The Story I Never Tell Part 10
When I was writing my novel, I learned to delete without fear. I think a lot of people fear that if they delete what they write, they won’t be able to write anything as good as what they deleted. I don’t want to speak for anyone else’s process, but I am absolutely aware of when something isn’t good enough. And when it isn’t good enough, it really isn’t good, no matter how much you wish it was. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that my novel was hacked in half, whole storylines deleted, and always at the insistence of my agent or my editor. I did not come to a merciless capacity for deletion easily, or naturally, and not without a huge fight. But when I write now, I delete as I go.
My daughter has an adorable, wonderful, loving and generous cello teacher named Mr. Boehm. Mr. Boehm lives in a house he has filled with the millions and millions of things he loves: collections of figurines, coins, plates, plants, Americana, stuffed animals, photographs, books, magazines, all lovingly placed and meticulously dusted. This is not a hoarder, this is a lover of the things he loves. I sit in his living room with his things reading or knitting or writing while he teaches Lila in his music room. I can hear them play, but because he is often loud and thrilled with it all, I can hear his lessons. I remember a few years ago when he was teaching Lila to tune her instrument, he was showing her that she could play one string and that when it was perfectly in tune, another string would ring. When she nailed it perfectly, he would exclaim, “OH!! OH!!! DO YOU HEAR THAT??!! LILA, DO YOU HEAR THAT?!! oooooohhhhh, that’s BEAUTIFUL!! LISTEN TO IT RING!!!” And I could hear her smiling her silent, wide, bright smile from all the way in the living room with the tchotchkes. “NOW YOU KNOW IT IS IN TUNE!!!” I am no musician, but I believe he called that concept harmonics. When the strings are perfectly in tune, they ring together, and you can hear it, and you can feel it under your fingers, the force of the perfection. I feel like that about writing. You know it is perfect when it rings in your mouth and in your ears; sometimes it even vibrates in your chest.
Yesterday I went to Bible Study with Liz and Jennisse and we were reading some parts of Matthew, Luke, and John telling about the birth of Christ and somewhere in John, it tells that he was given the Holy Spirit in the womb, and it says that when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, ran to Elizabeth’s house, John jumped, and Elizabeth felt it inside her. I don’t mean to blaspheme, but when I hit it just exactly right, it feels like the Holy Spirit, and I am not saying that to be melodramatic. Sometimes it feels just like the Lord pushed through my fingers and wrote the words for me. I shiver and I get lightheaded. I feel the Spirit jump in me. I’m not kidding. It feels like harmonics, and it feels like The Holy Spirit.
When we are living perfectly, it feels like that. I’ve known it. I have learned so much through my failures and my shames and my disappointments and though I am taking the time to burn the shames and the fucks, I must take at least one sentence to give gratitude for the lessons I’ve learned about deletion, about harmonics and about the Holy Spirit and how it all applies to living one’s life in tune. My friend posted the other day that she wishes she could go back with all she knows and start over at age 3. I suffer this thought daily, and the only thing that shakes the regret is the almost certainty that if I were to go back and do it all again, I would not end up with these two children and I really like these two children, so I can’t go back. But if I did, I would delete mercilessly and fearlessly. I would recognize the parts that did not ring true, and I would cut them sooner.
When I went to college, I did not go under my own power and this is the shame I am burning today. Here is how I wish I had gone to college: single minded, unattached, confident, fully in my power, open to new experiences, and tenacious and courageous enough to find the social life outside of being drunk (because as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t drink and all these mistakes happened completely sober, and sober is the one thing that is very hard to be at UVA. UVA is a drunk school, really really drunk). That is a tall order for a 17 year old girl, and I realize that it’s a rare person who arrives at college with that kind of purpose and focus. I could easily forgive myself for not being this way yet. What is harder for me to forgive is that I only did what I didn’t want to do. I served as the puppet to my puppetmaster and I did so to the great detriment of my own self. Here is how I did first year UVA: every Friday, I got on a Greyhound bus in Charlottesville and I rode that bus for 3 hours with the scariest and unhealthiest people, almost all of whom were smoking and coughing, all the way to Washington D.C., and then I took a cab to my old man boyfriend’s house in Adams Morgan. I arrived there around 6pm, filthy and stinking from the smoke, whereupon I had to take a quick shower and then hustle up to have dinner with his family because that is what they did on Fridays. On Fridays, they ate dinner together and I was supposed to join them. At dinner, every single one of them lit up cigarettes and smoked like chimneys. They were Argentinian and to tell you the truth, they were absolutely kind and loving to me. And because they were Argentinian, and because by then I had been around for 2 years and by then they were certain their son was going to marry me any minute now, they were not at all concerned about my tender age. They never had been. They weren’t worried about my age when I was 15. They were operating under a completely different set of rules. And as far as they were concerned, their son was very good to me and very good for me.
So that was what I did, but here is the thing: once I got to college, I never wanted to go to Washington to see him. Not once. I would have been okay with his coming to Charlottesville, but he never came. Not once. He said, “Why should I come up there when I have a perfectly good apartment here. What am I supposed to do? Stay in your dorm room? With your roommate? I’m an adult. I can’t do that.”
As an adult looking back on that whole scenario many things are completely insane, but here’s what I see as it relates to today’s theme of harmonics and being in tune: he was completely in tune. He didn’t want to come down and so he didn’t come down. He wanted me to come up, so he demanded that I come up. He wanted to have dinner with his family on Fridays and so he had dinner with his family on Fridays. He didn’t want to come pick me up from the bus station, so he made me take a cab. He paid for all of this, and it was just the way he wanted it to be. That is the beauty of being grown and in your full power. He wanted what he wanted so he got what he wanted.
If I had owned my power to delete what wasn’t perfectly in tune, I would have said no. When he wanted me to come up, I would have said, “No.” If I didn’t want to ride the bus, I would have said, “I am not riding the bus, if you want me to come up, you have to come get me.” If I didn’t want to go to Friday dinner, I would have said, “I don’t want to go to Friday dinner. I’m staying here.” It is hard for me to forgive myself for not having had the courage to just say no to all of these things I didn’t want to do that I did anyway. I wanted to study. I wanted to join the newspaper. I wanted to find the writers. I wanted to make good friends. I wanted a lot of things but instead of doing any of the things I wanted to do, I did what someone else wanted me to do. I did this for almost a year. The story of how I got free of this is one of the great stories of my life. Maybe I’ll share that next time. But with regard to this story here, this is a great shame of mine that I am burning up right now. When I was 17 and then 18, I lied and cheated myself and others, I shamed myself and my family, I behaved with breathtaking disregard for anyone, including myself, all in service of the edicts of an abusive man who had no business being with me in the first place. I lay before you that shame. My dragons can see it, and it is burning to ashes before my very eyes.