I wrote a piece about a trip to Italy taken 20 years ago. When it was finished I realized how much of it couldn’t be told. So many of the things that I had noted, but not elaborated upon, in my journal couldn’t be written out. Did I know that then? At a distance of 20 years I see the story lines that could be pulled out and built up—someone else’s heartbreak, the death of a bird, differences of opinion, a failure of nerve, a mysterious case of bleeding—and the other things that were tinged with them. Maybe these stories were unremarkable because they were too familiar. That is a problem with writing or fiction that grows out of your life experiences, unless you find suitable replacements for those things or delve into them from an artificially altered point of view or declare a clinical and forensic interest in your own affairs so that literary truth illuminates the darkness and you tell the people closest to you that there is some higher purpose to your betrayal, there is much that cannot be said in the way that you might say it if you lived in a world without consequences.
I woke up one morning from a dream that involved the awful discovery that, in spite of an elaborate drawing on the calendar day, and lots of preparation, we had missed the deadline for my 7th grader’s college applications. All of her classmates would be moving up to 8th grade/college and she would have to spend a year making applications over again and biding her time and through no fault of her own. The applications had been made, she was looking forward to the acceptance from the college of her choice, but it suddenly dawned on us that no one had actually mailed the application. It was all my fault. And in the dream she was very nice about it, but it was a crushing disappointment and it injected the day to come with a sense of the ominous.
When I came downstairs, in my real life, I found the front door to the house was open. It was still dark outside and the outside coldness filled the room. Cat and dog were in place and there was no indication of theft or possums, just the icy floor. Moving through the semi-darkness I wondered what the day had in store for me. It was to be a long day, with a lot of places to get to and, as with writing out of your life, there will be things left unsaid that hover at the edge suggesting themes and a sense of purpose or meaning.
My car was running low on gas and I pulled into a station on the way to my daughter’s school. I was going to have to do this soon anyway. I am a person who dies a little as the needle falls towards empty, whose spirits are lifted by the full tank, which always shows as being a little more than full for longer than you’d think possible. Then suddenly it is less than full and moving toward the halfway mark. I understand that this is sad and that the reserve tank is bigger than I think it is, but this is who I am. I need gas. I am being efficient.
The pumps were a little different and pulling out I saw a large sign for diesel, which filled me with dread and had me driving the short distance to the school with the steering wheel between my fingertips waiting for the engine to utter hideous death throes as I cursed my own stupidity, that one moment of efficiency had contorted itself into a costly ball of hell. Only it hadn’t. The people at the garage were very nice about it and it cost only time. And if I were a person who understood cars and gas stations it would have been embarrassing, but I don’t, so it wasn’t.
The day continued in that vein, skirting disaster, containing joy mixed in with the ticking clock, bad news, surreality and so forth. But what more would I have written of that day in a journal? Why do we need to remember any of it? What day of reckoning is marked on the calendar, the box all colored in because it’s special, that kind of day when the college applications are due from 13-year-olds? This is the exam dream for mothers of teenagers. Their lives are testing you.
“I have Chekhov on my phone,” I tell my husband as we drive away for the weekend, not having packed a book.
“You’re such a loser,” he says. “You’re lucky I don’t have a blog.”
(Wait until he reads about the diesel!)