I am the most comfortable writing in third person: I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up mostly reading Fantasy books (where the I is often if not always obliterated) or if it’s because my first instinct (as it is for many people, I suppose) is to write in first person and not doing so fulfills me because it makes me believe that I can employ restraint, that I have control over that impulse. All these stories save for one are in first person.
I began writing these after my Dad died in December of 2015. People used to ask me (I speak in past tense only because I no longer talk to people who would ask) if it was sudden or if it was drawn-out, as if drawing illness out would dilute the grief.
When you help someone deal with an illness, you see them survive through strokes, heart attacks, permacath surgery, infections–it fills you with all of that belief in resilience that everyone is always talking about. What they never mention is that it also fills you with a somewhat false notion that the survival is inherent to illness. It isn’t. The ability to live on is not a given: the capital letters don’t promise punctuation, you are not owed the sense that must be made by the words; the whole, cohesive idea is imaginary. What I mean to say is that it was both. It was sudden because I wasn’t expecting him to die. I was used to the ICU, to the tubes, to getting papers for the hospital admission, to seeing pathology representatives take vials of my Dad’s blood and store them away in toolboxes. I was even used to my mother’s weird evangelical friends yelling about the Holy Spirit and the valley of death–just in case. Every other time, we endured these things and each time we brought him home. The length of knowing someone will eventually die doesn’t dilute the grief, it thickens it so that even when you have swallowed the time of death, it lingers whenever you try to speak, or breathe.
My dad always had one answer to anything that happened in a movie whether it was an explosion at a top secret military base or a raunchy love scene: camera trick. When he died, that’s what it felt like. I kept waiting for someone to reveal the angle at which they’d placed the camera, kept waiting to be shown the body double but sometimes the spectacle is real.
The Compass is the first thing that I wrote in December of 2015 and is the only one of these stories in third person. I was about to turn 25. My dad died ten days before my birthday. As if passing through some sort of spellbound threshold, after that, I could only write in first person. I could only speak in reverse-riddles. I feel like most of the time the charm of fiction is that you pretend you aren’t talking about yourself. With these, you will have to do me a solid and do the pretending for me.