Truth In Fiction: The Sticky, Heart-Shattering Stories

I had a story for you, but it wasn’t mine. And not that they are all mine, that I am in the business of hoarding these absolutely self-absorbed and metaphored fragments, but some stories are like windshield cracks—ready, at any moment, to spiderweb outward and cave in and leave you sitting in a pile of shattered glass.

I have a feeling this story is one of those, so I’ll let it live inside my heart.

But that’s the question I’m playing ping pong with. Do we write them down—the stories over which we may never take ownership—and live with the guilt of that when somebody calls up and says they’d like to know about the details between the paragraphs?

Do we sit across from them in chrome-lined cushioned booths and say that it was about a girl who got off at the same subway station some odd years ago, a photograph of our mother’s first grade class picture maybe, that sparked the first sentence?

Do we let the lines of truth bleed into our fiction? Let his cracked knuckles, her eyebrow piercing, the way they say the word “wooder” when what they really mean is “water” work it’s way into the conversation. Give them the pieces you can afford to shed, the ones that won’t open doors that lead to windows that lead to the retractable attic stairs holding not just ghosts but everything you shoved up there before you hrumphed and locked it good.

Or maybe we say yes. Yes, there was a girl in the diner who said my name so sweetly I felt compelled to buy a slice of apple pie a la mode from her every Monday night. Yes, that newsboy did once knock my middle-aged husband out when he flung the paper too hard. Yes, it did hit him square in the eye and cause him to stumble into the porch column.

No, she didn’t sing my name when she said it. I only wish she would have. No, he didn’t have a black eye for weeks. I only wish the boy had better aim.

Maybe that’s where the magic lies—in the mystery, the sheer hope, that some girl out there sings sweetly when she says your name, that she always warms your apple pie, that some town out there still has boys on bikes delivering the New York Times.

Maybe I’m too afraid, with the world as fragile as it is, to take away the hope that comes with naivete. Maybe I’m too afraid to replace it with the truth, leaving you with nothing to fill in but honesty. Nothing to muse over but sincerity. Nothing to ponder while you syrup your Belgian waffle but veracity.

Or maybe it isn’t for you at all. Maybe it is for the girl who sits in that diner, waiting for someone to come back time and again so she can feel wanted. Maybe it is for the boy who always hits the planter and keeps having to truck to Lowe’s to buy a replacement for the poor old lady whose granddaughter just desperately wants her to grow some geraniums.

Maybe it’s for the ones I’m protecting, the stories so real that they shatter your heart, the details too complicated to sift through in 500 words or less.

Maybe, I would like you to believe, all our stories can be told and retold and you will find what you need in them. Maybe I am afraid of the stories that don’t end well, that don’t sum up nicely, that don’t leave you feeling like today? I can do this. I can.

You can. Find the stories that know you can.


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