I’ve been quietly working on a novel for the last several months. I’m not very many pages into it because it has become one of the most painful processes that I’ve encountered in some time. It’s semi-autobiographical and draws mainly from the period from my dad getting sick up to more or less when my second daughter was born. I’ve had it squirreled away, partly out of worry that it will show my humanity in a way that I’m not 100% comfortable with, but what’s writing if not terribly personal? I figured it’s time to let it breathe a little and maybe get some feedback. Only two people other than myself have had access to it so far.
Here is the first page or so. I’ve got a couple of working titles but for now let’s just call it
Room Full of Strangers
I was born in a room full of strangers.
The doctors, my parents, everyone a blur in the delivery room. A world of unknowns beyond those four walls of which I was completely unaware. This feeling is not one that I’ve always been able to identify, to confine or define. However, in retrospect, it’s one that has always been there.
In a room full of strangers.
I found myself most recently in a stranger-filled room the day my father died. My wife was on a food run. My mom was downstairs. I discovered that a new inhabitant had taken up residence in the room I had left minutes prior. A stranger with familiar, familial features.
Can it be? I thought, and for one, brief moment, my world froze in a solid silent vacuum as the reality of my dad’s lonely death seeped into my eyes and ears, my nose and throat, my pores. Death, on tiptoes, stole the man I knew and loved and left in his place a strange, empty shell; someone new and unfamiliar.
Did I know this man, my metamorphosed father? Of course I knew who he was once was. In his previous iteration, he was there in the delivery room. He was there in the emergency room when I broke my arm, the courtroom when I married my wife, every childhood bedroom that a sicker, younger version of myself occupied. But then, now, in that moment, he is, was not that man. In that moment, in that room where I watched him slowly grow older, sicker, more broken, he became a stranger once more. A week later, a lifetime later, a lifetime ago.
The memorial service.
Were we remembering the same person? Or so many iterations of one person? The uncle, the husband, the businessman. My father, my hero, my friend. The people in that room that I’d met before were as strange as the ones I hadn’t. Ah yes, I’d say, of course I know who you are. Who, I’d think, is this person? Thank you, I’d say, for your condolences. Why, I would think, are you here? I saw everyone there through melancholy lenses. People changed by, dressed in, obscured by death’s cold hand.
Even I, my most familiar self, was not who I had been. My reflection, a refraction. My memories and perceptions hung at arm’s length in the rough-hewn obsidian remains of my soul. Darkness? No, no. Darkness gives the illusive promise of a reciprocal light. The graying world as I saw it seemed fake, painted, staged, wrapped in cellophane. I could perceive in the corner of my eyes a barrier separating me from the rest of the world, like the lines around a moving cartoon, defining it from its surroundings and confining it to itself.
Confined to myself, to the what’s it called? Cortege? The funeral procession, the line that defines those that belong to the living and those that belong to the dead. I look to the left and a stranger is standing there.