Life Imitating Art

Or rather, how I manage to find myself in my writing.  Being a writer can sometimes be a mixed bag of wanting people to read what’s going on inside your head (or heart), but then being afraid that once they do, they’ll think you crazy or reject you in some way.

I am working on my third manuscript, what I’m lovingly referring to as my first, best novel.  I just finished editing a section when it dawned on me, even though I wrote it originally in 2008, this section was me now.  So, since I have already shared maybe way more than I intended, no need in being afraid now.

So here, for your reading pleasure (scrutiny) is a section of my new novel, “Hello Diva”

 

III

I hadn’t been to my dad’s grave since the day I had him planted.  I woke from a simi-doze, sitting at the foot of the site, my hands clutching bits of grass that I had apparently ripped from the ground.  My fingers throbbed with tension and I had to force them open.  I felt a bit guilty for the small tufts I had torn up.  My father’s grave no longer looked neat or cared for.  I felt the same way, unkempt and no longer cared for.  My thoughts spiraled down; my career was on the brink, any chance at a love life just blew up, and I was going bald.  The idea of just laying down on that grave and calling it a day began to look like a good idea.

It was day twenty-five of my hibernation. Sleep and I hadn’t been on speaking terms since the nightmares.  I spent most days in a fog, buried in my sheets.  At some point I had taken off the last weave, covering my head with the same scarf I’d worn all those years ago after my mom had left.  Its frayed and worn edges, washed out color, mirrored how I felt about myself.

I sat at the grave with my head lowered, listening to my breath melt into the breeze, and I waited.  I waited for my father’s ghost to rise up and mock me, make fun of me, tell me, “I told you so.”  

“M’am?”

I was despondent; I didn’t bother to raise my head, “Yes.”

“Uh, I hate to bother you but the cemetery is closing soon.  You gonna have to leave.”

Sigh, “Okay.”

“I hate to intrude but in all my years as the watchman here, I seen a lot of grief.  And you look like you’re having a time with it.”

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”

“Hope you don’t mind me intruding, but you know, he’s dead.  Whatever trouble his living caused you, it died with him.  Ain’t no need in worryin over it now.”

“Yeah,” I sighed my disbelief.

“I know. Easier said than done.  You feel like you can’t live without him huh?”

“No, not really…”

“Well, whatever you’re feeling, he ain’t feeling nothing no mo and you can let that go. Hell, I tell all the grievin folk I come across out here, the dead are dead.  Ain’t no more you can do with ‘em.  But you’re living and you need to get about the business of doing that the best way you know how.  You sittin’ here crying ain’t doing nobody any good, just wasting your valuable time and energy.  Get up, go put that energy to use and make some good in the world.”

“I don’t know that I have any good in me.”

“Bullshit.  Everybody has the power to do good.  Just got to get over yourself to do it.  I mean, look at me.” 

I did as I was instructed.  I looked up, finally seeing the man behind the wise words.  He was stick thin, with leathered brown skin from his time spent patrolling the graves year after year.  Sun glinted off of a pair of thick glasses while the breeze ruffled the four or five tufts of hair still clinging to his scalp.  He was missing three of his front teeth, two at the bottom and one on the top. 

“I’m ugly as sin, but that don’t stop me from volunteering at the homeless shelter twice a year;  didn’t stop my high school sweetheart from marrying me and staying by my side till she passed, God rest her soul, and it didn’t stop me from raisin my two kids to go on to college.  I didn’t get nothing but a tenth grade education myself, but I’ve been able to work and feed my family all these years.  Everybody has good in ‘em and can do good.  It’s the dead that can’t give nothin back.  Now, I’ve bothered you enough and it’s time to lock up.  Tell you what, you sit on what I told you for a few minutes.  I’ll come back when I finish my rounds and we’ll leave then.”

He shuffled away from me, balding head held high, even though his shoulders were now a little stooped with age.  I watched him walk into the evening sunlight thinking about what he’d said. 

True to his word, about ten minutes later he was back to escort me to the front gate.  My car was parked askew in the mortuary parking lot.  He made sure I was buckled up before offering up a sincere, all be it tooth-light, grin.  I smiled back as I pulled out of the parking lot. 

Shortly after that, I was seated at a table in the back of an Ihop.  I was hungry, really hungry, for the first time in days.  It was also the first time I’d been out of the condo.  Strangely enough, I wasn’t in that big of a hurry to get back in my bed. 

I sat there, sipping a cup of hot chocolate, full and  finally thinking with some clarity. I made note that no one had pointed or laughed when I’d come in.  I got one or two quick looks which was to be expected. I wasn’t exactly dressed to the nines here.  Who am I kidding, I wasn’t even reaching the fours with my wrinkled jeans, old tee shirt, scuffed up sneakers and that ratty scarf on my head.  I had been in fear of being recognized then made fun of.  Could it be my fifteen minutes of fame were really up?

Next to float through my mind as it righted itself were the words the gentleman at the cemetery had said, “everybody had good in them, and can do good.”  What good did I have?  My right hand started to tingle.  At first, I thought, “That’s it. A brain aneurism; some cataclysmic health issue brought about from the stress was about to send me to the great abyss.” Gotta love the mind when it’s under duress.

Having gotten used to the many voices in my head, I wasn’t surprised when I heard, “No, you drama queen, it’s just me.”

I put the mug of hot chocolate down.  While it didn’t surprise me to have a voice, it was surprising that for the first time I could remember, the voice inside my head was mine.  And what I had to say was so not what I expected.

“Now that I have your attention, may I just say, everything’s going to be alright.  You can stop looking because I accept you, I love you, and I’m not going to leave you no matter how little hair you have on your cute, all be it hard, little head.”

Tears welled up in my eyes.  “Yes, that’s to be expected,” I said to myself.  “You have a lot of grieving to do.  And even that’s okay.  Healthy even.”

I knew instinctively that this was going to be a crying jag of epic proportions.  Not one to be carried out in the back booth at an Ihop.  I left the money for my bill on the table and made my way, post haste to my car.  That’s as far as I got when the gates opened.

I sat in my car, shaking with sobs, frantically searching for stray napkins with which to wipe my nose. 

All the while, my voice spoke calmly in my head, “There, there.  That’s right. Let it all out.  All of it.  I’m right here.”  I felt comforted by the words.  Finally free to express it all.  My dad was no longer there to tell me to suck it up, that I didn’t deserve to feel hurt or sad.  I could finally feel the loss of my mother.  Something I hadn’t done since my father had literally slapped the grief out of my mouth.

The sun was finally setting when I pulled it together enough to drive.  I was still having to wipe my eyes as tears continued to trickle from my eyes.

I was on autopilot.  My inner voice held my consciousness captive as she, well I, continued to tell myself all the things I had needed, wanted to hear.

I didn’t stop talking to myself until my unexpected arrival at Yvette’s door. When she answered my crazed knocking, her hearty, “What the hell happened to you?” sent me off on another crying jag.  I pretty much blanked out for good after that.

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