“What kind of post-publication letters or messages would make the year of work worthwhile for you?”
– Stephen Kimber
I’m sprawled out on my office floor with an ice cream sandwich in one hand and a tumbler of single malt scotch in the other. The Barenaked Ladies’ version of Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time is pulsing through my speakers.
I’ve been staring at my computer screen all summer trying to think of something original and profound to say. In five days, I owe Stephen Kimber a 500-word response.
“I’m not sure I want letters,” I think to myself, setting down my scotch to pick a Care Bear sticker off the side of my ancient book case. The yellow bear curls in on itself, revealing a shiny silver back. I roll the sticker between my fingers and remember the day I stuck it to my shelf.
I’m five years old. My mom and my nanny are screaming at one another in the hallway of our three-bedroom apartment. I’m lying on my bedroom floor in a pink fuzzy sweater, covering my book case in stickers. Tears streak the lenses of my thick, Coke bottle glasses.
“You were never there!” my mother yells.
“I had to work to support you.” my nanny replies.
I run out into the hallway and throw myself between them.
“Stop fighting!” I scream. “PLEASE. STOP. FIGHTING!”
They continue as though they don’t hear me. I’m overlooked like the silver backs of my stickers.
The ice cream sandwich melting in my hand pulls me back to reality. I lick the drippings as the Barenaked Ladies croon:
Lovers in a Dangerous Time
“Why am I writing this book?” I ask myself. “Why am I putting myself and my family through this?” The Barenaked Ladies respond:
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight
I ponder the words for several minutes. I’ve consumed enough scotch to believe the universe is trying to communicate with me.
“For years, I’ve been struggling to be heard,” I think to myself. “Writing is the only thing that makes me feel brave. My writing is the shiny side of my sticker. It’s the luminous interior sandwiched between a book shelf and a picture of a Care Bear.”
I think about my broken family; my mother who can’t forgive my nanny for years of abandonment; my biological father who can’t forgive my mother and nanny for kidnapping me. I’ll never be able to mend the broken bridges but I can explain why they fell. I’m the only one they all speak to. I’m the only one who knows the story from every perspective.
For a moment, I’m happy. The ceiling spins like a baby mobile. I’m drunk off scotch and optimism.
“I’m going to bring peace to everyone,” I think. “I’m going to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight!”
I pull myself into my computer chair and begin to type.
A few hours later, I wake up at my desk with a pounding headache. I squint at the computer screen and find a 500-word response.
“Oh boy,” I think, “This should be interesting.”
I read over the content, chastise myself for being an optimist then decide to leave the response untouched.
“This is nonfiction,” I think to myself. “Possession of realistic expectations is not the assignment. I’ve been asked to write what’s true.”
So here it is.
I want to receive letters from my mother, my nanny and my father. I want them to tell me my book provided them with clarity. I want them to forgive themselves and each other.
I want my book to set them free.