Tag Archives: Childhood

The Truth Is, I Never Left You

girl with bookWhy do you write?

Have you heard this questions asked of authors in Paris Review or Huffington Post interviews, on reruns of Oprah when she gushed over writers, at readings in bookstores with creaky wooden floors, in a go around at a writing workshop where everyone is sharing stories of their writing like they were talking about their exes? Have you watched Stephen King, Alice Walker, Joyce Carol Oates, John Irving, or some other living legend wax poetic about it on You Tube? Have you asked yourself this in the light of a blank computer screen washing over your oily skin and bloodshot eyes at 3 AM on a weeknight when you have to be out the door for work in another 4 hours? Or at a writing conference with a throng of eager, caffeine-hyped, buzzing, hungry wannabes moving through a hotel hallway to the next session like a swarm of locusts? Or when you reread your journal from 9th grade and realize you’ve been writing about the same issues in the same crapy handwriting for 20, 30 , 40 years? Or at the end (middle, beginning) of a book that makes you salivate and ignore your children and takes your ever loving breath away?

I have tried to answer this question for myself many times but find it nearly impossible to come up with something that doesn’t sound self-indulgent, idiotic or plagiarized. So I’ve started asking myself another question:

Who are you writing for?

Sometimes, like that little boy in The Sixth Sense, I write for dead people. For my mother who was already seeping into my stories before she died and now shows up all the time. For relatives I hardly knew whose lives I have to reconstruct from scattered memories, old photos, overheard gossip. For a few whose suicides have left a hole in the world I would like to fill.

Sometimes I write for my high school classmates so I can attend a reunion with my Pulitzer Prize and my Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. By then most of them will be dead so they will fit into the first category as well.

Sometimes I write for other writers I adore so they will move their collective butts over and say, let this one sit at our table.

But mostly, I write for this girl I know. She is 11, maybe 12. Her hair is straight and cut poorly, bangs falling over the top of thick tortoise shell glasses like a curtain. She wears an oversized sweatshirt – crewneck collar, gunmetal green – it looks like something a janitor would wear. Her body is big, awkward, slumped over in her chair. Her eyebrows are thick, knitting together in a look of confusion, alarm, angst. She is holding a book, and it is the place she goes to be free of everything – her body, her family, her small unremarkable circumstances. This girl is trapped. Paralyzed in a photograph. Voiceless. One of these days, I am going to get her out of there. I am going to find her another way to be free. But meantime, I keep writing. Waiting. Hoping.

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I’m Melting

August. I am seven, eating popsicles with my brother and my cousin RoseAnn. She is a year older than me, skinny and knock-kneed with dark hair wisping out in all directions. At eight she already knows more than I’ll know at fifteen. Her eyes are narrow, hiding things, calculating, shifting. Mine are wide open in a chubby cherub body, big brown satellite dishes unable to filter anything, a constant barrage of beauty, pain, silence, rage, and the static of secrets.

RoseAnn wears denim shorts, a thin green sweater over a tank top and Keds sneakers. I have on a strange  midriff top with multi-colored bric-brac sewn on a ruffled collar. My shorts are red with an elastic waist and my belly sticks out between the ensemble so I look like a cross between Carmen Miranda and Buddha. The popsicles are melting faster than we can eat them. There is slurping and fake burps and we stick out our tongues at each other with lurid exaggerated expressions.  My brother, also a year older than me, tells a joke that I don’t understand but RoseAnn can’t stop laughing so I laugh too. I am sweating. It trickles down my spine and collects in the curve of my lower back and my bangs are plastered to my forehead. RoseAnn is spreading the red dye of the popsicle on her lips, making loud smooching sounds and batting her eyelashes. My brother thinks this is hilarious and he tries it too.

I am about to copy them when I hear a jingle and the click of toenails on the walkway and I see Daisy, a barrel of a hound dog that lives across the street. Daisy’s thick pink tongue hangs from her mouth and her hot breath hits my knees like a dense humid storm cloud. Before I can blink she jumps on me full force and I drop my popsicle. It hits my belly, slides down my shorts and lands on the scorching cement where it begins to melt instantly. Daisy bows her head, shamelessly lapping at the red puddle between us.

We stand for a moment like statues. I can hear insects humming and Daisy’s tongue hitting the pavement and a neighbor’s sprinkler shushing across the lawn and the short tight breathing from my own lungs holding everything in. But I can’t stop it. I start to cry. Big fat tears spill out of me and my nose dribbles snot onto my upper lip and mucus dangles from the side of my mouth tinted pink from the popsicle. I am rubbery and sticky and ugly and alone, choking and hiccuping and letting loose the fury and sadness of Pandora’s box in amazement and in horror. My popsicle is gone.

RoseAnn and my brother look at me with confusion and pity and a little bit of fear. I am alien to them. It is, after all, just a popsicle.

Or maybe it wasn’t.

Maybe it was the shifting and relentless power struggles of childhood. Or the sense of inadequacy, of feeling different and less-than. Or the feeling of being trapped in a body that can’t find comfort. Or maybe it was from the overwhelming glare and shine of perfect moments, and the emptiness they leave behind when they are gone.

Then again, maybe it was just the popsicle.

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