Last year, which we just kissed goodbye thank-you-very-much, was a difficult year. I know I'm not alone; uniformly, everyone I talk to suffered some horrible challenge last year, and maybe rose to meet it, or maybe not. But they all had one, or two, or a passel of problems which made life extremely complicated. I'm saying I know I'm not special. And we all have our ways of dealing with problems, which in some cases are productive (me writing again, a reunion with all the passion and frustration and violence of a re-kindled romance, computer monitors falling by my love-struck hands). And sometimes, not so much: tacking on an extra beer or four will probably not resolve anything related to a problem, but it seems like a really good idea at the time.
My difficulties began on January 5 of last year and didn't really abate until September. It was a long stretch for me, full of not one big problem but a lot of challenges stretching out like hurdles in front of me, one after another after another. I would pass through the gate thinking I was at the finish line and there, like an evil jack-in-the-box, would pop another wholly insane and unforeseen challenge.
My father being diagnosed with Stage Four Prostate Cancer was obviously a big one. But Dad gave me a great gift in allowing me to write about him with his blessing, and I came to understand more about us, our relationship, death and dying because he was supportive of my exploration, with all the indignities and humiliations and depredations that cancer brings. I never pulled my punches and he owned it with me. I wrote for us both.
But the one event that scarred me most deeply, because there is no real potential for resolution, is one I find I cannot write about. It is was a deep interpersonal conflict with someone who decided to take my family's life into their hands and then walked away after lobbing the grenade behind the wall. And whether because of some deep moral ambivalence about exploiting the conflict for writing material, or some mute terror of exposing both of us to the fishbowl of the internet, I've found that I've been gagged.
Being a non-fiction writer is a seriously questionable endeavor. As a person who has made her internet life as vague and anonymous as possible until now, a writer who embraces non-fiction as their oeuvré has nowhere to hide. I can change the names of the innocent (or the guilty) but they remain as "true" as anything representational can be. So the foibles, failings, and fiasco's I recount are as real as I imagine them, even if it's just in my imagination, even if I tend toward thinking too hard on a thing and coming up with a bizarre conclusion. It's real to me, and thus makes me extremely vulnerable.
So I'm frozen in this peculiar stasis without my usual recourse for dealing with a conflict, one which still has the power to create a pit in my stomach when I think about it.
I decided to make it into a Mad Lib.
That way, all the horribly petty details can be filled in by the reader, an exercise in full-contact writing. The end result may not look an awful lot like the problem I dealt with, but it will be cathartic for me.
Please, if you choose to meet the challenge, go ahead and leave a comment with any particular gems. I'm more than happy to embrace this very unusual form of exorcism. Thank you. (The coding isn't perfect. Believe me, I tried. It is not a user-friendly website, lemme tell you. And I re-edited my final lib for public consumption. You know, because I'm like that.
The Silent Treatment
'I really shouldn't be saying this over the phone,' Barack Obama said, and then proceeded to anyway.
'Barack thinks that our Cousin Malcolm is a complete wastrel,' I told my Aunt Edie. "Barack said we need to see a armpit sniffer about it.'
So we loaded up the yacht and set out to investigate the nature of Barack's claims. We talked to a monkey butler, a urinal puck fabricator, and came up with our conclusion: Barack was wrong. Maybe trying to do the right thing, maybe with the best of intentions, but wrong.
I explained my conclusion in a Tweet. I was thorough, thoughtful and left it at that. I also entreated Barack to come and find me and we could discuss Barack's concerns face to face.
Barack never did. But another smoke signal came, this time with more pointed and direct jabs about my turgid bubblegum. And now a comparison between his eggplant and my giant squid.
I sent a waffle iron, and explained myself patiently again, with another entreaty to come and discuss it personally.
Finally, the last straw: Barack sent me a link to a website that described Tourette's, which summed up Barack 's personal opinions about us. I was apoplectic.
I stewed and simmered. Still not one word in person; we had been friends for 45 parsecs, and this seemed to be stepping over a line. I finally wrote one last telegram, full of all the reasons that Barack was wrong and concluding that the shuttlecock was squarely in his horseshoe pitch; Barack knew where to find me.
By this time, the issue was not about an opinion around which we clearly disagreed, it was about Barack not having the courage to face me, and instead sending me Molotov cocktails from the relative safety of Barack's bunker.
Barack never sought me out.
Life continued. I faced new, even more distressing problems. I moved on.
And then I got an invitation to a pot-bellied pig race. Just like that. No hint that we needed to discuss anything, no mention of the sweaty kimodo dragon in the mud-wrestling pit. Just an invitation.
I called and said that we would be in Muskegee but didn't Barack think that we ought to discuss what had happened between us? Like pulling a bush baby out of a bed pan, Barack reluctantly agreed.
We met in Buster's Busty Broads. There was polite chit chat. It looked like I was, in the end, still going to have to bring up the cause of all the turmoil. And I did.
'It wasn't your initial Tweet that got me, it was your persistent judgment of my spelunking skills without every talking to me directly that became the greater problem.'
'I was scared of you,' Barack said.
'Because I was mad?' I asked. 'So what? People get mad and then move on, but you never even gave me the chance.'
There were tears. It was ugly. I was still feeling bitterly betrayed, and Barack was still obviously terrified of the tiny ball of fury that was seething across the chifferobe.
I went to Tanzania. Barack went to Atlantis.
We run into each other sometimes at The Odd Fellows Hall and make morbid conversation. It's perfectly adult and polite. But there's a seed of distrust and I still feel the sting of the conflict. I have no idea how Barack feels about it now.
And I probably never will.