When I was in college, I found myself sitting in the grove of trees by the classroom building with a friend. We’d just left our class on Ibsen, Strindberg, and Mann, and we weren’t very happy. How could we have been? In Ibsen’s Ghosts, Oswald was just crying out for “the sun,” and so were we. The sun hadn’t been out for a month, the dank Tulle fog all around us like, well, dank Tulle fog.
It was there that my friend proceeded to tell me a story that almost made me jump out of my skin. She must have needed to tell me, letting me into the dark side of her life, a life that maybe had only a window seat of light in it. I was 22-years-old and hadn’t heard much at that point, sheltered in mostly good ways. In later years, I tried to write about my reaction to her story in poetry, essay, and short story, until the writer Grace Paley told me that I wasn’t able to write about it because it wasn’t my story.
“It’s hers to tell,” she said, so I never tried again.
And the fact is, by the time Grace told me that ten years after my friend told it to me, the story didn’t seem as bizarre and horrible and sick as it had in 1984 in the winter fog and chill. Maybe I had taken in her story and Ibsen’s and Strindberg’s and Mann’s, sort of a Death in Turlock kind of thing, and made it this big black ball of a story that seemed to haunt me. It was a group literary haunting, with her story in the lead.
But yesterday, I realized that people can tell me anything, and I pretty much accept it all. In the course of reading 15 student essays during conferences, I learned about dead mothers and siblings and alcoholic fathers and disturbed sisters. I learned about lost blue cars and anorexia nervosa, and pretty much what I did when I heard these facts was nod and say, “Great detail.”
Wait!!! Jessica’s not done read the rest…