For years, maybe my whole lifetime, I have said I would write a book. Also, I would say, I don't know how.
I don't know how to begin. I don't know how to write without prompting. I don't know how to get something published. I don't even know who or how to ask about beginning or prompting or getting something published.
This morning, I found out how.
I read the line, "You have to decide what you have to say." It was in an advice column-- a response to a struggling writer from a writer who had herself struggled, as, it turns out, we all do.
The line seemed to quiver on the page. They were the words and nothing else were the words.
This is the advice I have been looking for for my entire life. Not the right person to ask about agents or publishing. Not the right writing course or person to motivate me or author to read for inspiration, but just the simple advice, admonishment almost, that I am the only one who knows what it is that feels so burning inside me that I feel like I need to say it.
It seems simple and yet I've been running from that for years, for also maybe my whole lifetime.
I read a book a few years ago, at, I think, the strong suggestion of many women I didn't really know but thought I'd like to be on social media, called Women Who Run With the Wolves. Surely it talked about many things, but what I took away from it is that women, like wolves, are inherently deeply instinctual creatures-- connected by nature, by being part of what creates and perpetuates nature itself to the pulse of everything around them. That we know. We always know. And yet that knowing has been shamed and educated and misdirected out of us into some very false idea of what a woman should be.
I knew, then, reading it, that this was true for me. I knew I knew things but had forgotten how to know them. I knew when someone asked what I wanted or felt or thought that I did know what I wanted or felt or thought, but the ability to access it, or acknowledge it, or say it without fear of condemnation or judgment or even just not total overwhelming joy and acceptance had rendered me frozen in time, unable, or unwilling to just be.
For years, maybe my whole lifetime, I have practiced not knowing.
This morning, I knew.
I read the line that said, "You have to decide what you have to say." And I knew it, without hesitation. So much so that I cried as I clamored for my clothes, trying to quiet the sounds of my footsteps and tears as I descended the stairs, hoping to get these words out before my daughter wakes up. I had resolved to let it be the story, to let it out of me, at last.
The story is hard for me to tell, maybe mostly because it is not my story to tell. Because I fear cheapening it. Because I feel like once I say it, I am giving something up or away. Something about it, I want to keep close. But in the end, I realize all stories I'm telling are this story anyway.
I realized it when, the other day, I tried to tell another story that was also just this story.
The story was about one morning, when I woke up to the sound of rain pecking, nipping at our bedroom windows, as if it were pleading for breakfast, and I immediately flashed back to a memory that is actually not my own. In my memory that is not a memory, I am standing by the lockers, watching two high schoolers talk. It is morning there, too.
The boy is slender with a trim haircut, bright-eyed, confident. He is wearing a shirt and tie, which is not a uniform, but a choice. The girl wears stockings, a skirt and blouse. Her hair is puffed delicately around her face, as if to appear bigger than it is. She looks inherently kind, inviting in her softness.
They greet each other, familiarly, as if many mornings have passed in this same fashion. But today, he has something more to say.
Without ceremony or warning, he announces, "It rained this weekend, and I thought of you."
I, bystander, can see the blood rush from the girl's toes, her fingers, every canal of her heart, directly into her cheeks. Her heart, even devoid of blood, is visibly hammering in her chest. I can see her effort to stay poised, the impossibility of it.
What she does exactly, what she says, in real life, at this point I don't know, because I've only been told the story, which affords me the inner monologue of both parties. And at this point, the story is always told from the perspective of the clattering heart.
But in my imagination, she says something kind, receptive that attempts not to betray how much she feels in that moment.
When she tells this story, somehow we are always in the kitchen, and I can see her not just describe, but actually feel those feelings all over again. It is not just a story; it's a reliving, which must be precisely why it feels so real to me, as if so much a part of my own memory. I have witnessed it in action, on many occasion.
Every time this moment becomes reality again, she patters her hand girlishly at her heart, as if still flustered, her feet arching up onto her toes in some combination of surprise and excitement. His statement, she says, seemed to betray an affection between them that went beyond the assumed daily school interactions.
She loved the rain. He knew. This particular weekend, it had rained, and he had thought of her. When she wasn't there! Such a truly romantic gesture. A quiet admission of devotion.
Fifty-six, maybe -seven years later, my parents are still together, nearly 52 of which they've been married. They are the epitome of that story's very love and devotion.
I think of this story often when it rains.
I think of all they've lived and how hopeful, joyful they've remained. I think of the stories I'll pass down to my daughter, if she'll tell them, if she'll feel like she's lived them, too.
