Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Monday, March 12, 2012
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Sunday, January 8, 2012
This morning, I went to the grocery store. It was a simple thing to do, something I have done countless other mornings. Something I did last year, this same day. January 8th. Last year I left the house to go to the grocery store; only, first I was stopping to meet a new friend for coffee. You know what happened next; I wrote about it here, last year. My new friend and I shared a coffee across the parking lot from the shooting. I stared out the window at the first responders as they pulled up, having no idea what had happened, at first.
After my friend and I parted ways that morning, I stopped at the grocery store, just the way I’d planned (not THE Safeway, mind you, but another store, a block away). It was such a simple thing to do, a silly thing almost. I probably should’ve gone straight home. But instead I found myself walking around the store aimlessly, piling things in my cart without really paying attention to what they were or what I needed. I paid; I drove home. I put the groceries away. My hands were shaking. I was numb. The next morning, I could not find half the things I bought at the store, things that were recorded on my receipt as paid for. I checked the car, called the store. Nothing. Half the groceries were gone. In hindsight, I suspect I might have accidentally thrown them away in my stupor rather than putting them away. Because two or three bags of groceries, couldn’t just disappear.
I thought about it this morning. It has been a year, I told myself. And that is the detail I recalled first: the missing groceries. Already, my memory of that morning has become fragmented and hazy, fogged over with shock, I guess. Then I recalled driving back to the store the next day to re-buy the things I’d lost. They were easy to reclaim; they were only things after all. Food. But other things were not so easy for me. Walking back into that grocery store again, the next day, I was suddenly afraid. Anything could happen. Any time. Any place. I felt exposed. I felt that way for weeks, possibly months, this horrible sinking feeling every time I had to leave my house to go out into the world. Worse, I’d imagine how the people closer than I had been were feeling, and I couldn’t comprehend it. I still can’t.
I didn’t write for a while last winter. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but that at first, I couldn’t. I had no words; no stories to tell that seemed worth telling. I read a lot of news, especially about the shooting and the victims, how they were doing, how they were moving on. I stared at a blank Microsoft Word document for weeks. I have always been good at writing my emotions, and so I kept pushing myself just to write something, just to make myself write through it somehow. I knew it would help me. But for a little while, I couldn’t write anything.
Last spring my words came back. Slowly, I forced myself to begin a new novel. At first, I thought I would write a novel about a shooting – because it was what I was thinking about, what I was feeling. I would do what I was good at, writing my emotions. But a few chapters in, I couldn’t do it. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe it will always be too soon?
Then I started something else. Something I’ve been wanting to write for a long time but wasn’t sure how, and then suddenly, I was. I was sure of nothing else but this. I was breathing again. I was writing again. The words were all there, and so were the emotions. -- my new character was experiencing so much of what I had, loss and grief, and also, hope.
After I began writing again, I fell into the story. I slept it, ate it dreamt, obsessed over it, and then, the fear slowly began to subside. Going to the grocery store became just going to the grocery store again.
This morning, I went to the grocery store. I wasn’t afraid anymore. But I was filled with an overwhelming sense of sadness. It has been a year. It feels like a lifetime, or maybe, only hours. My memory is already fragmented, but that doesn't mean I will ever forget.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
Ten years ago, when 9/11 happened, I was in graduate school. Yesterday, I was trying to remember that time, that week, and very little of it comes back to me. I know I was sad and terrified and numb, even though I was living across the country from the terror attacks and didn’t personally know anyone who’d been affected. I remember a sense of shock, the feeling that nothing would ever be the same, but I can only remember this in the vaguest sense. Was school cancelled? I was teaching, but what did I say to my students? I have no idea.
There is one odd thing I remember vividly, though. Maybe it was the day the attacks happened or the day after or later that week, but I was sitting in a fiction workshop class. It must’ve been the first one we had in this new world, because the professor, an older and slightly frightening man who I felt would never understand me or my writing (and mostly, I was right about that part), sat in front of the class and began by saying this: So let’s talk about what happened.
It seemed obvious what he was going to talk about, what everyone was talking about then. But then he said something else: “My dog died,” he confessed, “and I can’t get over it.” He went on to talk about how his dog, who’d been with him for years, had passed away over the weekend or maybe on 9/11 – that much I can’t remember now. “I know I should be sadder about 9/11 than about my dog,” he said. “So many people died. But I didn’t know any of them.” Then he added. “My dog was with me for so many years. My house is so empty without her.”
Maybe because it was a fiction writing workshop, and because he felt he was dedicated to teaching us, even when none of us were in the mood for learning, he added that there was a writing lesson in this. “It’s the smallest tragedies that are the ones worth writing about,” he told us.
At the time, it sounded all wrong to me. I couldn’t comprehend what he was saying, or why he was saying it then. I am an animal lover, but still, it felt like the wrong conversation to be having at the time. There were so many other things to say, to think about, to worry about, to mourn.
Yet, something about it has stuck with me all these years later. When I think about the days and weeks surrounding 9/11, this is one of the only things I remember with clarity. In fact, this is one of the only things I remember from two years worth of intense and soul-crushing writing workshops with clarity. Why?
The new book I’ve been working on takes place against the backdrop of an enormous historical tragedy, yet the story I am choosing to tell is a deeply singular and personal story of one woman’s loss. I’m finding the best part of writing it is in the details of this one particular woman and the people closest to her who she has lost and loved.
And I keep thinking about this one professor telling my class about how his dog died on 9/11, how it’s the smallest of tragedies that are worth writing about.
Is he right?