bound Books, a tiny bookstore in rural North Carolina who could really use your help. Call them at 828-475-6955 or text 828- 782-3358. Honor Terry today by placing an order with them, or Mercer University Press.
Happy Birthday Terry in heaven. You are missed, and shall never, ever be forgotten.
Photos taken from Terry’s Website and other public domains.
Order Renea’s debut novel at any of the following links, or through Adventure Bound Books