When I was in college, I found myself sitting in the grove of trees by the classroom building with a friend. We'd just left our class on Ibsen, Strindberg, and Mann, and we weren't very happy. How could we have been? In Ibsen's Ghosts, Oswald was just crying out for "the sun," and so were we. The sun hadn't been out for a month, the dank Tulle fog all around us like, well, dank Tulle fog.
It was there that my friend proceeded to tell me a story that almost made me jump out of my skin. she must have needed to tell me, letting me into the dark side of her life, a life that maybe had a window seat of light in it. I was 22-years-old and hadn't heard much at that point. In later years, I tried to write about my reaction to her story in poetry, essay, and short story, until Grace Paley told me that I wasn't able to write about it because it wasn't my story.
"It's hers to tell," she said, so I never tried again.
And the fact is, by then, ten years later, the story didn't seem as bizarre and horrible and sick as it had in 1984 in the winter fog and chill. Maybe I had taken in her story and Ibsen's and Strindberg's and Mann's, sort of a Death in Turlock kind of thing, and made it this big black ball of a story that seemed to haunt me. It was a group literary haunting, with her story in the lead.
But yesterday, I realized that people can tell me anything, and I pretty much accept it all. In the course of reading 15 student essays during conferences, I learned about dead mothers and siblings and alcoholic fathers and disturbed sisters. I learned about lost blue cars and anorexia nervosa, and pretty much what I did when I heard these facts was nod and say, "Great detail."
I don't think I'm desensitized, but the fact is, I don't think much is secret in human life. Or needs to be, really. Letting it out, putting it on the page, saying what is true is so freeing. Of course, we need to think about our audience, and that's why I didn't tell you my friend's story. It might have shocked you, there on the web page. And besides, as Grace said, it isn't mine to tell. The only part of the story that is mine is the part of the girl on the bench listening to her friend.
Yesterday afternoon as the rain hurled down from the sky, one student and I got into a discussion about writing "she passed."
I said, "What? Did she get an A?"
"It's not very clear, is it? Passed," the student said.
No, it's not clear, not even when we say death. But it's clearer, more true, more real, more freeing to admit the loss to the world and move through and past it into the story, into the memory, into the rest of the time without the person who passed.
"Write died," I said. "Write 'he died.'"
She took down some notes, and I sat there waiting for the next detail, the details this student pulled from her life, a pulling that might have felt like death. But here she was, still alive, talking about it with me.
"Okay," she said. "What else?"
Causes Jessica Inclan Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org