Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not Your Story To Tell

Whose story is it anyway? As a writer, the world is my oyster. As a wife and mother, not so much. What I say impacts the people I love. Even if it's not about them per se.
I heard Amy Bloom, perhaps my favorite author, read last week. She said when she sits to write, she pretends no one else exists in the world. (The World!)And I think you can tell. She writes nervy, nuanced pieces about seemingly real, often sexual, always emotional-- people. Perhaps that is why she writes mostly fiction. So she has the freedom to honor the depths of her imagination. However, as any fiction writer can tell you; people always assume the story has kernels of the truth. Whether that is true or not (I'm going with not) to explore the layers of unconventional humanity takes courage.
Let's dig deeper.
Hypothetical situation. You're a woman. You have a lot of interests. You love your husband. Your kids. Art. The city where you live. People watching. The drama and sentimentality of an imperfect healthcare bill. Hip hop. Romantic comedies.
You were never the kind of mother who fretted over a tumble at the playground. Sometimes you don't get your kids flu shots-- not out of calculation, but apathy and disorganization.
You're a go with the flow mom.
You don't know when the geometry test is, or exactly what day spring break ends.
But you do know your kid's best friends, favorite character on their favorite show, the last time they cried and why. You know their quirks. What will piss them off. Or make them laugh. Or both. You are involved, but respect their independence. Their privacy. The value of them being bored. Even, of lying.
And then one day, your first born is mugged.
He calls you right after it happens. He's made it to his destination (You didn't really want him to go, but you didn't want him to miss out either, so you said yes.) He tells you he just got his phone taken. He's with his friends now. There were two guys. Bigger than him. One asked the time, the other grabbed him from behind. He's fine now, but you can tell, if his friends weren't around, he would cry. He doesn't want you to over react. Or scream. Or cry, which is exactly what you want to do. But he wants you to make him feel safe again. He doesn't say this; but you know.
You remember many things at once. You remember about pushing him into this world. How hard it was. How your very kind midwife, doula, best friend, husband, all looked at you and said, you can do it. He's coming. I see him. One more time. And you loved their voices. You needed their voices to help you help this baby be born. Until the moment he was. And they got him to you and you held him, still bloody and you said, shhhhhhh, because you knew more than you had ever known anything, that this baby needed silence. Shhhh, you said it again. And then you moved in to say something to him, but really, you just felt his cheek on yours. You didn't speak aloud, but you told him, he was okay. You were there. And he was.
You remember the time he was pushed at the playground. A bigger two year old didn't follow the routine: wait on line, climb up the ladder, slide down the slide. This deviant pushed his way up and past him, and your boy looked at you in utter confusion. What is going on, your boy seemed to ask. He knew the routine was Wait on line, climb ladder, slide down; so why this chaos? Using little words for your big boy-- you explained the world to him. But the damage was done. There is disorder.

Your boy is on the phone, waiting for you to tell him what to do. You hear his friends being silly in the background. You want to kill them. How can they have happiness in their voices when you know that your boy has just been scared.
Go to your friend's house you tell him. Call me from there.
You call your husband. You are prepared to tell the woman who answered the phone that it is an emergency, but you don't need to, he picks up right away.
XXX has been mugged you say. You answer his questions. You tell your scared/logical husband where your son is. You formulate a plan. Then you sob, my baby's been mugged.
I'm coming home your husband says. You are glad.
Parents whose children have died come to mind. Children with cancer, abducted children, victims of car crashes, overdoses, pedophilia war-- all swim in your mind. You feel for the first time in a very real way: that love hurts too much. It's unbearable, you think: this not being able to protect your baby.
Your husband makes it home in record time. While driving to get your boy, he cancels phones, fights with companies about policies. He does what he does--tries to fix things. You both know; very little can be fixed.
You thank God. You really, really thank God, the whole time not wanting to bring too much attention to how fucking lucky you are. You beg God not to let cancer, abduction, car crashes, overdoses, pedophilia and war come anywhere near your litter.
You even pray for the boys who mugged your baby. If they had hurt him; you would not have done this. But you are grateful. Things could have been so much worse.
You knock on the door. You want your kid. You are surprised his friends are not all talking about what has happened. In fact, they are watching TV. Eating pizza. Boys are not like girls, you think.
In the elevator, he doesn't want to talk. You think this is because he doesn't want to cry.
You can tell he is frightened, still. This makes you want to hurt someone. He is as tall as you, but you want to envelope him. Make him hold on. Make him not let go.
You do stupid things. You buy him a new phone. You should take him to the police; but you don't until the next day.
You balance your need to swoop in and process, with his need to watch Japanese animation and separate.
You notice he doesn't eat much for dinner.
You fail to notice, neither do you.
The night takes care of itself. You talk to your mother. You take a bath. Your husband and you keep looking at each other; feeling lucky and nauseous at the same time.
Your son keeps coming in to make contact. Talk a little. Then not talk anymore.
You want to tell everyone you know. In time, you do.
You notice some people speak about the economy. Others, self defense. You feel foolish that your kid has an expensive phone. Annoyed when someone mentions an old study about criminals all picking the same photos of an easy mark. You hope no one tells your kid about this.
You don't want him to take side streets. Or go out alone. Or go out at all.
But you know this would not be good for him, so you make him meet his friends. You make him go out without you.
You know, as you've never really known before: you are powerless.
Because you are an artist, a writer, an extrovert; you want to share your experience.
Because you are a mother; you know this is not your story to tell.


  1. This is an outstanding piece!

  2. Two days after my son was born, I sat rocking him in my arms and cried. I felt as if I could not protect him the way he was protected when he was in my womb.