Don’t tell me what really happened.

When her son died, my grandmother called my mom and invited her to lunch.

“Is something wrong?” my mom asked.

“I just wanted to see you. Is that all right?” It was a Sunday afternoon.

This was a year before I was born, but mom repeated the story often–always while staring off into space.

The day of the funeral--Aunt S., grandmother, mom, and Princess the dog..
The day of the funeral--Aunt S., grandmother, mom, and Princess the dog..

So my mom went, and they had lunch. Near the end of the meal my mom finally said, “Are you sure everything is okay?”

“Actually, there is something we need to talk about,” grandmother replied. “Your brother is gone.”

My uncle, Barry, was sleeping in the backseat of a friend’s car when the driver fell asleep. The car hit a wall. They were on spring break.

My grandmother had three children. The first was deaf and institutionalized, the second was my mother, and the third–who of course was her favorite and the bearer of all her hopes and dreams–was now dead. Why is it that is the one who always dies?

My grandmother did have three other children. All girls. Grandmother had married their father and then their father abandoned them. So, Grandmother adopted them, raised them, and called them her girls. But they were never really hers. Their was the problem that my mother had accused their father, her step-father, of rape before he’d taken off–to Alaska where he’d embezzled money meant for widows.

In the photograph my grandmother stands behind flowers sent for Barry’s funeral. My mom has the short brown hair and a hand on my grandmother’s shoulder.

See, true stories sound too contrived to be believed. That’s the way it really happened, some writers say. The way it really happened is a mess. There is no arc, no climax, and no resolution. If I can’t get satisfaction from real life, I’d better get it from fiction.

8 thoughts on “Don’t tell me what really happened.

  1. I like your answer to what you want from stories. That feeling in the gut, you said. I’m with you on that. Part of the feeling comes from the awareness of having connected a few dots I hadn’t realized were able to be connected.

    Respectfully, no; you don’t ramble.

  2. sherri

    At first I wondered why your grandmother felt she had to smile for the camera on such a sad day, but then I realized I might have done it, too, and I know my mom would have. So I guess I know after all.

  3. You are right. LIfe is sometimes too strange to be believed. The good stories in real life often sound contrived or fake if you write about them. I knew a man, a customer at my restaurant who had an obsession with me. I always wanted to make a story with him as a character, but he would have seemed unreal, a cartoon, making fun. But he was real. I swear.

    I also agree that real life is often too messy to give closure. How much distance and perspective do you need to make sense of it all? Maybe you need to be a genius editor, and just get rid of everything, true or not, that doesn’t fit the perspective you have.

  4. Agree with the other commenters.

    People do behave unpredictably, don’t they, when it comes to handling death? When my dad died years ago (extended bout with cancer), my mother was pretty much exhausted from all the months before, and the four of us “kids” were kinda frayed as well. The evening of the day he died, we were sitting around the kitchen table with Mom’s minister; he must’ve thought we’d lost our minds, all the laughing and cutting up I mean. Of course it was relief layered over and masking the grief, but it still must have seemed odd at best!

    (I’m so happy rowena broke the ice — I was beginning to think your name had to start with “she” to qualify you to comment on this. :))

  5. I could never get my grandmother to talk about this picture, and so I don’t know why she is smiling. But I’ve learned we all have different reactions to death–tears one moment, laughter the next. Though she hid grief well, I never doubted she felt it.

  6. Pingback: Condemned. « writing in the water

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