Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Lady in the Yellow Galoshes

You know how sometimes you take a photograph of yourself and a friend at the park and there is that one random person in the background sitting on a bench eating a hot dog and reading the last chapter of some trashy romance? Writing is sort of like that. One minute, I am just sitting at my computer relating a story about chatting up a former student in a coffee shop, then out darts some woman in a floor length yellow rain slicker, rushing her way through the parking lot.

What is HER story? There is no rain. The day is full sun. Is she dressed underneath that protection from the nonexistent elements? Is she preparing for something of which no one else is privy? Just like the steamy romance reader on that park bench, I will never know for certain the details of her life. But there she is, for that brief second, her story intersecting with mine.

Many characters that pop into my essays are nothing more than the movie equivalent of extras, nameless faces in a crowd. Like the guy in the purple pajamas. Was he late getting his kids to school? Did he run out of the house before he was fully ready? Does he don fleecy bottoms as a matter of course? How about the overzealous Taco Bell employee? Everything marked, everything in its place, dramatic cheesy smile and “Have a GREAT day, LADIES!” Why is he so happy about packing burritos? Did he just get promoted to day shift manager? Is he current winner of Employee of the Month? And what about the guy crossing my path on the sidewalk, the one who shoots me a look, a tip of the head, and a “’Sup baby, how YOU be?” I’m guessing that’s not a story I care to know.

While these people make only a tiny appearance here and there, however, many others play a major role. What of my supporting cast? What of the villains, the sidekicks, the family, the gang? These stories weave prominently through my own, and yet am I allowed to share?

Can I write so freely of sister, husband, antagonist, friend? Can I speak of the one who figuratively held my hand while I lost my shit, while I sat blubbering like a drunken fool over something which I cannot speak, something secret, something riding the line a bit too closely between not quite respectable and downright scandalous? Can I write of playing doctor in the backyard with the childhood friend who was more a brother than a friend, me as patient, he as five-year-old physician, peeking inside my day-of-the-week underpants to provide a thorough examination in order to prescribe the best “treatment?” What about that frat party and that guy in the sparring costume and that closet? Can I write about that? At what point does MY story become HIS story?

This is what I’ve come to. It is impossible for me to share my life with you without giving you peeks into paragraphs, chapters, or entire passages of the stories of others. My life does not exist independent of these characters. My life does not exist independent of you. In addition to the lights, the tall buildings, the snow, Times Square, I MUST include in my description of my very first visit to New York City the very good friends with whom we had driven up for the day, the short and pudgy Hispanic vendor who sold me the fuzzy white earmuffs, and the faceless stranger who lifted in one swoop a very pregnant me from the center of an intersection in which I had slipped on an ice patch and fallen on my ass. Likewise, I cannot relate to you what it feels like to lose a friend, I cannot talk to you about that soccer tournament, the accident, the phone call, without showing you the tears of a sorority sister, a sorority sister who thought she had met the one with whom she would spend her life. I cannot speak to you of death without telling you of this guy, the first person I had ever known from Canada, the guy who made me laugh with his funny ways, who taught me how to use a piece of paper until it couldn’t possibly be used any more, who smiled at me and chuckled to himself as I struggled to decipher the true meaning of the term ménage à trois, this guy, the one I would never see again. I can’t share my life with you without sharing the lives of others.

Which brings me to a question. In what stories have I played friend, family, villain, or guide? Was it an interesting read? Was I written out? In what stories have I popped in for just a bit to spice things up, to keep things lively, to play Lady in the Yellow Galoshes?

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