I'm not sure I've put much thought into the things that haunt me. Too often, these things appear in my writing as if by chance, or perhaps fate, if you're so inclined to believe in such a thing. I'm sure it has more to do with the fact that the written word has always been easier for me than anything else. I look at the stories we all have to tell and often wonder what separates writers from other people.
Maybe this is because I am a writer.
Two weeks from today will mark the twenty-eighth anniversary of the day my maternal grandmother was shot and left for dead. In what has come to be known as a warning tale for other relators and an end to realtor safety in our small town, is something that is more than just a tale told to pass the time. This is my history. This is my real life.
This year, my grandmother's attacker, E. Beauford Cutner, is up for parole, and this fact not only terrifies her, but our entire family. While discussing petitions and reasons for why this criminal should not be granted the freedom he tried to take from my grandma all those years before, she marveled at the way I was able to explain my frustration and anguish over what is happening. And I know that the words I spoke were easier for me to speak to her than anyone else. I know she wishes I could write her story as it really happened, and while I'm no genie nor djinn, I would like to grant her such a wish. But I'm not sure she realizes her story, the amazing, resilient person she has become, is already there in my writing.
I know it's not the same as writing a biography based on her bravery. While I would describe myself as a fiction writer, I find my own anguish and obsessions within my fiction. There is an essence of myself on every page because I am the writer and the creator and though I am not the characters, they are part of me.
Within the DREAMER DUOLOGY, my current WIP, I am trying to figure out what happens to a world when safety is obliterated, when fear sets in, when lives are at stake.
I look back at the way my family survived my grandma's attack along with her; rebuilding the people they were to become the guardians and healers and protectors they needed to be: for themselves, for their children. I grew up in a house that valued text messages and phone calls to relay locations and destinations because my mother wanted us all to be safe. And I'm sure many parents would be the same way, but for us, it feels like we know evil exists in the world, and so, we all must be guarded against such things and persons.
Now this kind of conscientious life has allowed me to create a character traversing a dangerous landscape. And there is a violent act that mirrors my own thoughts about what happened to my grandmother all those years ago. Though I was not yet born, the stories of this have been relinquished, and to me, sometimes, the stories mean more because that is a language I speak well.
Helping my grandma organize her thoughts for her victim letter, which she will be presenting to the parole board soon, made me see that much of what she has to discuss is the idea of the unknown, the fear of the the what if; too many possibilities to name. And I realized that all writing deals with the unknown.
Writers take a blank page and fill it, often before they know what needs to be there to make the story feel right or perfect, which any writer will tell you never happens upon first draft. If anything, the what if is a feeling, a need to figure things out, and I know for me and my family, we are hoping to figure out what life will be like if this man does gain parole.
Fortunately, we have time on our side. And I have my words to help me figure this all out. I am called to the page, much like other people are called to protect or to heal or to lead.
Writing is my life.
My family is my life.
When I think about the way E. Beauford Cutner shot my grandma three times, in the head and the neck, leaving her for dead; the moment in which I might never have had the chance to meet this wonderul woman, I am haunted by what could have been.
Like any writer, I am haunted by stories.
I am leaving this here as a way to explain to my grandmother, and maybe, even you, for not being able to write her story the way it deserves to be told. It is something I can't forget, something I can't fathom.
Too often, I think the difficult things fossilize within us until they're ready to escape. For now I hope the words I've taken from her experience, this unending work ethic she's given me, the times I've pondered the meaning of saftey and fear and fate, will all help me finish my novel.