Saturday, February 28, 2009

Observers in an Obscure World

As writers we see the world a little differently. We watch, we observe, we record. We process and file information within loops of narrative memory. Do we do this because we spend so much time reading and writing stories? Or is this simply a part of us, a part of why we became writers in the first place?

On Thursday my wife started hemorrhaging. It was a miscarriage of a baby we didn't know we were having. It was a baby we never got to talk to, never got to see. We called him or her Francis Russell, but the baby's existence will forever be defined by absence. We never got to see Francis. Instead, we had an ambulance trip and a visit to the hospital.

My wife lost half her blood. After delays and starts, after scares and close calls, my wife had an operation and the bleeding stopped. For awhile she was a ghost, bloodless and white. Her lips were white, the most shocking white I had ever seen. A pale, pale white, a white that almost ceased to exist, as if colour itself was fading into absence. A pale white with flickers of a soft and purplish grey, a colour that existed more as a reminder than as a thing itself.

She's home now, tired and weak. But alive and getting better. My son and daughter are happy to have her, old enough to feel what's wrong but not old enough to understand it. My daughter said: "The baby was just too small to be alive." She is four and beautiful.

Yet part of what I remember is myself, the oddness of my own thoughts throughout the experience. Noticing things, remembering not as a snapshot does, to store something away for the sake of memory alone, but rather as a bit of narrative, something to be shaped and shared. I remember how the doctors and nurses talked amongst themselves, the sudden change in tension when things got bad for awhile and how that tension eased as things improved. I remembered the images, the blood, and wondered how to describe them. I wanted to shape and clarify things with words. I remember taking my wife's earrings and putting them in my bag, worrying that they might get dirty. As I followed her from an emergency room to a resuscitation room I carried the plastic bag with her clothes in it. And I carried her shoes, royal blue Adidas gazelles (I was wearing navy gazelles, as it happened). I remember sitting in a chair in the corner, trying to stay out of the way. There were wires and cords everywhere, like the webbing around a spider. Nurses would get tangled for a moment like flies. I remember how they kept asking if there was any pain (none), and if she was pregnant (we said no and we were wrong). The nurse told us the hormone levels showed the truth, that her last period was a trick, an illusion, a little magical sleight of hand. I remember sitting in a waiting room while she was in the OR. Grey's Anatomy was showing on the television. It wasn't what I wanted to see. But it was part of the story I was shaping in my head, the story I was already telling myself as I waited. As I waited to see what the ending would be.

I don't think it's a matter of caring less, or being distant, being unconnected with the present. I was very much there, the present all too inescapable. I don't think it was calming, particularly, or meditative. I think it's simply the way my brain works, imposing narratives on my own experience. It's a way to understand the world, to allow comprehension. It's about sensing and defining order within the chaos. It's about finding meaning, perhaps.

My wife, too, is a writer. After the operation I was with her in recovery as she climbed slowly out of the fugue of anesthesia. A dream and yet not a dream... and she told me it was interesting as a writer. She felt a desire to write about this odd consciousness, this remarkable sense of peace she felt. Nothing touched her. My own prior experiences of that feeling were of a vague white fog, and I reimagined those experiences as an act of empathy. I couldn't always see in that anesthetic fog, but it wasn't black, wasn't dark. It was like light shining through a thick white mist, encompassing me in a hazy cocoon. Voices would come in and out. Distance is unreliable in the fog.

And afterward, on the far side of risk and loss, we both wanted to talk about it... and more than that I think we wanted to share it, to share it as a story and make it real, an experience to be felt, to be transmitted in the words we offered. We wanted to share the story we had experienced, not just for our family, so that they might understand, but for us, to keep a bit of that understanding for ourselves and hold onto it.

A name is a word. Francis. And now that word has a story. We told it to ourselves and now it's real. And writing this is maybe a way to understand a little more. We don't write the truth... we write towards the truth. A journey in words, a reflection, a waking dream.

We're writers. All we have to do is find the words.


Bookworm1605 said...

Wow, Ink. That's quite a post. I admire the courage it took to share about such a traumatic event.

