I did the unthinkable two weeks ago by completing and submitting a series of poems about me, Dad and suicide. “Are you just going to let him read it when it’s published? With no warning?” my friend, Isabelle asked me.
And I don’t know. When I see him lately and I think about what I’ve done, I try not to think about it. I’ve still got an out: the poems may not win the competition; I may not decide to publish them this summer under my own small press, as I’d planned to do. But it’s what I want to do. I want to publish them. I want to read them in public. I’m ready for that now. I’m ready for it not to be a shameful, secret thing about me that I bring out every once in a while and then think I’m doing it for dramatic effect.
The next step is to turn this into a YA novel in verse. Yes. I am going to do that. And I am going to focus on my first year of college, when Dad lived in his office and I called in the mental health people to confront him after I found his suicide note. I’m going to telescope the next four years and include his suicide attempt and hospitalization and how that was for me. Only I won’t be me, I’ll be “her” the main character. I’ll be the 18-year-old. I’m telling myself this will help people. But really, it’s just that I selfishly want to do this. This is what the “writer’s conference stomachache” is about. It’s about my hunger to tell the real story, to strip away all the falseness and embarrassment I have about it and to just tell it. If it makes me a drama queen, so be it.
I had a rejection when I was in the middle of working on the adult poetry collection. It was for a children’s story I wrote about two first-century saints. It wasn’t a bad story, but the editor felt it was a bit “dry.” This is the first time my work has ever been called “dry” and I wrote to thank the editor. It was such a confirmation that I need to be writing what is most real to me. I’ve had a number of friendly emails with her since. I may sometime write more stories about saints and make them into more picture books. I may publish my children’s story about good manners and republish the one about the little boy lost in the woods who comes across a Sunday school class discussing the Good Shepherd. I may do that. And they may sell. And little children may find Christ when their mothers read my stories aloud. I have about 150 published stories, many of which may lead children to be better Christians. I hope they do.
But the most redemptive thing I can think of for me is to write about betrayal; to write about the cliff walk of not knowing whether your father will jump and how the jagged rocks will slice him when he lands; I want to write that there is terror and there is relief from terror; I want to write how important it is to speak and speak and speak until someone listens, until you listen to yourself and save your own life because it is God inside of you that you are speaking to – it is Christ Himself who will answer back across the bleakness if you just keep grabbing and grabbing for Him, daring Him to try and leave you. I want to write that because it is a scream that so many of us share and I have to join my scream to that scream. I have to say I AM HERE. I AM ALIVE. YOU STAY ALIVE, TOO. WE’LL BE ALIVE TOGETHER.
This is not polite writing and it doesn’t have a good Sunday school lesson to it. But I think that Jesus is wild and fierce and the fire that rages within me is His fire, too. So for awhile I’m not going to write about saints.
But my father – am I betraying him? I don’t know. I haven’t showed him the poems. I may not. I may publish them and he may never see them and I may keep writing and writing about this and if he ever stumbled across it, he may be hurt though that is not what I intend. All I want to say to him is
I AM HERE.
I AM ALIVE.
YOU STAY ALIVE, TOO.
WE’LL BE ALIVE TOGETHER.