Browsing Tag

Laraine Herring

Gratitude, Guest Posts, memories

Take The R Train

April 2, 2020
choice

By Laraine Herring

My mother could have remained in Bay Ridge, taking the R train into Lower Manhattan to work at the Stock Exchange. She could have not met my father, who could have passed Spanish at Wake Forest and graduated there instead of transferring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where they did not require two years of Spanish for a History major, where he did meet my mother, who was the first female accepted into the graduate school of mathematics at Chapel Hill, at an uncharacteristic football game where she’d gone with her roommate as an out for her blind date. But if she had remained working at the Stock Exchange riding the R train this would not have happened.

My father would have married a woman named Betty, not Elinor. I’m reasonably confident of this because when he died we found drawings Betty had made for him of his face, his golf swing, his eyes, and she called the house a lot and tried to make friends with my mother. She stopped calling once we moved from North Carolina to Arizona, but I still have one of the pictures she drew in a box in my closet. She could have been my mother, but there’s a reasonable chance she is dead now, or at the very least married to someone who never quite measured up to my father, but who nonetheless was a decent man. Betty could be writing this piece too. She would start with: I might have married Glenn…and I don’t know what she would have written next because I don’t know her. But I have her picture.

My father could have died with the polio in 1949 like he was supposed to. Like everyone did. Like the boy who was in the iron lung next to his who died in the night, my father talking to him in the dark, not realizing he had gone. The boy’s name was Charlie, and the two times my father spoke of him, he trailed off into ellipses.

Charlie could have lived like my father lived. He could have broken out of the iron lung and not imprinted my father with his death in the night. It is hard for a boy of eight to carry the death of a boy of seven in the dark. That’s a weight that lingers, like the bitter of chocolate.

My father could have died in 1976 after his heart attack like he was supposed to. Like the doctors said he would. Like maybe he would have, except one round of doctors had already told him in 1949 he should have died and he told them he was not going to die and so he had a script for what to do the next time he heard that.

I could have died in 2017 of colon cancer, but I didn’t. I knew how to tell the doctors no because my father told them no twice. Even when he died, he told them no. He pulled out his tubes in unconscious urgency. He clawed at his oxygen. It was his time for dying, and he was telling them no to the saving.

If my father hadn’t died in 1987, I would have gone to Oregon. I had a scholarship to William and Mary and I was desperate to get out of the desert and into the green. But I graduated from high school in 1986 and I knew I couldn’t go because my father was dying and so I didn’t go, but every time I visit the Northwest I see my shadow in the train and I see a possible life where I wouldn’t have met my husband, who is a born and bred Northern Arizona man, a man who becomes sad in the rain. Too much sun makes me sad, but not my husband, and somewhere between 1986 and now I realized that every choice I make may not give me everything I want. Every choice is many choices. I can visit the trees and the water and the damp, but I slept with many wrong people before I met my husband and I know what right feels like now, even if it’s in the desert.

If I hadn’t lived with the abuser in 1988 after my father died, I wouldn’t have had my heart smashed open to an empathy I didn’t know was possible. Or I might have died there. Other women do. I walked out of their graveyard.

If my father’s family had not been Southern Baptist we might have remained in the will and could be living in North Carolina by the Atlantic in the family home. We could have an altar of sand dollars on the dining table, gathered over years of morning walks at low tide. I might wear navy and forgo white after Labor Day and know how to can peaches. But probably not.

If I had stayed in Phoenix in 2003 instead of moving to Prescott—I had to get out of the haunting heat-sun—I wouldn’t have met my husband. I left Phoenix because a tree fell on my house and then I had a dream that echoed the dream I had when we first moved to Phoenix in 1981—I will die in this place if I don’t leave—and so I was gone in a month. This is the only time in my life I made a decision of that magnitude so quickly.

That’s not true. I told the oncologist I would not do chemotherapy and radiation even quicker. They pushed it like a desperate realtor hawking swampland in Florida but I said no. I come from a long line of people who told the doctors no. They were exasperated and fired me as a patient. This was OK because I am not patient.

If I hadn’t told my doctors no, I wouldn’t have met the psychic in Encinitas the year after my surgery who handed me a rose quartz and looked me straight like only the real psychics can do and said, “It must have been so hard for you to fight for your body’s intuition.” And I cried in the middle of the psychic fair, watching the Pacific breeze blowing her psychedelic psychic skirt around her legs. She was the first person to recognize that—the first person to let me recognize that—yes, yes, I had to fight to say no. I had to fight. The wrong choice was easier. The wrong choice was covered by insurance. My wrong choices—every single one of them—were the easier decisions. The ones that cost me my voice.

“I didn’t know how hard it would be,” I told her. Harder than cancer. Harder than surgery. The refusal to walk the pre-written cancer-journey-story filleted me. “If I did chemo, I would die,” I said. And she held my hands and let me cry and the ocean carried my salt away like she always does.

If my mother had stayed in Bay Ridge riding the R train, I wouldn’t be with her today, riding the R train, returning to Bay Ridge to eat pizza at Lucas, which is now the Brooklyn Firefly, because it was where they went for pizza when she was a girl, back when she wasn’t allowed in the special math and science high school because it was only for boys, back when my father was learning how to walk again and Betty was drawing his picture and I was waiting somewhere velvet-dark until I found the woman who was strong enough to bear all of me.

