I find myself - and always have, even as a child - going through life with my senses tuned at a low-level for those moments that happen where a story begs to be told.
Once, when Knute and I were in Florida, driving from Jax over to Tallahassee (why, I cannot remember now), we stopped to get gas for our Explorer. Just on the other side of our pump, a young couple (younger than us and we were married straight out of college) pulled up in a dingy brown pick-up truck.
Out they stepped, boy and girl, man and new-wife. She still had her white dress that hit mid-calf; her veil was pinned back from her face. The groom was turned out in well-polished cowboy boots, pressed jeans, a belt buckle so big you could have used it as a serving plate, and a fine new Stetson.
I turned my head, probably answering a question from Knute through the window. When I looked across the pump again, the groom was leaning comfortably against the front of his pickup truck, arms crossed and smiling.
She was busy pumping gas.
Even typing that now, my heart sinks a bit. What happened to that girl who looked like she hadn't finished high school, I wonder? Was the small slice of her wedding day that I witnessed a blueprint for her marriage?
I don't know; I do know that I stored that moment, as I store so many other moments, images, and snippets of conversation, in that mental file labeled Story Fodder. It's bursting with over thirty years of overheard words, loaded looks, and odd situations.
I saw another one the other night when I was at a local store. A moment that normally I'd tuck away in that file, noodling over the man and the woman I witnessed for a minute while I wondered at all that was left unsaid.
But I've let it go; all I saw was sadness beneath the surface.
I wonder at those writers who build a career on stories of sorrow and tragedy; how does one survive writing such tales? There is no leaving it at the office when you're a fiction writer. Your characters live and breathe in your imagination and walk through your days with you, peeking out from the back room of your mind.
Children's tales of whimsy and rhyme look enticing as I get older; there are morals to the story and lessons learned. The big bad wolf gets his due and the good guys win in the end.
To write truly and honestly from the heart, to give voice to the small heartbreaks to which you bear accidental witness seems a great burden to me.
And yet these are the very stories that rattle the doorknob of that back room, demading to be heard.
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