A New Beggining

15 May

Broken cornstalks under the light of a full moon. That’s what I remember from the night, the one, haunting image sealed into my mind. People say that when you’re in a bad accident, everything moves in slow motion, as if, the brain knows it’s a critical moment and so elongates it like taffy, stretching, stretching, stretching until it snaps. And normal time returns. Before that happens, you remember everything, the smell, taste, sound and sights. The brain is saying, “This is important. Take note.” But that same faculty that supposedly helps also haunts. It’s even harder to extinguish the memories, even if you try extra hard. They appear when you least expect them to, in the grocery store, frying eggs in the morning, driving home from work. You do your best, dumping mental water on them, but the flame continues, like one of those trick candles that, no matter how many times get blown out, continue burning.

There are many books written about people who fall happily in love, the people who, after a struggle, manage to get things together, realize their love for one another and eventually say, “I do.” They marry, buy a pretty house and have kids. There are novels, nonfiction books and poetry even. And movies galore. But there are few for those of us whose loves married someone else, who now have a wife of their own and soon, kids. In short, my own story. Who wants to read a sad story, after all? Besides, what right do I have to be sad? There are starving people in the world, people with aids and bloated bellies, people with no roof or water. All sympathy, all sadness, should go toward more worthy causes. But I guess I don’t need pity or sympathy. I just have this aching desire to put my experience into words, to turn the shifting, translucent memories into something sturdy, concrete—to bring them out from the dark of my own mind and make them bright and visible. So that I can look back on it and say, “It happened.”     

I never had time before—to write, that is—when I worked at the newspaper. My evenings were sucked up by work, and when I came home, I fell exhausted into bed, only to wake up the next morning and do the same thing all over again. I worked 12-hour days, a few times per week. After twenty years of this I said, “No more.” I walked into my bosses office, a perfectly decent man who I respected and who respected me, and explained everything to him in what seemed one long, extended breath that tumbled out of me.

I explained how I would have an undying love for newspapers, even after the day—and it is coming—when they no longer existed. I explained how I spent some of the best years of my life writing for the paper, how I would be forever grateful to him for hiring me when I had absolutely no experience, how I would always have inky fingertips from reading so many of them and how I would miss the paper very much. (It’s strange—and this I didn’t say—how humans can want two opposite, contradictory things at the same time.) He looked at me through all this, and by the end, I even felt hot tears at the corner of my eyes. He didn’t say anything through it all, just let me talk and talk and talk, something I rarely did. I probably said more then than I ever had to him in one sitting before.

Finally, by the end, he asked, “So what are you going to do, Eliana?”

I told him that I wanted to work eight hours a day, not 10 or 12. I could work less, but since I am a perfectionist, I wouldn’t quit until I felt I had done an adequate job, and so, by extension, I always worked late rather than do a shoddy job. I told him that I wanted a life outside work, a life where, if I wanted to, I could plant a garden and not be so busy that I would forget to water the flowers so many times that they would die after a few weeks. I wanted to read big, thick novels by Russian authors that I could get so lost in that I would forget another world existed outside them. I wanted the freedom to write exclusively about things I found fascinating, about my own passions. I wanted to never again go to a school, village or town board meeting. Why? Because I didn’t care, because I felt that no matter how much they—and the public—squabbled over things, nothing ever changed, and even if it did, a new issue would appear for squabbling. I had lost all interest, and all hope, in local government.

When I finished, I was afraid I had offended him, and my hand wobbled as I handed him my two weeks’ notice. He looked it over, amused at my perfunctory note after such a speech and dropped it on his desk. He then shoved out from behind his desk, crossed the two steps between us and, very uncharacteristically, wrapped me in a bear hug. I felt my glasses go askew.

He pulled back and held me at arm’s length on the shoulders.

“Eliana, I thought you would never go,” he said. “But now that you are, I couldn’t be happier. Of course, we’ll never be able to replace you. But no worries about us here. We’ll manage. We always do. Do all those things you said—and more.”

With that, he returned to his desk, and I walked out of his office.

“Eliana!”

I popped my head back in his office.

“Read one of those novels for me, will you?”

I said that I would.

 So now is the time to write. If not now, then when? I am a 45-year-old woman who has harbored ambitions to write something longer than a newspaper article for a long time. When I look in the mirror, I am surprised at what I see: the fine wrinkles around the corners of my eyes, the taught lips, the gray hairs sprouting around my temples. I thought, in my twenties, that beauty would last. I took it for granted. I looked at women older than myself and never considered I would someday look just as they do. I took my youth for granted, never knowing that it stays only a few short years. But beauty isn’t everything. There are, after all, words—and no one could guess one’s appearance through them. They are non-discriminating. A 90-year-old woman could write more beautifully than a 20-year-old. When it comes to language, age matters little. Age, in fact, often works in one’s favor.

Let’s hope so now, as I attempt to put my life in order.

After quitting my job, I moved to the country, something I’d always wanted to do. I had the vague, hastily-formed notion that I would make a living doing freelance writing. The truth is that I wasn’t sure how to do this—freelancing—that is. Sure, I knew how to assign and write articles myself, could do so in my sleep, but market my writing to other publications? This was all new to me. But I had faith in myself, faith enough to quit my job, faith that I could figure it out. When I packed my box of belongings at work, I said my goodbyes, and I felt that everything would be fine, that the newspaper would continue churning out stories just the same without me there, and I wondered why I hadn’t made the decision to leave earlier. The staff underneath me looked at me and my boxes with big eyes and asked, as my boss had, “What are you going to do?” I gave them the much abbreviated version of what I’d told the boss. When I told them I would freelance, they looked dreamy, as if they wished they too could clear out their desk and come with me. And some of them, I admit, I wished would leave. They deserved better.

“You know things aren’t going to be same here without you,” said Muriel, a friend of mine, pulling me aside. “Your section will never be as good without you.”

“Watch. Some new, young thing with double my energy is going to come charging in here,” I said. “It’s going to be great, maybe even better. Just give it time.”

Muriel looked doubtful. “Well, do you want one last crappy cup of office coffee before you leave? That, I’m sure, you’ll miss.”

As Muriel and I sipped the truly terrible coffee we all drank because, for lack of better reasons, we were bored—and, however untasty, it was a distraction— Hal came barging into the break room with a stack of unruly papers, as always.

“So you’re leaving me?” he said. “And you never did let me take you out on a date. It would have been magnificent, you know. Well, your loss.”

The truth is that he never once asked me out; I knew he was just teasing.

“Maybe some other time,” I said. “You never know.”

“Well you two beauties better quit drinking coffee all day and get back to work.” He winked and rounded the corner, but not before slipping me his business card. We both laughed. I realized that I would miss Hal, the quintessential salesman: pushy, funny, thoroughly entertaining—and, at times—lovable even. Personality wise, the opposite of me and most other people in the editorial department. Whereas the salespeople spent their days seducing clients with their gregarious, “We grow your business” motto, we spent our days mostly hunched over keyboards, fiddling with phrases, lost in isolated thought. Just us and our stories, never-ending stories.

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One Response to “A New Beggining”

  1. Grayquill June 26, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    WOW – it was you! I think i know you a little better. Vulnerable, honest and full of hope.
    I wish you the best!

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