Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who I Am

Every once in awhile the urge to write comes upon me with such a fearsome, weighty demand, that it honestly feels like something alive inside of me. It trickles into my day, pounds into my dreams, and basically refuses to let up until I put pen to paper or fingers to keys.

It came on me tonight while reading. This happens often enough, although it always annoys me. After all, I’m not escaping into someone else’s head just to have my own intrude. But, then again, I suppose I shouldn’t complain, because I honestly don’t know who I would be without it. It’s been there for as long as I can remember.

Stories…and the complete and utter ownership of stories has been with me from the beginning…

My memory is strong, I know I have things in my head that I shouldn’t. Things that happened before I was even three years of age. But I know they are real, and they’re imprinted upon me as clearly as the birthmark on my chest.

To go back the few short decades to when I was in kindergarten is nothing…

I remember the smell of finger paints and children that didn’t get the opportunity to wash as much as I did. I remember the day my teacher removed one of the X’s against my name from the board so that I was allowed to play with the others. My memory of that time was not harbored by most of the self-hate that lives in me now. I was a purer person then, someone who didn’t know what it meant to be attractive or not…to be cared for or not.

It wasn’t until first grade that things really took a turn for me. That’s the first time I ever remember having a conscious understanding of my outer appearance. My “shell,” if you will. There’s no other way to say it, other than it shocked me. I remember looking into a mirror and being shocked. Maybe it was in comparison to all the others that were there…to finally be in a classroom where I was not the minority. I’m not really sure, because certainly there had been mirrors in my life every day long before then.

I just don’t remember.

Disappointment was my first reaction to myself. I was neither blond nor blue-eyed like so many of the Floridian children who occupied my same space. Everyone was of some level of tan, for certain, but nothing like the children I knew in the poverty stricken place we’d lived before. The idea that I wasn’t supposed to talk with the boys or the children who weren’t white made absolutely no sense to me. Why? What, after all, was so very different about us?

I didn’t understand.

Perhaps that’s why my teacher wanted to hold me back. Hmm, I’m reading that last sentence just now wondering if I’ve ever said that out loud before. Out of all my silly little secrets…is this really the only one I’ve never told? Huh, well, cat’s out of the bag now, my friends. My teacher thought I was having too many problems finishing my work on time…getting my head wrapped around what it was we were supposed to do. I know this, because my mother told me. I’d be lying if I said I knew it was before or after I changed, but I’d wager that it was before simply based on the outcome.

I suddenly was the very best in my class. I answered everything first and turned in everything first and got my head a little bit more out of the dreamland it had been in. I still mourn that loss in small ways. Such as in the way I refuse to stop dreaming extreme, completely realized dreams. Or the way I’m as obsessed with language and texture the way only the very young seem to be. I constantly have to remind myself not to touch paintings while I’m at a museum…and…at my very first visit to a cemetery, how I could not keep the corroding oils of my hands off the tombstones at any cost.

I imagined myself—or rather, the aura that I feel around myself—reaching…reaching down and out, trying to sense something there other than myself. I had anticipated a certain…anger?...evil? Not really sure, exactly, but something dark and regretful, for certain.

Instead I found something that felt a lot like peace. Not peace like the end of a war or trouble, but a peace that comes from a silent hug from someone you care for indeterminately. That comes from being in the same room with someone you know you’ll love for your entire life regardless of race, sex, or creed. I felt calm among the graves of those past. Calm in a way I have not felt for a very long time.

But I digress… We were talking about writing, were we not? Writing, and the needs it sometimes springs up in me…

The desire to succumb to the will of the demand to write isn’t always even. Sometimes it seems far more important than others. Sometimes I can push it back, jot down a note or two and be done with the entire situation.

But it never lets me go for that long.

(Most of you haven’t gotten through the entirety of my manuscript for Atsou. For those of you that have, this will probably make more sense. Either way, I’ve got a story to tell and nothing—I think—is going to stop me. Right, on we go, then.)

The very first day I entered the city of Las Vegas I fell ill. Fever, throat the size of a Texas thunderstorm—the whole shebang. It wasn’t something I let get to me until after I’d found the place I was going to live…and pretty much had the entire thing lock-stock-and barrel. (This also, incidentally, came after going to a pet shop and seeing a very perfect Stag colored Min Pin.)

That night, half insane with my sickness, I dreamt about a plain that had gone terribly wrong. I dreamt of dodging bullets…of a sliding glass door that I was so very desperate to reach. The door exploded in flying shards of glass just as my hand made contact with the curved, rectangular handle. No matter, I jumped through the newly empty frame and hauled ass for the fence line.

