Hey, you. You know who you are.
I have a lot of friends. Good friends. My friends are just-say-the-word, go-to-the-mattresses kind of friends who will drive all night and bring the lye. (You know who you are.) People are astonished by my and Hananah’s friendship, having met 3.5 years ago. We got real close, real quick. The best kind of way.
Making friends has come easy for me, and I think one reason is because I really enjoy people. I’m no extrovert; I still need to be alone to recharge, but I just like people. I like making that connection, laughing, finding things in common, feeling the comfort in a bond.
This year I have needed my friends. We all have, probably. About the only thing we can all agree on is that 2016 has been pretty shitty. Aside from the presidential election, the wars, the celebrity massacre, I’ve also faced personal hardship, both highly emotional and getting knocked down a couple times by illness. It was an entire year of Mercury in Retrograde. Just one big terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, year.
[Spoiler Alert: There is a silver lining. Keep reading.]
That is why 2016 may go down in my personal history book as, “2016: The Year of Pestilence.”
A few reasons why:
First, my kids got lice. Twice. Twice, people.
My dog came home from being boarded WITH FLEAS. A first in 13 years.
Two hackberry trees have fallen across our entire backyard on two separate occasions. One ours. One, our neighbors’.
In late August, I started to feel like I had a cold. It took a while to develop. Then, a lymph node on my neck swelled to the size of a grape; breathing hurt; I tried to go for a run and nearly fainted. I looked up my symptoms and identified it as mono.
Cue a visit with a skeptical doctor:
Doc: “Have you been around someone with mono?”
Me: “Not that I know of.”
Doc: “Hmmm, I doubt it’s mono, but we’ll test for it just in case.”
*One Week Later*
Doc on the Phone: “Well, it looks like you do, in fact, have mono.”
I wish I could say this moment was more gratifying than it was but, alas, the moment had passed.
Since mono, I can no longer sustain a run. I have to admit defeat and walk. A lot. That strain-on-your-heart feeling with a side of weakness shows up much sooner than it used to. Hills? Forget it. I’ve stopped tracking my progress and try to enjoy the walk/jog instead while listening to my modern folk playlist, an unusual choice for running, I know. For some reason, I like to feel as if I’m running through my own montage in a Wes Anderson film.
And before the mono, in May, I lost 7 pounds in as many days (or less) due to SALMONELLA poisoning. I didn’t get it from my own kitchen but rather a fine dining, farm-to-table restaurant during a rehearsal dinner.
After two days of suffering, I couldn’t take it anymore and drove myself to the emergency room. Again, another skeptical doctor: “You’d be a lot worse if you had salmonella,” he said.
If you know me, you know I have suffered from gastrointestinal issues my entire life as a result of a seatbelt injury in a car crash when I was six years old. Because of this, I can still walk and talk despite some excruciating abdominal pain, just as long as I’m not in the actual process of vomiting.
Later, the doctor called, sounding puzzled. “Well, it looks like you do, in fact, have salmonella.”
Again, not as gratifying as you would think.
I have a long history of doctors brushing me off. I have some dear friends who will attest to that. (You know who you are.) Intestinal woes are difficult to diagnose, apparently. And the only way doctors can see if adhesions (scar tissue) are causing your problems is to open you up and look.
They did just that in April 2000, when I was a month shy of 20, 14 years after my emergency surgery when the lap belt perforated my intestines.
This car accident affected my entire family; it completely changed the quality and course of our lives. That’s why it is the inspiration for the collection of short stories I am working on. None of the stories are from the family’s point of view. And “my character” doesn’t exist. People have asked if it’s because it’s too difficult to write about, but really, a third daughter just seemed superfluous in the first story I wrote.
What’s been so difficult about this project is just how personal it is. I am using my family’s very real situation to explore it from a fictional perspective. The lines between truth and fiction are blurred. Very blurred. But I have to admit, that is one of my favorite things to do while writing fiction.
I often use pieces of people I know in characters, but never is one character an exact replica of a real person. Usually, the comparison is not even close, but I can reach into what I know of a friend and pluck out a fear, a bad habit, a tattoo, and use that for my character. I most enjoy mashing people together, a little bit of this from you, a little bit of that from you, and a pinch of you. Sticking to the complete truth is too restricting. I need to be able to make the character do what I need the character to do in whatever situation arises.
I have one friend who has offered her life as muse for my work. Well, don’t mind if I do! I will pluck and pinch. I have started developing the main character for a novel (after I finish this collection), who will have some things in common with this friend, including her Mucha tattoo (you know who you are).
But before I get to that novel, I must finish the collection, and I’ve made progress. BIG progress. I have three or four stories sitting out in queues right now, and though I know many rejections are headed my way, it feels great to see just how much work I have done.
And thanks to more acceptances this year, in 2016, three stories from the collection are either published (in Tupelo Quarterly and Superstition Review), or forthcoming, from Kenyon Review Online in Spring of 2017!!!!! GAH!!!!!!!
This is a dream come true, and though the story in Kenyon will be published in 2017, I got the “yes” in 2016. In fact, I had an amazingly productive time writing at the Kenyon Writers Workshop this summer with the best group of workshop members (teacher and peers) I have ever had the privilege to be a part of (you know who you are). I rented a cabin in Sewanee in July and got loads of work done. And I had a nearly transcendent writing retreat at Rivendell this October.
In addition to all of that, Hananah and I joined the staff of Four Way Review, first as assistant fiction editors and now co-fiction editors! I have wanted to get back into editing since I managed River City (now The Pinch) in graduate school and this opportunity has meant the world to me.
So in terms of my writing life, 2016 has been the best yet, even as I went through one of the most difficult trials of my life. Though it’s too private to talk about, I was able to work through it and keep writing and keep working toward my goals and dreams.
But the only reason I made it through was because of a key set of people. I wasn’t able to unleash my entire friend militia; they all would have been there, I know. But the few who I let in were there. Unwaveringly. Arms out. You know who you are. When my spirit cracked, you held it together with your bare hands. Thank you. Your support was stronger than all the dark celestial forecasts and biblical style plagues that 2016 could throw at me. Thank you for being in my life.
That being said, let’s go ahead and get on over to 2017. And so help me God, I better see Betty White there, too.