IN THAT MOMENT…
You remember things. I was in our dining room, it was evening, the shades pulled down, the newspaper on the dining room table. I picked up the front section, began to read a column. I can’t remember who the columnist was or if I had ever read this person’s work before. But there it was: In Nazi Germany there were Jewish men forced to sit on the city’s busy sidewalks with signs around their necks: I RAPE GERMAN WOMEN.
I was in grade school, probably in fifth or sixth grade. I considered myself smart. But I had no idea what that meant. What was rape? And what happened next is not clear in my memory. I did ask my mother when she came into the dining room, “What is rape.” And she must have answered, but I can’t remember what she said, and so it must have been vague, like “a way to hurt a woman.” I don’t fault her. The question came out of nowhere and my younger brother was in the room. And is was dinnertime and she was on her schedule!
But in that moment, my brain knew to store the event. But why?
WRITERS, THINKERS, WE ALL STORE STUFF
As a writer, I have lived other such moments. As a writer, they appear in my fiction. They light up the thought processes of my characters. My personal experience lives on the page in an attempt to illuminate the human process of wonder, of questioning. And whether it’s a female or a male, I want to reach out to my reader who also grew to adulthood through experiences, maybe like mine, whose life is filled with moments of learning, realizing—a kind of growth that is often shocking, full of fear or at the very least hard to believe or to understand. And sometimes, truly hard to picture.
WHAT CAME NEXT?
I have been safe, and always attempted to keep my children safe. I have also been drawn to events that make me cringe for a child, a young girl or boy—like the story in the film, ROOM, which is based on a book by Emma Donoghue who probably read about real cases, one a well-known California case–but the girl was forced to bear more than one child. Fiction from reality. And there are many more. But that moment in my childhood stayed with me, and like Emma Donoghue, reappears in my work-in-progress.
Being a child without a father, living in a house without a man and a woman to show me the way, this also happened. I was at a friend’s house, the father came home from work and grabbed and kissed my friend’s mother. Was that rape? Of course not, but I quickly said goodbye to my friend and went home. I didn’t feel I should be there. I didn’t understand.
In my novel, I have my character use a dictionary to look up the word instead of asking her cold and distant mother. She reads: Rape: sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury.
Sex. Intercourse. Sex—this only raises more questions. My character gets lost in the dictionary. But after a time when it is all too confusing, she concludes: Was that why the boys tried to lift the girls’ skirts?
SUCH MOMENTS IN OTHER STORIES
I just finished reading a novel HARRY’S TREES, by Jon Cohen. His tale springs from one basic idea that I’m sure emanated from his childhood: “When you climb a tree, the first thing you do is hold on tight.”
The character must, because his wife, the love of his life, is killed in a freak accident in the first chapter. We never really get to know her, but that’s not the point. And though there is an awful lot about trees and caring for trees and loving trees in this novel, what the author truly wants to say when his wife dies and his brother tries to cheat him, and he then falls in love with a woman whose husband died from another freak accident, is that IN LIFE, WE MUST HOLD ON TIGHT.
Again, as a writer, I believe this is what fiction can be about. Yes, many read to get lost, to imagine. Who doesn’t love a good LOVE STORY. But there is also that touchstone: I experienced that. Yes, that’s like MY LIFE.
Or it could be the exact opposite, “My life is so boring and normal that I escape into the horrors, escapades, crazy events in the life of others.”
Whatever your reason for reading novels, watching films, diving into STORY, in the end, we all become better at understanding others. And in this New Year, when you are dealing with happiness or sorrow, when you are challenged through work or family or your daily choices, PLEASE HOLD ON TIGHT. PLEASE HELP THOSE AROUND YOU LEARN. There is no better resolution to make–right now, IN THE MOMENT.
ART: Thanks to Kathy Lynn Goldbach Ticking Clock Paintings, Fine Art America