My brother and I made our dad’s headstone ourselves. We bought a bag of Quikrete from Home Depot. We built a form, poured the cement, and carefully pressed metal letters in as the slab cured. We kept the words simple; Loyd’s name, relevant dates, and a fragment of his favorite poem. If you love something, set it free.
When I was younger, I might have told you we made our own headstone for some aesthetic or emotional reason. That the physical labor was a tribute to our dad’s hard life and the way he seemed made for bodily struggle. If I ain’t hurtin’, I ain’t livin’, he used to say. Truth is, we made our own headstone because we were broke, and Loyd left us no money. We couldn’t pay for a funeral with the dozens of antler sheds he’d collected on his daily walks in the woods or the tomatoes he grew in his magnificent garden. We couldn’t sell the trailer-shack he’d been living in, built on land that did not belong to him. It was either homemade or no headstone at all.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about assimilation. Often, those of us who’ve grown up below the federal poverty line spend years erasing ourselves. If we manage to migrate out of poverty, we do so at a cost. It seems the gatekeepers of academia, and of literature, only want to hear our stories if we make a spectacle of our people or give up our own voices to tell our stories in the language of the advantaged. Growing up poor means that we are taught, every day and in a million tiny ways, that our families are wrong, our speech is ugly, our stories shameful.
This is why the Pacific Northwest Book Award means so much to me.
About fifteen years after I made my dad’s headstone, I began to make rough house. I think I was curious about Loyd but also wanted power over him. In writing, I discovered a sense of responsibility and a desire to reach survivors who might recognize themselves in my story.
Class is a powerful interpreter, and poor people are often defined by their very worst acts. As a child, I heard terms like deadbeat dad, tweaker, trailer trash, and I understood those words applied to me. Loyd was a logger, often addicted and always precariously housed, who roamed across small timber and mill towns of the Pacific Northwest. I sometimes lived in shelters he built. I often witnessed his violence. I always felt his love. Stuck in a lifelong migration between sobriety and chaos, Loyd was forever starting over.
Loyd hurt me countless ways. But he also made wonder and beauty family values. I deserve to remember him in full— and to keep the gifts he gave. With rough house, I wanted to be curious, to observe that past life, to consider the landscapes Loyd invited me to explore and the sometimes terrible, but often beautiful, lessons he taught.
I hoped that the book might help readers remember the magic and joy of their own people, not just the hardship. Of course, reaching readers required me to let go, to release the story. So, like my dad’s headstone says, I set it free. I put this thing I made into the hands of some of the people I trust most in this world— you, the indie booksellers of the Pacific Northwest.
Letters from readers tell me you have taken good care of rough house. One wrote that she found comfort in my pages because she was also “raised by wolves.” Another worried she would be triggered, her own story so similar to my mother’s. Instead she felt seen, less alone. A woman I admire said rough house gave her permission to love her addicted mother and “rest from hating my own ‘broken’ places.” Sometimes, a letter will mention the bookstore that recommended rough house and I am reminded, again, of your role in this connection.
Books let us share experience outside the confines of space or time. Reader and writer meet in a magic place. It feels like a miracle each time I learn that another human being has read my book. I know that you are the makers of that miracle. I am deeply grateful.