Thursday, March 29, 2012

Telling It Like It Shoulda Been

Slaving over a hot word processor in Paradise.
I’ve been writing a weekly blog for over a year now. I write my blog on Thursdays. It’s not always easy to think of something to write about. So why keep a schedule? you might ask. Why not just write when you feel like it? My blog is an exercise in self-discipline. If I only wrote when I felt deeply inspired to write, very little would get written by this writer. To have written is far more fun than writing. I write to get to the part where I’m finished writing. Life is so much sweeter when there’s fresh ink drying on the page in my writing room.
    When I learned that I would be writing a weekly column for the Miami Herald newspaper, quite a few years ago when newspapers were important, I called my grandmother, the one who’d always believed in my writing, the one who gave me my first typewriter, and my first desk. I told her my big news.
    “Oh dear!” she said.
    “Why ‘Oh dear,’ Gramma?” I asked her.
    “How will you ever think of something to write about every single Saturday?”
    Some columns, or blogs, are more inspiring than others, of course. I don’t write about religion, or politics, or my corporate job, although these are the things that most consume me, my passion and my opinions. I don’t write about those subjects because I don’t like to fight, or argue, or debate.
June at 15. She looked so happy. She was so sad.
My canvas, if you will, is Key West, my paradise. It is here where I healed from the wounds of a difficult childhood and adolescence, and here where I became aware of a world outside of my own very sad interior one. It is difficult to be blue in a place where the sun shines just about every day of the year, where gingerbread and Victoriana and a beach are never more than a block or two away. It is impossible to maintain resentment after being gifted with a beautiful family, a crew of true friends, and a disposition ever vigilant for a laugh.
    I have made mistakes this year, and learned from them. When I wrote about my son Miguel, at age 5, commenting on his teacher sunbathing topless at the beach, he reminded me that that incident had happened at the County Beach, not at Fort Taylor Beach. I knew that, but for the purpose of that essay, I wrote it my way. That, my journalist friend told me, was wrong. She agreed with my son.
    “If you take license with that,” she reasoned, “I, the reader must wonder, what else did she lie about in this story?”
    And I understand that she’s right. I’m not a fiction writer after all.
Mama June with baby Miguel. Oh joy!
    When I told a story from my New York childhood, about a friend’s mother’s accident, and my father coming to her rescue, I wrote it because I thought that was how it had happened. My friend sent to me a scathing e-mail, telling me that my father had never been present at the accident, and that other parts of my recollection about our childhood were dead wrong, too. I was horrified, because what I’d viewed as something sweet and unique, was to her difficult and embarrassing. She was furious with me for telling her story, using her name, and posting a photo I’d taken of her and her baby, I took the blog and photos down. I’m hurt that she feels so betrayed, after over 50 years of friendship that were so special to me. But I’m a writer, after all. My story is my truth.
    My son was just four when he and a bunch of Key West kids were in a television commercial, filmed in a building with a steep, concrete staircase. As the kids, my own kid, my ex-husband and I hustled out of the building and down the stairs, a tiny little girl of maybe three years old, reached for the rail, missed it, and toppled head first toward the ground two stories below. It seemed to happen in slow motion. In an instant I leaned over, reached out, and grabbed the tiny girl by the leg. She banged into the stairs and cried in fright. My son’s father, a big man with long arms, immediately took her from my arms, as I shivered with a massive rush of adrenaline. Without me, that girl would have been gravely injured. Or dead.
    The next day my ex said to me, “How does it feel to have saved a little girl’s life?”
    A few months later, and to this day, he says “Remember when I saved that little girl from going headfirst off those stairs?”
    The man still insists that it was he, and not I, that reached out and grabbed that little ankle before it was too late. He believes it with all his heart. And I believe it was me. I believe it with all my heart. I’d swear to it on a witness stand.
    So that’s what I’ve learned from writing a year of blogs. The truth is a slippery thing, like a vein when you’re trying to draw blood. It’s there, and then it isn’t. But in fact, it’s always there, somewhere. Otherwise, you'd be dead.

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