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.