Saturday, October 29, 2011

I hope this leaves a bruise

Today I visited my hometown of Woodstock, Vermont to see my friend Elissa. She was sitting on the floor of her parent's living room with her baby, Eli, lunging around on her lap. It was starting to snow outside. We were both down, totally at the bottom of the heap. Actually, that's not fair- she could have been having a terrific day, but I was being so pathetic that I just yanked her down with me as soon as I came in.

"Really, nothing much new here," she told me. She offered me chips out of a bag. "...The other night Eli rammed me with his head so hard, right in the face. I thought I was going to get a shiner."

"Yeah," I said, "something like that happened to me a few weeks ago. I was walking back to my bed from the bathroom, it was the middle of the night, and I just slammed into the wall. It was a corner of the wall, so the right side of my face just took the whole hit. I was certain I was going to have a black eye, but nothing came of it."

Elissa shrugged. Since I met her as a 12 year old, she has always been sublimely straightforward. She studied one of Eli's hands, brushing something off his fingers. "If it had left a bruise, then I could have written about it."

I knew exactly what she meant. The night I walked into the wall, I fell back in bed with raging pain in my face. I felt like I'd broken my cheekbone. At the same time I felt so relieved because I thought it would be this big, prominent bruise and I'd have something to write about. People would react to it and it would become a story: the time I knocked myself out in the middle of the night. My readers were just coming down from the bloody eye ball E.Coli incident, a black eye would be a perfect second act.

But it never developed into a bruise. No bruise, no story.

I used to have this boyfriend who became really terrible to me. He was just a nasty person; he'd cut me down and say things to me that were actually pretty cruel. There are some specific incidents where, looking back on it now, I can't even fathom why someone would act that way. But it never got to me back then. It was like, these is his thing, not mine. This is the way his own issues are surfacing, and it's got nothing to do with who I am or what I'm doing. My parents love me, I'm from a stable home, I'm very confident and this shit means nothing.

Of course, the fact remains that I didn't leave him for a while. Even though I never let it make me feel bad about myself, I wasn't smart enough to just go. I think I looked at it almost academically, like "I wonder what's making him say this stuff, I wonder why he's acting this way." And the kicker, the Achilles heal of so many women: "If I can figure him out I can probably help hem."

That was stupid. But it didn't really effect me then on a surface level. In hindsight, I was crashing into the same wall every day, but it never left a bruise.

This is a problem now, as I'm writing up stories for my book proposal. Because "yeah, that happened, it didn't bother me too much" is not a story. For it to be worthy of writing, there has to be blood. You have to be running away in the middle of the night, but then you end up going off the road at the end of the driveway and you have to hide in the car and suddenly it's funny.

There's something really menacing, disturbing, about a thing that absolutely should get to you and it doesn't. It's like the other side of depression. You know those ads that show a wind-up woman looking in the mirror and it says "Do you find that you can't enjoy good things any more?" It's the flip side of that: you're watching something in your life go to shit and you just ignore it, you accept it.  You turn over in bed and go back to sleep.

I try to keep that in mind, whenever something really kills. Whether in a funny way or an excruciating way. If it's leaving a scar somewhere, then you are processing it. It will be a story some day. It will be worth it.


elissa said...

and see? even without the shiner, you found a way to write about it.

Melina said...

Because of you, Miss.

Anonymous said...

This is intense and powerful for me to read at this moment in my life. Thank you for saying what I've had a hard time even thinking, much less speaking out loud.

Melina said...

Best of luck. xo

kirida said...

I think we all need a terrible boyfriend to remind us of the good men and people out there and how even as awful as they are, we always emerge better for it, no matter how long it took us to surface. You are amazing, Lina.

Mike O said...

I think absolutely, yes, to everything that you wrote.

YES we all take shit we should not take.

YES we get out of it stronger, and generally it's always better to feel it NOW as opposed to let it fester somewhere, deep inside, which leads to very destructive things. The worse is when you have destructive habits and you don't know from where they stem and you have to go searching. That's therpay. That's $$.

Melina said...

Mona- thank you...I love when you comment.

Mike- yes, and some people assume writing is therapeutic. Not for all of us!

Anonymous said...

This is the problem with writing non-fiction. I recently published my memoir about how I used my ski patrolling skills to get through my husband's terrible diagnosis. People now ask me, so what's next? Are you going to write another memoir. And I just think, God, I hope not. I hope I don't have another story to tell that's this big. Instead, perhaps I'll work on a novel.

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano said...

I think Elissa nailed it. You wrote about it, and it's intriguing, because your voice is strong. Subtler stories may take more skill to tell, but they're the stories most of us live. Skillfully told, they illuminate the crevices that the big stories can't.

Lee Timmons said...

Oh man, Melina, there's this passage in Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, and you need to read it. Well, you'd probably enjoy the whole collection. If you haven't already. But this one, number eight. The kicker is this:
"Were it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches, and yet a little way beyond the outworks of our divining, perhaps we would endure our sadnesses with greater confidence that our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent."
Also, number four is quite good.

Megan (Best of Fates) said...

I think that so. freaking. often.

So much so that now my friends will often go, "well, at least it'll be a blog post!"

It's truly a magnificent form of therapy.

Adriana Iris said...

i love when our pen is our sword...
thanks for the email now if i can get around

Melina said...

Hi Mega: "So much so that now my friends will often go, "well, at least it'll be a blog post!"

Yup, that sounds familiar. My friends often say it with a glint of wariness these days..


Melina said...

AUTUMN! I'm so glad you visited, I loved meeting you at the conference!


Melina said...


it sounds like....we should go out for dinner someday and talk. If you're reading stuff like that and it resonates, then we'll get along.


Lee Timmons said...

agreed. all that reading and writing and picture-taking and kayaking and climbing... i'm moving to the portland area in 2 months. and i'm bringing allllll my books.

lorri said...

I've always felt this way about adventures. Whether backpacking, climbing or paddling, I always felt like no one really cares to hear the stories about how everything went well. But if you get lost, have an epic swim,eat raw lentils cause you ran out of fuel, those tend to be the good stories. Funny how that works. Maybe it just helps it suck less at the time, just knowing you'll be able to get some mileage out of it when it's over.

Melina said...

Lorri! So true! I have this amazing story about freezing to near death in the woods when I was 15 and getting 3rd degree frostbite on my toes. And the look on the faces of my friends when they find out I didn't lose any toes? Utter disappointment.


tink said...

love that last line, truly something to think about.