Firstly let me say I'm terribly sorry for your loss and wish your wife a speedy recovery. Mrs. Ink shall be in my prayers tonight.

And of course, your right. Writers definitely experience the world differently. I've always said the term 'writer' is a misnomer. We are conduits for STORY and STORY itself is a vehicle for emotion and action and conflict and much more. It's awesome that you and your wife can deal with such a horrific experience in such a positive way, breaking it down into its fundamental essences and in this case, dealing with the parts rather than the whole.

We can all learn from that.

Ink said...

Thanks Book, much appreciated. It was good to get it off my chest, as it were. And, you never know, I may get run over by the Giant Train of Big Emotional Stuff tomorrow. But, I'm glad I wrote it. Sometimes things just seem clearer and easier to handle once you've put them into words, and I was struck by my Odd Writerly Brain during the whole scenario.

And my wife's doing better. A bit stronger (though still pretty zonked out and just lying on the couch), and eating and drinking and with a more colour in her face. Pale instead of ghostly. And the kids have been great, and our extended family fantastic in helping out (as always).

My wife was actually considering writing a memoir about her last pregnancy, and now maybe this one too... We writers are odd folk.

Thanks again.

Ms Kitty said...

I'm so glad that your wife is okay.

So sorry about your loss.

Ink said...

Thanks, Ms. Kitty. We're on the upswing now, I think. To bed! And sleep for a year! Well, okay, not a year, since my children have a penchant for waking up at 5:45am, mad little folk that they are. What's wrong with kids these days? When I was little it was my most serious goal to sleep in as absolutely late as possible. My goal was numbers in the pm... and here my kids think six is late. Heck, my daughter the other day actually slept until seven and when she woke up and looked outside she said "Look, Dad, it's light out! I didn't even know it was possible to sleep that late!"

Crazy little munchkins...


Ms Kitty said...

I've worked second shift for so many years, that I couldn't recall what dawn looked like.

Now that I'm on day shift, temporarily, sleep and I are not on speaking terms for some reason.

The internal clock is not logical.

Copperpenny said...

Reading this sorrowful tale brings back so many memories of my own misfortune.

But what stood out to me is the odd way writers brains work. I am starting to feel not so peculiar.

Maybe there is no normal, just life.

Ink said...

I agree, copperpenny. And that last line reminds me of one of my favourite movies, Tombstone. Wyatt Earp says to Doc Holliday "I don't know how to live a normal life." And Doc, on his deathbed, says "There is no normal, Wyatt, there's just life."

Too true.

QuiteLight said...

Thanks, Ink.

When my mind conjures up those narratives in intense situations, I find it's often to pin down & define things, experiences & sensations & emotions that are on the verge of sweeping me away. I can take a single step back, pin it down & make it manageable, without leaving the moment.

I'm working on not writing these stories in the moment, so I can stay with the feeling fully, and then trying to record it later, but then again, I'm not trying to be a writer right now. It's the yogi in me talking. Perhaps if I was writing I might lose something in that time between feeling & writing.

And Francis will now be a part of our family tree.

Ellsea said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your loss, it must have been terrifying for you both. Reading through it has put me in mind of the 2 babies we didn't get to meet and brought back that ache. You are so brave to be able to capture it and share it so soon after the event, I'm not sure I would be able to.

But I know what you mean about shaping the narrative, about forming the event into a part of your personal history, the stories you tell about yourself. I think as writers we develop both a greater awareness of both the inner and outer worlds, and a greater awareness of how words are largely the only tools we have to express and share our perceptions of those worlds. And because we have this awareness, finding the right words to describe our own experiences allows us to create a framework within which we can fully understand and express what it is and how it has impacted us.

I hope you both continue to cope with this as positively as you are now, and that your wife heals quickly.

Ink said...

Thanks QuiteLight and Ellsea (and Ellsea I'm sorry for your own losses, and hope reading this wasn't too hard - not my intent!), your kind thoughts are much appreciated. And my wife is getting better every day, so hurrah! Still weak and tired, but each day is a small step up over the last one.

Thanks again.

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