Laraine Herring holds an MFA in creative writing and an MA in counseling psychology. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in national and local publications. Her fiction has won the Barbara Deming Award for Women and her nonfiction work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in K’in, Tiferet Journal, The Manifest-Station, Quiet Storm, Vice-Versa, and others. She currently directs the creative writing program at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. She can be found online at www.laraineherring.com.

 

Upcoming events with Jen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Guest Posts, healing, The Body

Robot Kisses

August 27, 2017
shower

By Laraine Herring

You’re separated from your family at 5:30 am and taken with a group of six down a wood-paneled hallway into an older, darker portion of the hospital. You’re assigned a bed and given a plastic bag for your clothes. You have to take your third pregnancy test in three days because, why the eff not, even though you haven’t had anything to eat and very little but Gatorade mixed with Miralax in three days in preparation for your second colonoscopy in two weeks and the colon resection surgery, and besides, all that rectal bleeding from the malignant tumor didn’t make you feel very sexy. You wonder if men have to take a fertility test before surgery. Seems only fair.

You tell them your name, again, confirm your birthday, again, and they scan your barcode on your ID bracelet, which is next to a wristband that contains the numbers for your blood vials, which are stored somewhere in the building should you need a blood transfusion, permission for which you had to give 48 hours previously. Your allergies are marked on a red band, and now you have three bracelets. Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, writing

Scheherazade’s Call.

December 26, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Laraine Herring.

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of those magic stories that saved my life. I remember the line drawings of the Bunny all alone on the hill, splashes of muted pastel colors behind him. The Bunny was so loved by the Boy that his fur was rubbed away and he was no longer new and pretty, but it didn’t matter because the Boy loved him. But then the Boy got sick and he was taken away and the Bunny was left alone.

This was the part of the story that began to take root inside of me. My dad contracted polio in the 1940s when he was the same age as the Boy, and even though the diseases were different, the story helped awaken empathy in me for the experiences of another. How scared my dad must have been to have suddenly found himself so sick! What treasured toys of his were taken away? I empathized with both the Boy and the Bunny, and I wanted more than anything for the Bunny to become real—to become loved alive—and if that could happen, maybe—even though my father’s right leg was shorter than his left leg, and even though his gaze often rested on distant things I couldn’t see—I could love my dad back alive too.

That 1922 edition of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit was my version of the book. My rabbit. My boy. My playroom and wise old Skin Horse. William Nicholson’s illustrations helped make it mine. When later editions hit the shelves, the new illustrations (lovely though they were) were jarring. That’s not my bunny! That’s not my story.

This seems ludicrous on the surface, but talk to a fan of a book when the movie comes out and you’ll get a step-by-step guide of what didn’t match up and how the actors didn’t fit the images the reader had put in her head. Readers claim ownership of the fictional worlds they inhabit, and rightfully so—they helped to create those worlds using the signposts the author provided through text. The reader’s experience with the story is so intimate and so real that it comes as a shock when another reader has a different relationship with the same story. No one can enter the web of words the same way, and no one comes out the other side unchanged either.

Why do books matter? Why do fiction writers matter? Why is fiction reading still relevant? The world changes, evolves, and by necessity leaves behind what no longer fits. The thing is, stories always fit. They take us by the hand and pull us into worlds we didn’t know existed—not the world of the writer, but the world that was within us. Our hidden interior world, on the trigger of a turn of phrase, can expand into new ways of being in and relating to the world. Our experiences with characters and adventures on the page make us move in surprising ways. They give us a window into a way of life we’d never know or a belief system that challenges us and stretches our capacity to care. The author might have been writing five hundred years ago or just yesterday. It doesn’t matter. The readers are the wild card. Each reader co-creates her own story and makes it personally relevant and then engages with the world from that new, changed place.

Our lives are very different from when that first edition of The Velveteen Rabbit captured hearts. Much of what fuels our economy is not a physical product that we can ship and store. Our productivity is intellectual. It’s artistic. It’s creative. And it doesn’t always sit on a shelf. It isn’t warehoused and it isn’t collecting dust. This is an economy of ideas and of inventions based not on a combustible engine, but rather a combustible spirit. As Seth Godin tells us in The Icarus Deception, this is the time of the creatives, the artists, the dreamers and imaginers. This is the time for magic. But it’s hard to put magic in a spreadsheet. It’s hard to make a pie chart or a PowerPoint slide about its benefits. But make no mistake. Our modern age runs on magic. It runs on someone alone in a room with an idea to make the world a little bit better. Innovation and invention start with imagination—the world of fiction.

Who would have thought we’d go to the moon, or store our documents in a cloud, or type a manuscript from across the room from the computer? Who would have thought, until someone did, and then what had once been purely fiction became the norm. Then the standard. But before it became the standard, it was inconceivable. It was impossible and then someone dreamed it. Someone shook the fairy dust and came up with an electric car, solar power, Apple computers, airplanes and stories. Continue Reading…

%d bloggers like this: