I had a summer of life and death. It sounds melodramatic, but that’s how it was.
For the first two weeks of August, I said good-bye to my father-in-law. Amid numerous complications of numerous illnesses, he chose to discontinue treatment and meet death on his own terms. The family spent those two weeks (and longer) drifting back and forth from the hospital. I experienced a mixture of the reluctance to let go and impatience to move on that I understand is common in these situations; the days pass slowly and there is never enough time. And in the end, I am grieved as I cherish the memory of that very special man. I loved him for all the quirks of his personality, and for helping to make my husband the man he is.
Through all that, I was in the first trimester of my first pregnancy. Trying to find food in the hospital cafeteria that didn’t trigger intense nausea, and anxious under the influence of the first hormonal waves. But excited sometimes guiltily, sometimes purely. The timing felt wrong and right at the same time. Everything changes so monumentally the moment you find out you’re pregnant. Yet for so long, it looks like nothing is really happening. The whole situation was exhausting, but I was able to find the reserves of strength that allow you to move as necessary through each day.
This all adds up to the feeling that I missed the summer of 2012. Besides the four or five weeks of overturned routine that surrounded the death, I’ve had to forego the patio ciders, gin & tonics, and wine that punctuate lazy summer days. There were few hikes, few long bike rides, few camping trips, few evenings on the beach. No fireworks. And now fall is settling in with its slanting sun and crunching leaves. I’ve always looked forward to fall. But it seems that turning inwards is less satisfying when you’ve had none of the hectic inside-out of summer.
At the same time, regret is pointless. The situation can’t be different, so I won’t waste (too much) time on wishes. A summer of life and death leads to profound moments for the soul. You can’t buy that with 100 perfect summer days.
I’ve joined up with a couple of women from work to form a small writing circle. We seem to have similar goals, so we got together to find some encouragement and accountability in each other, and to expand as writers, which includes giving ourselves assignments for the week.
This week we are experimenting with perspectives. One of my weaknesses as a writer has always been the inability to speak from within views I have never held. Ten-plus years of blogging hasn’t done much to encourage me to do otherwise. My typical style of writing doesn’t involve any sustained alternate perspective, and this will be a problem for a project I’m starting to commit to.
But I hit a snag: I’ve rarely been one to follow an assignment to the letter. Which is why I’m 2700 words down a side track and haven’t even started any of the short pieces I agreed to write. Instead, I’m exploring the opposite perspective of a strong old memory, which has me wandering in the mind of a youngish man (mid-20s) struggling with emotions and actions he feels are both inappropriate and justified. The memory is filled with conflict, and I’m not looking so shiny through his eyes. So it’s a bit tough.
That said, this exercise is important for three reasons. One, it gives me practice writing a character I know to have strength and weakness. I’m far too inclined to keep characters one-dimensional, or not really characters at all, so in this, I am forced to acknowledge and play with the roundness of a fictionalized person. Two, it forces me to omit information I know to be true from my perspective, but which he could not have guessed at or would have conveniently ignored. Third, it’s a chance to play with an unreliable narrator. My leading man is not omniscient, though I wasn’t much for keeping secrets from him, and he is far from unbiased. So despite the conflict, I’m enjoying myself and exorcising a few demons along the way.
You won’t get to read this story, even if I can manage to tell it with some skill. The events are too personal, too identifiable to anyone who knew me then, and I’m not interested in dredging the past out of its murky depths. The point is not to share the product. The point is to use what I have created (and will create in subsequent drafts) as training for the stories I don’t yet know need to be told. Which feels very much like moving forward.
It is not the specifics of you. Though your voice creeps down my ear canal with cello-string stealth and leans arms-crossed smirks against my tiniest bones. Though your mouth twists from cynical symphony to delighted melody in unexpected wit. Though our words bounce in complex rhythms against the dried taut skin between your mind and mine. These are not why.
You are part of an awakening. I blame the spring, the green, the shedding of insulation. I blame new eyes that are old eyes. I blame the stretching, strengthening muscles that mean less than an unfolding of a reconstituted heart. I blame sounds and songs and remembering how to play. Like this. I blame eyes and lips I may have loved once upon a time and never reconciled.
You are catalyst and coincident. Forgive me I can’t give you more than that.