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Rosetta Stone of Contradiction

April 18, 2013

After my last child was born, I had the impulse to write but had lost all direction. It was as if I had packed my bags and was ready to go on a trip but didn’t know what train to board. A writer friend suggested writing about the experience of having a child you know is your last.

The event was so recent, my memory so clear, the words came quickly. “They tell me to breathe, to ride the contraction like an ocean swell, cresting it in rhythmic control, but I barely hear them, diving deep beneath the pain. There is less movement in the depths, less distance to the shore.”

My husband and I already had two children, a girl and a boy. So we had chosen once again, to allow the baby’s gender to remain a mystery and would be delighted with either one; a newborn daughter or a newborn son. In my heart of hearts, however, having sisters of my own, I may have had the slightest preference for another girl.

As i wrote of the delightful suspense before the doctor sang out, “It’s a…girl!” I stopped, confused. Revisiting that instant of joy, I realized I’d felt disappointment.

The realization made no sense but was an undeniable fact. Everything was right and yet I remembered a wave of sadness. You can’t write for very long before the truth emerges and demands attention, so when contradictions arise you keep writing. Immersing myself in the memory of that moment, I realized my sadness was actually grief. How could that be?

For nine months, my husband and I had nurtured this baby without knowing its gender. I had imagined myself holding and dressing newborn Adam one minute and baby Emily the next and both felt real. As I wrote, the grief returned and its source became clear. With the arrival of Emily, there would never be an Adam. The loss wasn’t real, but it felt real, and grief doesn’t require a rationalization. Writing my way through a contradiction recovered an experience and truth I’d lost.

Now Emily is the 17- year- old daughter whose laundry I fold unnecessarily; whom I look for when I hear footsteps on the porch, who will be leaving home to go to college in a few weeks. I experience sadness again for a loss that feels real but perhaps isn’t. On the wall by her bed, there is a poster quoting legendary runner Steve Prefontaine. It admonishes, “To do less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” I think that applies to writing and parenting as well.

“Emily,” I call out as she breezes through the foyer, always and forever on her way to someplace else. “Eat dinner at home before you go out. You’ll be leaving a heartbeat from now.”

“Mom,” she says, with no desire to hurt me, “can’t you see? I’m already gone.”

Excerpted from “The Story Within, New Insights and Inspiration for Writers,” Laura Oliver, Penguin Books. Link below.

When in your life have you felt something different than what you expected to feel? Happy at the end of a relationship? Detached at a funeral? Lonely in the midst of your own party? Annoyed at a thoughtful gesture? A contradiction is a Rosetta Stone for a writer. Go into the moment. Write it out until you translate what you were looking for, into the experience and truth of what you really found.

One Comment
  1. lucewriter permalink

    Aw, I love the way you catch my attention looking for the bad and then comes the love so the bad shows up “differently.” Hah, like that makes sense!

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