4/20/2009

Openings

Wild Animal Park April 2009

This week I'm attending some writing workshops with a visiting scholar/author. As part of that, I've imagined collecting many of my blogposts into a book, organizing them thematically and with extended essays introducing the various sections. I wrote the section below to tell the story of three separate visits to Denver--each about a decade apart. And although I'll be getting feedback in my workshop session, I thought I'd throw out this draft of the opening to my essay out to the internets and see if any of you can offer advice/critique. If you prefer to send feedback via email, you can contact me at phddillyATyahooDOTcom.

Caveat: I am constantly concerned, in telling the stories of my life, that I am messing things up. My memory is not the greatest. So please understand that any writing about my childhood or the past is done as accurately as possible, but I'm sure I get stuff wrong all the time, especially when discussing events from my younger years. My apologies to those who care.

PS Update: No time to fix wonky html-formatting below (must get to TJ's before class because we're out of milk and TP and other desperate things)--sorry and Gah!

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A quiet suburban neighborhood and a house on the cul-de-sac. Of course it was utterly unremarkable. Had walking not been out of the question, I might have ambled across the lawn to see if that divot was still there. The one that caught my foot while I was sunbathing one May afternoon, when I fell and never walked on two legs again. Glancing around to confirm I was the only driver in the area, I pulled out my handheld camera to video the path I used to take to the schoolbus each morning. Of course the distance was far shorter than it had seemed then. But the wind, as it was nearly three decades ago, was still blowing, whipping my hair across my face and further blurring my vision of then and now.

My last return trip to Denver had been with a sense of triumph. My son was nearly three years old and I was newly pregnant with another child. This, after my doctors had told me I would never bear children--even if I did survive the aggressive chemotherapy treatments that followed my diagnosis with bone cancer at twelve years old. I’d returned to the hospital and to my old neighborhood feeling strong. “A survivor,” they said. So how was it that now, a decade later, I was alone in Denver? Again hospitalized with leg pain, and trying to not to ascribe the persistent déjà vu feeling to anything more that the very real difficulty I was having with driving, as I supposed that having minor surgery on my leg earlier in the day was surely as strong a contraindication to piloting a vehicle as were the warnings on the bottles of painkillers I’d picked up at the pharmacy afterwards.

I drove back to my motel, feeling an easy familiarity on streets that I’d known only as a young teen, my driving only slowing as I passed a strip mall with a pizza joint, wondering if I should stop for food, even stock up a bit not knowing how long I might be hunkered down in my hotel room. I decided against stopping. There were still a few yogurts left in the mini-fridge. And it would be easy enough to order a pizza by phone.

My family moved to Denver in 1983 when my Dad took a job with a computer software firm, a position that seemed more secure than his previous work in Oklahoma as a petroleum engineer. Building a custom home large enough for their family of five young children was the culmination of the American dream for my parents. It was an added bonus that Dad’s next-younger brother lived less than a mile away and that Denver was where my father served his proselyting mission for the Mormon church. My mother, if she were telling this story, would explain now that it was God who led us to move to Denver. That He wanted us to be near the West’s best cancer center and to the doctors who would save my life. I used to tell the story that way, too.

Now, I tell the story by motioning to my own 12 year-old daughter. “Can you imagine her…Look at those legs of hers,” I say. The conversation usually stalls a bit as my respondent says, “I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like for you.”

Those two perfect legs. She’s never had a sunburn. She’s a vegetarian and we eat organic. It hasn’t happened yet, but I expect any one of these days my daughter will have a hard time sleeping at night because of growing pains. And what will I tell her then? Will I tell her that that pain is just normal and it will go away soon? Just like my doctor told me?

It was late May when I was sunbathing on the front lawn. It was surely a futile enterprise in the weak afternoon light of a Denver spring day, but I had slathered legs and arms with baby oil anyways, spread myself out on a striped beachtowel with the cordless phone at my side because I was expecting a call from my best friend Cindy. Instead, when the phone rang the caller asked for my younger brother. And as I ran to the front door to find him, I tripped and fell on an uneven spot in the grass.

7 comments:

bibliogrrl said...

That is excellent. I'm so glad I have a chance to read your writing. Thank you for sharing this.

I think it's quite clear, and if I had critique to offer, I would. I wish my writing was that lucid. (that said, I AM just a freshman. I need to be easier on myself.)

JohnR said...

Love this photo. I'm always trying to capture good bougainvillea images, and this one is perfect.

Thank you for sharing this, my love--your pain and our collective anxiety for our own children.

JohnR said...

Also, thanks for getting milk and TP! :)

Erin G. said...

more! more!

littlemissattitude said...

I'll gladly read as much of your writing as you are willing to post. This bit is wonderful...it strings the past and present together in a fluid and organic manner. That isn't an easy thing to do.

Kristen said...

The one that caught my foot while I was sunbathing one May afternoon, when I fell and never walked on two legs again. [speechless]

Alli Easley said...

more more more.