The short story that recently got accepted to a lit journal had me thrilled, as you know, and pretty much bouncing off the walls for a few days, but there is also a sobering detail to the whole happy-dance. You see, the story is about my mother. It is fiction. (It is! I swear!) And yet it is based on real people, real places, real events, if shifted and exaggerated and warped to fit what I wanted as I wrote it. Even if changed, the emotion of the whole piece speaks to the emotions I had a long time ago, when things were different, when my mother wasn’t where she is now, which is in a good, happy place, and much better off than she was then.
While cooking Christmas dinner (we celebrate, in our own quirky way, even though she is Jewish) E told my mother about the story getting accepted. She was so proud. She said she wanted to read it—when could I send her a copy? And that’s when I realized, upon grating the mozzarella for the lasagna… she may not want to read this story.
You see, fiction allows me to say the things I can’t say in real life. I might feel an emotion for a single minute, one searing piercing emotion, and then it might be gone. We move on, physically and mentally, things get better, people change, circumstances change—nothing is the same anymore. Except I remember that feeling, and the way I get through it is to write about it. Now I must face the consequences of it being read, and it makes me nervous.
At Thanksgiving, my mother read another story of mine that was published in a different journal. That one was about my stepfather, her ex-husband. But it was fiction (I swear!). Really—the events in that story, most of them, didn’t happen. And yet I suppose the emotion was raw enough to make it seem like they did happen, to the point that after my mother read it she asked me if one of the scenes really happened. I got adamant. I was like: No, it’s fiction! But she smiled and she shook her head and she said: But it’s also real.
And I don’t know… can a story be both?
My mother, it must be said, is my biggest fan. I know she is proud of me. She has even read—voluntarily—one of the YA novels I wrote and left me a voicemail message saying how much she loved it. She is the most amazingly supportive mother I could imagine. When I was a teenager, my friends wanted her to be their mother. They confided in her, she helped them with their futures. Today she does something similar on a professional level, with much more troubled people. She’s amazing. Will she know, when she reads this story, that it is “fiction”? That I am not angry, or bitter, or upset anymore about what may have happened?
I wrote it down, and now I am fine. So selfish, I know.
This is why I wrote the other novel. I wanted to write something that no one could deny was fiction, that didn’t guest-star any of my relatives, and now… where am I with that book of pure unadulterated fiction? Not anywhere. It’s the less-than-fiction fiction that keeps pulling me back. The story I finished last week was about my father. I don’t know if there is anything that could shut me up. And worse, I don’t want to shut up. Not yet, at least.