Saturday, June 02, 2012
I'm not sure why, but I have been seriously bitten by the writing bug recently. It has been a while since I have done writing other than my blogs. I have been working more on my sci-fi novel, which is about the discovery of a second co-existing species of humans. My sci-fi novel has mostly been a brainstorm for the past couple of years. I have been jotting down ideas and writing bits and pieces of the 3-part series, but it has not been until the past week or so that I have had a clearer picture in my head of the flow of the story. The characters have started to come to life and I have been able to better shape them on paper (or on word processor, as it were).
Actually, I have been bitten by the creativity bug in general recently. I have also had serious urges to dance again, and will be starting up with belly dance lessons again. Conveniently, my dance school just moved to about a mile from my house, making it excuse-free to get to classes. Over the past week or so, I have turned on music and done informal belly dance sessions throughout the day. I have missed this outlet of creativity and the way dance expresses my feelings. It seems to unleash my emotions like nothing else because I don't think or concentrate while I dance. I just do it, allowing my body to move as it pleases. I feel more coordinated than I have in the past. I am looking forward to dancing more and taking classes again.
I am excited today because I finally have a coherent idea for another book. For several years, I have had another idea for a book rolling around in my head about the relationship between a brother and sister. "Based on true events," part of the idea was that exercise brings the brother and sister closer together. I have also wanted to write an autobiography, but I don't want to write a "This happened, and then that happened, and then this happened after that..." account of my life. The most significant event of my life was the car accident that happened when I was 5 years old. My older brother Brian was killed, my younger brother John sustained a serious head injury, and my mother was injured and struggled for much of my childhood as a single mother. I have wanted to write something that serves as a tribute to my brother Brian, as well as expressing how much my mother means to me. I have also wished that my younger brother and I were closer, and have been wanting to write a story in which I am closer to him. The only way my brother John and I truly relate is through exercise.
I suddenly had the idea yesterday to combine the idea of the the brother and sister coming closer together, as well as the autobiographical account of the car accident and the aftermath, and how it shaped me and my family. In a somewhat "It's a Wonderful Life"-inspired way, there are 2 realities, one in which the car accident occurs and one where the accident does not occur. The main character becomes 2 different people depending on whether the accident occurs or not.
In the story where the car accident occurs and the girl's older brother dies, she goes on to have depression and be bullied because she becomes overweight. This girl becomes very caring and understands the preciousness of life. She has a rough relationship with her younger brother, but they become closer as adults thanks to running and kickboxing. The girl's father, who had essentially abandoned his children after getting divorced from the girl's mother, becomes a better man after realizing that his children are the most important thing in his life. This part is, of course, "based on true events."
In the alternate reality where the family narrowly misses having the car accident, the girl becomes a completely different person. Despite the efforts of her kind mother, the girl goes on to become beautiful and popular. She becomes self-absorbed and goes on to have a highly successful career. She is not an awful person, but she is not deeply caring and is not particularly close to her family. Although she becomes successful, her life is a bit shallow. The girl in this version is somewhat based on many of my family members. I love my family a lot, but many of them seem to drift a bit through life and not really understand the special meaning that comes with waking up every day and feeling thankful to be here, thankful for what we have.
Now, I am NOT saying I am glad the car accident happened. However, it is undeniable how such an event shaped me; it is probably the most significant event of my life (and hopefully the only time I ever experience a tragedy on that level). The fact is, I am who I am today because of that day on June 20th, 1984. The best I can make of the car accident and my brother Brian's death is that the event and aftermath made me into the caring and empathetic person I am today. In reflecting on the event, I have often wondered if I would have turned out the same way had the accident never happened.
The following is a short story I wrote a couple of years ago while I was in a literary non-fiction class. It is an autobiographical account of the car accident. I actually posted it in a blog last June on my brother Brian's death anniversary, if it looks familiar. This is going to be the opening of the book, which I have decided, at least for now, will also be called "Blond Brothers." At the very beginning of the story, a moment occurs between the brother and sister while reflecting on a photo taken when they were young children. The brother never died. I have always wanted to expand on that idea, but it was not until now that I had a better idea of how to do it. The short story is bittersweet, as the book will be. The reality is, most lives are bittersweet and it takes some digging to find that the difference between getting through a left turn arrow or not can shape who we are forever. Here is the short story "Blond Brother," which will be slightly edited to be the opening of the book.