Because, whoever was tossing bullets my way hadn’t finished and wouldn’t—I believed—until I was dead. With wounds in my side, thigh, and face, I dragged myself up onto the top of the fence and walked the skinny connected wood like an acrobat. Feeling the dread of my own death…my energy as it sapped free from my body…I somehow managed to spot the road and my escape. Carefully, barely even considering the bullets now, I ran towards the road.

The buzz of multiple motorcycle engines roared, and somewhere in my head, I remember I thought, ‘Oh, thank God; I’m saved.’ I half jumped and half fell down to the asphalt, dragged myself onto the back of the motorcycle with only one person on it. I had a cursorily thought for the people that I’d killed inside…for my gratitude that the smallish boy in my position on the other bike was alive. Then I held on for dear life to the man in front of me, and started to cry.

For anyone who’s read Atsou, that scene will be undoubtedly familiar.

I woke up knowing exactly who everyone was. Knowing that the man on the bike that I’d held onto so dearly was the brother of my ex-husband—a man I’d wanted from the time I was a tiny girl. The entirety of the thing sprang up around me, without any sort of ambiguity.

The only thing I didn’t know was her name. The her whose eyes I’d looked through in the dream. I knew her name was different, something you hadn’t heard a million times, something not quite real. Yet it wasn’t until I climbed aboard the plane home and started to jot down notes that finally it came to me.


Her name was Manhattan. Her rescuer liked to call her Matty, and her husband—well, ex-husband really—generally stuck to terms of endearment that highlighted the distance in their ages. I knew the strange relationship between the three, the connection between the smallish boy on the back of the second bike and Manhattan.

But that’s where it ended.

I spent a very long time away from Manhattan and Lucas and Dean and their strange, confusing lives. I was caught in another story…one that had assaulted me for a very long time prior. One that I’d written while in the company of family and friends…that had lead me to fill four or five spiral bound notebooks.

Finally, I reached a point where the things I read had been read enough and the things I’d done had been done enough, and I’d taken out my brand new (direct from ebay's stores, a circa 1990’s IBM laptop) and started typing out the story of Manhattan and her spygame. I honestly have no idea where it would have gone from there if my mother had not read the pages I’d already written.

Only 20 or 30 so pages in, I could have walked away at any time. But she’d clamped a hold of it and nothing was going to stop her from finding out what happened next. Other things came up, of course, life and other stories being just two very small examples. Regardless, I trudged along, typing out chapter after chapter for my mother. Then…so suddenly and wonderfully…for Lauren as well. A even got into the mix at one point.

More than 500 pages later the story I started—that they helped me finish—is done and ready to be held accounted for. I suppose my own fear holds me back from the final submission. For me to simply say, “Alright, off you go,” and send the thing into the hands of various parties. (It’s much like, I feel the need to note, my fears about having children.)

I honestly thought I was done with that story. A silly inclination that was quickly recounted by a clear, almost word-for-word account that I received while spending a completely uneventful twenty-minutes in the shower. Who knew?

Manhattan’s children have taken up the reins in my mental chambers, occasionally bashed around by other characters of other stories and dreams.

And, while the fate of their mother’s story is still uncertain, they have consistently taken the time to speak to me. Tyranny [Manhattan’s daughter] is rattling the bars of my mental cage, as I like to say…with London [Manhattan’s son] not all that far after her. Tee is just a whole lot more of a hell raiser than her brother…so I simply hear her loudest.


So this, my friends, is why I write. Not for the response or the imagined ideas of a truly secure and happy future. No, indeed, not at all. I write for the same reason I act. For the same reason I sing when the mood hits me, or dance across the floor from one space to another.

I am writing. I cannot imagine a me without it. Nor an existence where I could give it up without some awful sacrifices on my heart…on my soul. I am a writer as much as I am a person. As much as I am a thinker and a care-giver and a smart girl who would much rather just be a daydreamer.

It is who I am.

Next time I'll give y'all a work, school, and social update... until then...


Quote of the Moment: [regarding an away message that involved tacos] “Can't bunch of guys get together and eat Mexican without people thinking it involves tits?”
Soundtrack of the Moment: Britney Spears, “Gimme More”
TV/Movie Quote: 3:10 to Yuma: [After Byron insults Bens mother, Ben shoots him] Ben Wade: I've always liked you Byron, but even bad men love their mommas.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Told you Matty reminded me of you. :-)