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.