How a New Story Takes Roots

Circumstances don’t determine what kind of person we become. Yet events shape our lives and some, more than others, have the power to make us switch gears.

The recent death of my father is one of these events.

In the days that followed, what moved me the most was how my father left this earth in such a rush.

He had leaned his rake, shovel and a variety of gardening tools against a tree trunk but left the pump of the small well he uses to water his vegetables unfixed. He had planted small stakes near the radishes, peas, and green beans, but a whole section of the garden was yet to be plowed.

The lawn had been mowed, but he had started a new compost pile underneath a magnificent acacia bush instead of discarding the grass cuts and twigs into the original compost in the back of the garden. Was he just tired on Saturday and had decided to delay his work until Monday?

His weekend newspaper was spread open near his favorite chair, but he had slid his reading glasses in their case.

When I searched for a fleece on a cool morning in the hallway closet, my hand met the soft fabric of a light spring jacket. Your father had just bought it, said my mother, and with tears welling in her eyes she added that he only wore it once. His wallet was still tucked in the inside pocket. My heart caught in my throat when I saw his passport. He didn’t have one before I moved to the States. In a glance I understood that he had not only renewed it but also kept it within reach.

This is merely detail to anyone. But to me these ordinary facts tell of a quiet yet purposeful life suddenly interrupted.

And they triggered some serious thinking on my part.

Do I have a purpose? What kind of details will I leave behind me if I left so abruptly?

Although I started the summer with one specific writing goal in mind, I will return home early August with more work unfinished than I had in June.

I wanted to finish the draft of a new YA novel. The beginning is satisfying and my writing group has been encouraging and supporting. They like the main character and the premise of the story. It was up to me to move on.

And I have not added a word to the story.

It only took four days for me to lose track of my goal.

Four days are nothing. And I should have been able to return to this manuscript.

But these four days spent near my father, as cruelly short as they have been, have profoundly affected me.

Not only as a daughter but also as a writer.

As I spoke to my father, although unresponsive, to my mother, my sister, my uncles, aunts, and cousins, I renewed affection for this large extended family and this land where I belong despite the physical absence.

I can be the American, but I still speak the common language of my French childhood. I can easily drive through California and New England, but my footsteps effortlessly retrieve the way to my high school.

Being in Normandy, talking about my father and remembering the stories that he left behind – all of them funny since his talent, and I think his purpose, was to make us laugh – fulfilled me despite my sadness.

A strong desire to write another kind of story took root inside me.

I have neither a chapter outline nor a title.

I don’t know how it will fit within my critique group since only one member writes for adults.

But I already started.

Last night I saw one of the two loons and the baby chick gliding across the lake.

The baby was not riding the back of his parent anymore but swimming alongside.

On his own.

But not alone.

 

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