When my best friend Gwen suddenly died just two months into our last semester of high school, I felt disconnected from everything. I was totally shattered, so completely broken by the loss that I was unable to engage meaningfully with anyone or even summon the energy to be mentally present in my own life. My mind felt like a shaken snow globe, my thoughts thrown into cloudy tumult. Nothing was able to slice through the haze.

I didn’t write for months after her death. Being creative had always been an outlet for me, but without Gwen there to pry about my latest projects or talk short stories with me, there was just no urge to make anything. My early attempts at writing in the aftermath sounded so horrifically stiff and hollow, so indicative of how fragile I still was, that I shoved my passion aside and allowed myself to go without the very thing that probably would have helped me contextualize my experience. I was a creative void, I thought. All of the emotion and imagination had been scooped out of me.

It was nearly a year later that I finally read something that made me feel like writing again. While I had made significant progress since losing Gwen, I was still in a daze and in need of something to imbue my shaken snow globe world with much-needed clarity. What finally allowed the dust to settle was a play. I hadn’t read a play since the obligatory Shakespeare readings in high school English and initially doubted I would have much interest in reading this one, even if it had been written by someone whose previous work I had admired. 

But as soon as I opened my copy of “Spacebar: A Broadway Play by Kyle Sugarman” — written by Michael Mitnick, who has penned some other great plays and co-wrote one of my favorite musicals, “Fly By Night” — something inside of me snapped into place. I finally felt engaged. I was laughing out loud in places, tearing up in others, putting the play down for brief moments so that I could collect myself before moving on to the next line. It was the kind of deeply affecting, emotionally satisfying experience that had eluded me ever since Gwen’s death. 

My reaction to “Spacebar” transcended my mere enjoyment of it as an entertaining, excellently-written piece of drama. The play opens with a bleakly comedic scene in which protagonist Kyle, who is no more than four at the time, is told by his father that his sister has suddenly died. This moment struck me hard, so much so that I momentarily thought I wouldn’t be able to continue, but I kept reading and found myself immediately invested. As the play goes on, a now 16-year-old Kyle has written a 500 page play called “Spacebar.” Even though it is completely, logistically unfit for production, he sends it to Broadway anyway. His determination and ambition are instantly endearing, but what affected me so deeply was the circumstances under which Kyle wrote his play. He later explains that when his father left a few months ago, the only thing he could do was sit down and write this play. “It poured out of my heart,” he says in a line that emotionally eviscerated me during my first read.

The idea of channeling complicated feelings into a creative work and that work being treated as holding value spoke to me like nothing else had in the months following Gwen’s death. I had been so hesitant to write, to take that first vulnerable step and let something pour out of my heart, but after finishing “Spacebar” and setting it aside, I found myself reaching for my notebook. I felt like writing again.

“Spacebar” is special not just because of what it did for me, but because of how it treats the art we make, especially when that art comes from a place of trauma and loss. Even though Kyle’s play is objectively insane, his passion is never ridiculed. In the end, he is rewarded for his hard work and enthusiasm. Working through painful feelings and using art to cope with them is by no means a novel concept, but “Spacebar” makes it feel powerful through its sweet protagonist and thoroughly entertaining story. I always come away from rereading “Spacebar” wanting to create, embracing rather than fearing the strong emotions that will power the process.

Losing Gwen was the worst thing ever to happen to me. Because of “Spacebar,” I am finally starting to translate those overwhelming feelings into writing — in fact, I’m even tackling a play of my own, centered around the special kind of loss that is losing a best friend. I love this play, but even more importantly, I love what this play has to say. And I will never be afraid of letting something pour out of my heart again.