Before she was born, I sat on a therapist's couch for the first time in too long. I needed to be there and suddenly I felt frantically in need of therapy. I was soon-to-be pregnant with my first child-- surely, I knew, somehow-- and I needed to fix myself before I had a baby. She opened by asking if I'd experienced any trauma in my life.
Trauma was a framework within which she contextualized so much of what people were contending with. The way we move our bodies or speak or love or seek comfort-- so much of it is not just inherent, but its a reaction rather. A reaction to injury, a learned behavior, a desperation to fill some space that was gaping as a child, a reckoning.
We walk around our pain, even if the pain is long since gone. It becomes who we are.
I could not think of anything. I talked a long time about my anxiety and my striving for some perfection I both know doesn't exist and don't even actually want. And then, moments before we were done, I realized what was sitting there, beside me, the story I wanted to tell that seemed too not mine or too cheapened or too easy or too given away to say:
Before I was born, my parents had two children who died in a car accident.
I could feel her stop. I could feel all the breath go out of the room. Mine was already gone. Maybe I had not even brought it, but now hers went, too. I have spent a lifetime, thinking about it, writing around it, trying to give it up as the story I want to tell, as the story that impacts me, because it's not mine. Because I am terrified, gut-wrenchingly afraid of hurting my parents more in the process. Because they were just babies in love at a sometimes rainy high school in Santa Maria and then, when they were practically still babies themselves, their babies died and how could I have the audacity to spend my entire life thinking about how that affected me?
But it is the story. It is what I have to say. It is what I think about and write about and, now that I have my own daughter— my own shining, genuine, joyful baby girl— what I live, not in fear, but total disbelief that anyone, ever, ever, ever, ever could survive.
On Thanksgiving Day, in 1977, my parents were in a car accident. A tire blew out on their car-- somehow I always imagine it to be the white Volvo station wagon, I, too, drove in as a child, even though, I know, clearly it was not-- on the mountain pass between Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, flipping the car and killing their firstborn children, Melby and Donald. They were 7 and 5 at the time.
I remember my mom, much later in life-- after a seeming eternity of the same sweet Melby and Donald stories, ones of refurbished Christmas tricycles and uncomfortable new pairs of little girl shoes-- telling me for the first time, about how Melby died on impact, while Donald was taken to the hospital along with my mom and dad. She says, stoically, quietly, how she remembers wishing, despite how obscene it felt for a mother to feel such a thing, that Donald would die, too, because Melby was his best friend, his idol, and she couldn't bear the thought of him living without her. They were a pair.
This story lives eternally in my chest as a tight knot of both love and grief, a pretzel of conflicting emotion, its own judgement of Solomon.
Forty years later, minus two months, after the accident, I gave birth to my daughter, my own Melby. I asked my parents across the kitchen table one August afternoon if it would be okay if my boyfriend and I named our hypothetical baby, Melby, if it were a girl. They said, yes; we all cried; and, into my hand, my dad pushed a stack of crisp two dollar bills he'd just gotten from the bank, exiting the room and saying, with both humor and an aching heart, "I can't take this shit."
Of course, it was a girl. Of course, she was Melby.
I can't say yet exactly why I wanted to name her Melby, except I always did. I don't know if it's honor or remembrance or rebirth or penance or grief. Maybe that is part of why I need to tell this story, to figure it out. But it was her name before she was even an almost. And it is her. Melby is Melby. Not that my Melby is an incarnation of past Melby. But my Melby could be named nothing else in the entire world.
Nic looks at her often, so full of admiration, of unconditional love, and declares that she is just Melby. No other name would do. And he is right.
Sometimes I think about if I had ended up with someone else, if they would have chosen the name too, accepted it. It's impossible to imagine all the variables at this point, but something about Nic and his certainty, too, from the get go, that it was the right name, assures me that he, too, is the right person. He understands. All the pieces are aligned.
There is much more to say. And truthfully, it feels terrifying to leave this sitting here. But for now, my own Melby, the now Melby, is chirping at me from her crib. First she will ask for shoes and then she will ask for breh-fest. I will kiss her cheeks; she will withdraw reluctantly until she has eaten for the day, and I will laugh, telling her I love her, sometimes smelling her neck and pretending she is stinky. "Pee-you!" she will say, familiar with our silly routine.
I have spent a long time acting unsure, but, with her, I know.
I know what I have to do. I know what I have to say. I know what story I have to tell. I always did.