First, there was a dream of the Salton Sea, its fishy shores and trailer parks. I learned of Slab City in ruins, a settlement for artists and junkies. My father spoke of royalty, “We used to be kings, now we’re remnants,” of his job waiting tables at the Salton Sea resort where The Beach Boys played in the summer. I’d hold The Remnants in her mind, driving cross-country to find something of her father.
It’s difficult to imagine being a woman who has a father she can remember calling Daddy.
“They’ve taken almost everything,” says Pap. “Our land is next.” We dig three graves. Mam agrees and I follow. Sometimes we stand at the edges. Pap yells down the driveway into the trees, rehearsing for when the men come. He wants to practice falling into the holes. I picture the flutter of my skirt against my calves. Mam can’t abide by scrubbing dirt from our clothing and won’t go that far. I’ve seen enough movies to know it won’t be the army coming. It’ll be Clem Marsden in a county truck, come to collect back taxes. Mam says to wait. Pap will get his-self picked up in town for the busted tail light, kept overnight for drunkenness. Then, she says, we can leave.
Try to write a story where the mother is the protector. There are no memoir elements in this one.
The child is defined by negative space, what she doesn’t do, what she could’ve become. As a child, I received photo-sensitive paper. I laid out leaves and flowers to burn into secret shapes while the paper bleached in the sun. What could I have become if my mother had taken that inherited house in Rochester, always a fantasy of escape until I learned the city has one of the highest crime rates in the country. What I could have become takes on a different shape in a city like that. Leave out the inherited house. Tell only of the wonderous negative images on cornflower-blue paper, and the innocence of discovery.
Not every story needs to wrench the heart.
Imagine a bird’s nest as you approach the bird. Think hard and desperately of this scene: nest = home. Wish. Pray. Be the safety. Then, it will know you’re harmless and not fly away from you. You must know its nest intimately, every stalk and reed woven into a sheltered basket. Picture the eggs unhatched, then the chicks. Hear their peeping. Imagine your feathers, if you had them, brushing their downy fluff. With this knowledge, the red-winged blackbirds no longer fly away when you pass them in the marsh.
We stopped on the side of the road somewhere west, summer of ‘94, going to another Dead show, or on our way to a Rainbow Gathering on top of a mountain in Flagstaff. I woke early to a brown landscape, sunrise, a buffalo near the wire fence. It was as large as a bus, matted fur, dinner-plate eye. In the story, I’ll be alone. The buffalo will say, “go home.” I’ll start the car, homebound. On the road, I’ll figure out where home is.
Picture leaving in the middle of a shift, the feeling of a rough palm on your bare thigh, your shoulder, your ass for the last time. Imagine the crack in your windshield as you exhale a furious scream in its direction. Glance down at the bulge of cash in your purse on the passenger seat. Wonder how much tread is left on your tires. Ease your car onto the highway. The sun is setting, but you’ll have the golden hour for as long as you need it. You shrink along the way, inexplicably, and you welcome it. You get out of the car on the side of the road in the Sonoran desert. Your feet no longer reach the pedals. Your clothes are as big as circus tents. There’s a fine, silky fur covering your skin. Here are the facts: grasshopper mice prey on poisonous scorpions and centipedes. They don’t feel pain when they’re stung. At night, they tip their noses toward the sky in fierce howls across the barren terrain. Think of inhaling desert air this time, mimicking their ferocious wail.
Magical realism is popular right now. Consider adding a mouse romance, or a vampire.
It isn’t formed into plot and arc. Instead, it’s jagged flashes, not yet a story, the grinding guitar and guttural vocals that know my name and the catalog of damages I’ve done to myself. There is a you in the old song, To Bring You My Love. The singer is dragging herself over broken glass for him. That’s the story, what she did for her man. It isn’t a story to say there was broken glass I dragged myself over because it was there. It isn’t a story to say my scars, tattoos, and drugs were something I tripped over because I had no one to tell me they weren’t a good idea. There’s a story about me in the melody and the lyrics, but I’m not ready to tell it.
Last, and this will be a good one, tell of the long-ago centerfold, glossy spreads, magazine and video box covers. Tell of having fans before social media when there was no way to quantify them to others. Tell of sharing a table at a convention with a pretty brunette like any other model, long before she married Marylin Manson. Tell of the money and travel. Also, tell of the loneliness when the makeup came off, of the stage name in lights, and the given name weeping for years because the doctors misprescribed SSRIs. Tell of those years because they’re a good story, but say they are fiction.
Don’t write this collection. Write a novel instead. Everyone knows that’s more marketable.