"Brian!" my mother yells. "Stop bothering your sister!" She shoots the picture as I triumphantly yank the yellow balloon away, my golden blond pigtails bouncing as I skip away. Brian has the same blond hair, a short boy's haircut, although the slight curls make his hair unruly. His pants never fit right, always hanging off of his skinny waist to reveal half of his butt, even though he could tighten his brown leather belt to hold them up. He knows that I started it. I always do. I win only because he lets me and he adores me.
The photograph shows an average moment between siblings, a typical memory: A gangly eight-year-old boy holding a prized possession, a twerpy little sister wanting it only because she knows she can win. Brother and sister thumb through a photo album, come across this picture, shaking their heads and giggling.
"Do you remember how much you used to piss me off?" one says to the other.
"Whatever, you always started it!" the other retorts. They laugh together and are so glad they have outgrown such childish ways.
I ask Brian in my head, "Do you remember how much you used to piss me off?" The only response is the call of a tall waterbird in the lake near his grave. I will never know if we outgrow our childish ways. I don't want the damn yellow balloon anymore. I want more fights with my brother. I want to let him win for once. My hand absently rises to my forehead, the round bumpy scar one of many reminders. I accept the tranquility of my brother's grave, the turtle carved into the flat gray granite headstone posed just like the turtles basking in the sun by the lake.
Our baby brother John is contentedly gazing out the back window of the car. He has never had a hair cut, his straw-blond baby hair in rambunctious curls around his cherub face. I watch him watching the cars going by from the safety of his car seat; he doesn't know how often I watch him watching things. It is a warm and sunny summer day and Brian and I are excited to go to McDonalds for ice cream. I was dragged to Brian's doctor appointment and I know I deserve a treat. Today we are not squabbling. My mother pulls the car into the left turn lane at the stop light and we wait patiently for our turn. She turns and smiles at me, her five-year-old daughter sitting next to her, and eight-year-old and two-year-old sons in the back.
Brian picks at my hair and tells me it is like spun gold. He takes off his seat belt and leans over the to the front seat, wrapping his arms around me. I don't resist. I pick fights with him, but secretly I covet his ability to catch turtles and to recite most of the lines from Star Wars. He hugs me every chance he gets, when I'm not being such a brat to make it impossible.
I turn to look at him. The truck is the biggest and fastest thing I have ever seen as it barrels toward the intersection where my mother pulled out after our light turned green. My scream comes too late to warn my mother.
The impact makes no sound.
The car is spinning forever. The sky and ground outside the car melt into a whirl of blue and brown. I turn around during the slow-motion moment to look at my brothers.
Brian's arms are not around me anymore. John's eyes are closed, blood trickling from his ear, his mouth slightly open, his head tilted back as though he is napping. My mother is asleep and her head is pointed at the ceiling.
The car stops after an eternity in the grass median. I clamber to open the door, to go where, I don't know. A tall blond-haired man whisks me up and runs with me through the grass, despite my confused protests. He lays me down on my back and I turn on my side to see the sky blue Chevy sitting gracelessly in the grass, crumpled like a used newspaper. The grass is too high for me to see my mother or brothers. Even though I can walk, I cannot move from where I am. Sirens wail from a distance, a chorus of them gets louder, then stops.
A paramedic comes and gingerly picks me up. I can say nothing, only scream. He puts me in the ambulance. John's tiny body is surrounded by people, counting out loud as they press on him and squeeze a balloon-looking plastic bag over his mouth. They stop and start to busily poke at him and put a plastic mask over his mouth. All of the equipment seems too big for him.
Outside I see police officers talking to the blond man who took me from our car. The doors close and the sirens blast again as the ambulance starts to move. The ride only lasts a second. We are bustled into the hospital and I am taken by a nurse to a bed surrounded by cloth curtains. My bare feet dangle over the bed. I ask where my shoes are and the nurse tells me they were lost in the crash. The nurse has tweezers and a metal bowl on a table next to the bed. She tells me she needs to remove the "windshield" from my skin.
