It’s Monday — again.
I think I’m going to have to face the fact that I’ll never get a workshop check-in completed on the weekend. Weekends are for traveling, for catching up on housework, for outings in nature, for making time to make eye contact with my beloved who is trapped in the spiraling web of insanity that is the last six months of a doctorate in Physics. This weekend was for celebrating my grandfather’s 84th birthday and my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary — and I had to drive to Atlanta to participate in all of it. I’m just now feeling a bit recovered.
So the posts where I analyze my week fit better for me after the new week has begun. Even when I have a killer workshop week. Which I did.
I actually completed a story this week. A story I like, with characters who I enjoyed getting to know, and who seem, well, real to me. And the protagonist, a military vet dealing with the consequences of brain trauma when he returns stateside, is a male character who is definitely not a stereotype or a caricatured or cliché version of a man, in keeping with the goals for this four-week unit of the workshop.
This idea for a story was a pretty basic, simple one. I’d almost call what I created in preparation for writing a schematic, rather than a story plan, and maybe the simplicity helped me to keep it short, and the lack of detail about how I would execute it helped me to follow the flow of the moment better as I wrote. (Note I’m still far from being a seat-of-the-pants writer, though.)
The idea for this story came to me after meeting a woman at a party in 2005 or 2006 (?), who had unwillingly been divorced by her husband after he returned home from Iraq with a completely different personality, due to a brain injury suffered in an explosion. It was one of the most shocking and tragic real-life stories I’d ever heard.
Her husband initiated their separation almost immediately after his return home because he found himself unable to communicate as before — and sometimes unable to control the violent impulses that arose from such frustration. He’d been so looking forward to meeting his infant daughter, who had been born while he was deployed, but he panicked when he realized he might one day hurt her unawares. Even therapy and drugs weren’t helping with his anger control issues and PTSD reactions.
He also had some amnesia, which unfortunately included the years of his courtship of his young wife. They had only been married for about six months before he left to go to war, and most of their history together had gone A.W.O.L. According to her, he tried to pretend for a few months after his return, to not reveal to her the extent of what was missing, and to act the part of adoring lover and husband. Eventually he had to admit it felt to him as if he were married to a stranger.
And of course, she had to realize that although he looked the same and seemed familiar to her, with his brain trauma he was a virtual stranger to her, too.
You can imagine that this strange party interlude stuck with me for a while after it happened. I can even remember the music that was playing in the background as we sipped our drinks and this extraordinarily beautiful young divorcée explained some of what she had been through in the last year of her life. It was a wild story, poignant and heartbreaking and also inspiring somehow, that though this young soldier came home so altered and damaged, he was still determined to sacrifice of his own happiness to remove himself from his daughter’s sphere to avoid harming her, mentally or physically.
I went on to research brain injuries and to discover that many, many of our “unwounded” vets are now coming home from war quite damaged — or at the very least changed, and I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to write about it. I even had the story idea. But as many ideas do, it languished in a closet somewhere until we had to do our goal-setting exercise, and I decided I wished to work on writing 3-D male characters. Then I pulled it out, blew the dust off of it, and found it surprisingly still viable and meaningful to me today.
Weirdly enough, as I began my writing week last week, I heard this report on NPR during a commute in the pouring rain, about the U.S. military still failing to diagnose brain injuries in our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and detailing some of the lasting effects on the lives of these former soldiers, and the lives of those who love them and live with them.
Now, to the title of this post. I’m sure you’ve been wondering. That’s from the first sentence of the story as it stands now, in pure, unedited, rough draft form:
“Paul and Kim lay curled on the bed like two naked question marks, with a stripe of moonlight marking the clean white space between their bodies.”