Last night I talked at length with a favorite writer friend about stories and personae and family and memoirs and processing all of the craziness and boredom that goes on, both in your head and outside it, when you’re working on a book.
I’m often asked if writing this book is therapeutic. The answer is no. NoNoNoNofFuckingNo! But I’m talking with this friend, a friend who’s also working on a story about family. We talked and yelled and laughed and said, I know! Right!?!! so many times. So many necessary times.
Today it was back to work. It’s damp-cold here. I started a fire in the fireplace and sat on the couch with my laptop. It was a fake fire, real flames with fake logs, you know the kind, but I started the fire and stared hopefully at a bunch of words I’ve already written, not knowing what else I wanted to say. After about 2 hours, I finally gave into being stuck and called my stepmother. She’s just home from a week in the hospital for pneumonia and, as I told my friend last night, she’s suffering and going the way of the same disease as my mother. Exactly the same. Emphysema. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Smokers death sentence. Exactly the same, right down to the types of hospital stays, the setbacks, the constant bronchitis and feeling of suffocation, the whole-body tremors, the fights with nurses and doctors over steroids and inhalers and all manner of medication. A re-living of the end, you might say. Today my stepmother told me they were overmedicating her. (my mother once said this) Today my stepmother, finally home, told me she had to manage her own care and tell the nurses and doctors, Dammit! I’m going home today!!!! (my mother said this). I didn’t have control of my body, it was so scary.
I remember that, too.
Today my stepmother said, as we were hanging up, Love you, bye.
And I said it back, Love you, bye.
So easy. So natural. Something my own mother never once said to me. Something I never once said to her.
Ten years on.
My stepmother has a new puppy. Bear is his name. Bear snuggles with her on the couch and comforts her. I think Bear weighs about 2 pounds. And I’m so glad she’s home and cuddling on the couch with Bear. All two pounds of him.
Last night I talked with my writer friend about stories about family, and I told her there’s a reason — certainly there’s a reason, right? — that my memoir is taking so long to write. I need distance. I need perspective. I need the “story.” I need the circle. From mother to stepmother. Interesting, since I’m a stepmother, too. And a stepdaughter, a stepsister, a half-sister, etc…. But am I a real anyone?
What is a family? And who are you, who are you really, in your family?