The first chunk of glass plops into the metal bowl with a staccato Plink. The nurse tells me I'm doing a good job. She finds another piece of windshield glass and digs slightly to pull it from my forearm. Plink. I tell the nurse I want to see my mother, and she says I can in a little bit.
"Where's John?" I ask. The nurse pulls back the curtain next to us to reveal my baby brother nestled amongst beeping machines. Plastic tubes are sticking out everywhere. He is napping and does not look uncomfortable.
The nurse turns back to her task. She sees a sliver of glass on my chest and gingerly tugs at it with the tweezers. Plink. I look at the nurse, who is looking closely at my arm.
"I'm sorry, he's dead." Plink.
I don't feel any more glass under my skin, each Plink into the bowl sounding more distant, the beeps from machines rushing away.
My Aunt Theresa is walking towards me, smiling with a trembling lip. Her eyes are puffy and wet. The nurse does not stop picking at me as my aunt approaches. Plink. Aunt Theresa sits down next to me and holds my hand. I say again that I want to see my mother. Aunt Theresa squeezes my hand more tightly. Dozens of Plinks later, the nurse stops, and then washes my skin.
Aunt Theresa takes me down the hall, my bare feet almost squeaking on the white linoleum. My father is sitting next to my mother's bed and is holding her hand. He is sad. I have never seen him sad, only mad. That is why we don't live with him anymore. He turns to look at me. We have nothing to say to each other right now.
I cautiously approach the bed where my mother is laying. A machine with squiggly lines on a screen beeps rhythmically next to her bed. She looks beautiful and flawless, but now her eyes are empty.
My mother is staring straight at me, but is not looking at me. Aunt Theresa tells me my mother broke her back and hurts a lot right now. My mother normally has all the answers, so I don't know what to say to her. I place my hand on hers, and she squeezes her eyes shut, tears leaking from her tightly-closed eyelids. My mother says nothing. I study her gorgeous face, her brunette hair cascading on her pillow. My father and Aunt Theresa are talking about the "drunk" man and "running the red light." Then something about John being in a "coma." Something about Brian "going through the windshield."
Aunt Theresa puts her hand on my shoulder and tells me that it's time to go and buy new shoes.
The flowers my dad left are fresh in the vase by Brian's grave. Hours ago my dad stood over my brother's grave, a different man than the one who received the call twenty-five years ago that his oldest son was dead, the rest of his family in shambles. He became a real father that day. Today I am my father's daughter, my dark blond hair, gray eyes, large figure, and smart mouth are all from him. The anger is long forgotten.
John's hair is no longer blond, but brunette like my mother's, no longer curly, but coarse and chopped close to his head. He does not remember the day of the accident, but knows very well that it shaped him forever. Standing six feet tall, he is handsome and his lean body shows that he frequently runs marathons. He looks at other graves, at the lake, at the sky, at the car. Anywhere but straight down at the granite slab with the turtle and the engraving "...each seed is each seed's child."
John squirms from one foot to the other as he stands with my mother and me. My mother looks up from Brian's grave and grabs my hand. "What do you remember the most about Brian?" she asks.
I pause awkwardly. "His death," I answer honestly. She gazes with hope for more answers from my face, and nods. The wounds continue for my mother all these years later, although she now knows it was not her fault. The tall blond man who had taken me from the wrecked Chevy, the same man who took my older brother's life, had said he was not sorry. She forgave him anyway.
I can remember Brian if I think hard, in thoughts, and in pictures. But the silver truck grill is always bearing down on us in the one second that changes our lives. My mother gazes at the lake, remembering her eldest son, thankful for John and me. "Have I told you how proud I am of you?" she asks me, beaming.
"Yes, earlier today."
She takes John's hand. "I love you so much," she says, squeezing and shaking his hand. He rolls his eyes with slight indignation. "Yeah, I know. I love you, too," he mutters, even though he means it.
My brothers, my mother, and I are together as a family.
Thanks for reading. I wrote this blog partially because I am excited to be feeling so creative again. I also wanted to jot these ideas down, so I figured I may well do a blog to keep the ideas easily accessible.
Thanks again for reading.