I’m a novelist, a teller of tales. And an infrequent poet. While waiting for my career to blossom, I keep bread on the table by writing true stories about real people. Not my first love, but I don’t mind, partly because people are so darned interesting—especially the ones who don’t think they are—and partly because I never met a person who wouldn’t make a great secondary character.
Sixty percent of my life is lived inside my head. Probably more. You’ve heard the phrase a world of ideas? That describes a writer’s brain. Imagine a cosmos chockablock with characters and snatches of dialogue and plot lines aborning, and you have the general idea.
How do you come up with all those story ideas?
How do you not?
How do you see a woman running for a bus and not start to spin tales about the whys and wherefores and the dramatic turn her life might take if she misses that bus on that one never-to-be-repeated day? How do you look at a live oak, uppermost branches gray in the predawn, lower leaves splashed yellow by a streetlight, and not wonder, “How would I describe that so someone could see it, really see it, through my words?”
That’s the world I live in. I’m comfortable in that world. Maybe not mistress of all I survey, because characters tend to develop minds of their own, and plot lines kink in the strangest ways and places, but I have a semblance control. A say in the matter, at least.
The other 40% of my life? The part lived outside my head? A crap-shoot. Hardly any say-so, and I never know what the day might bring. Most the time, it brings same-old-same-old, once in a while a providential break, occasionally a rubber-meets-road rendezvous.
The puddle-jumper to Houston was late. An hour and a half late. I can’t explain why I got mad about the delay … it’s not like I was looking forward to the trip. The reason for my perverse peevishness didn’t get any clearer with altitude, but I did eventually figure out my main problem.
Before I boarded that plane, I could keep the fact that she was dying at a distance. Author it out: finesse the adjectives, massage the reality to almost bearable. But now US Airways was ferrying me toward the undeniable fact of the matter. The planes kept flying west, one leg after another, always west, until finally, they spat me out into the last jetway and flew off again, leaving me with cold feet and nowhere to run. Leaving me to face her last days without my thesaurus to soften the blow.
So I sat beside her bed and waited with her. I held her hand and rarely spoke, except maybe to reminisce, when she was able, or to tell her again that I loved her. And sometimes I prayed.
But the work went on even so. My mind ran ahead of the reality it couldn’t quite face, sketching her portrait, assembling all the words I’d use to tell you about her when she was gone. How she was small and funny and stubborn, and how my barracks-mates used to wait for the letters she wrote, wait with the kind of anticipation usually reserved for the next Harry Potter novel. Yes, Mom’s letters were that good.
She would laugh if you called her a writer, but her laughter wouldn’t make the compliment any less true.
For that and a thousand other reasons, I miss you, Mom.
And did I remember to say, “I love you?”