Some of our stories cannot be told yet. Like a splinter that takes a day or two for the skin to move outward, we just have to sit with them, accepting their irritation until they can be properly plucked. We know our vision of ourselves gains clarity with distance. We can reject or embrace what we can see; we are powerless to comment on what we are blind to.
Other stories cannot be told by anyone but observers, third parties, who, of course, cannot tell them very well. Even the third-party stories can be important though, for they may recount that which the characters in it cannot. Perhaps there is shame, or guilt. Perhaps there is just a complete lack of wherewithal. Perhaps there is a victim who is simultaneously working so hard at not defining their life by that particular narrative and yet really needs in an existential way for their story to be told. For health, they cannot be its author; they are too close, and too fragile. This is why the third party is welcomed, however limited. No one else can write it.
I feel like I have been a third party storyteller at least half of the time.
Despite that beloved quote from Thoreau warning us to not sit down to write until we have stood up to live, I have a lot to write about that I haven’t exactly lived. Much of what I have written has been noticed, sniffed out, felt as though a residue on my skin. I wrestle with these stories, aware of my inexperience and inadequacy. Yearning to do their characters justice, yet usually unable to ask them questions. I am awkward and eager, perhaps the most annoying of combinations.
One of the biggest, most unobservable losses that I have experienced is the accidental deletion of files in the My Documents folder on my computer. A couple of years ago, all files with names that began with letters past the letter M were affected by the silent bomb. On the electronic journey from one computer to another, the last half of the alphabet disappeared. Have you seen them wandering around? The old computer was swiped clean, the drive used to transfer was terribly silent on the issue, and the new computer is conspicuously and painfully light on files named anything between N and Z.
Imagine if that happened in real flesh and bone life. For the sake of simplicity let’s use people (I cannot think of any other imaginable context in which that statement could be said truthfully). Oh the morbidity. If everyone named Rachel and Bob and Tina and Maria were missing, what gaps would happen in our lives? Well I start getting sad at the thought, no matter how ridiculous. If we went by last names, the effects would be catastrophic. Whole chunks of people would have vaporized. And they would be connected to one another and the person who could best remind us of the one person who had gone would also be gone because they’re likely related. Systems, no more. The church potluck, ruined. It would be awful.
My files were inanimate and finite. They were no Marias, let me tell you. But they included many of my stories, and the stories I’ve tried to tell for others. (It seems I had a knack for titles beginning with a letter found in the last half of the alphabet.) Sometimes I forget about the loss and I’ll go and look for a story. Bits and pieces might be stuck on my old blog… others perhaps in a file folder from an old class. But it would be impossible to know when I first wrote them and what my most recent revisions were. (Cue demonization of technology.)
When I think about story writing and the ones that I have been able to write since the Incident—both as a third party and as one involved—and the ones that I have now lost, I wonder at the progression. Does the accidental deletion of the accounts symbolize a breaking free—as one might scatter ashes, donate clothes from their former size, or move without packing? Can it? Could I wear those glasses or are they cliche? Is it ever appropriate to delete a story? The telling is a healing process, no doubt. No reader is required, no revision especially revelatory. Perhaps some writing can just be functional and then forgotten. Just as lots of extra weight is often functional for people—to provide a reason for loneliness, or an obvious “thing to work on” so others do not arise, or to feel more protected. And then, that person may come to a point where they no longer need that weight on more than they need it off. So they lose it; they grow to be free from its burden. Could stories be similarly temporary?
I don’t know. And I realize I do not have the liberty of choosing at this point what happens to my former NthroughZ even if I did. I am glad, at least, that I wrote them. I know they were worthwhile. I know that putting an account on a screen is a sort of honor and tribute. Perhaps time, just as it manipulates stories out of us—out of the crevices and cracks, sometimes causing us to bleed—may eventually quiet their telling. Perhaps a large grace of life is how memory is laid to rest, with fewer details and less accuracy, until it disappears. Until we release it like a helium balloon, no longer something we have to commit a whole hand to holding. The story may settle and reincarnate, in another setting, with different characters, and the process begins again: a writer with an itch, an experience in need of embrace. And we’ll say, I’ve heard of something like that before, but know we cannot remember.