The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, September 22, 2008

Progress of a Story: The Shock of Life

Today, I'm meant to offer another installment of a series that may or may not result in a completed piece. It's a story that's been, and by the looks of things will continue to be, a long time in the writing.

But in pursuit of story, life and death happens.

Last night, I went looking for a quiet place to have a drink and brainstorm a few ideas for the story, then maybe think about what I'd blog for today.

Half a block away from my destination, I witnessed a gruesome accident: an SUV sped through a yellow light, hitting two people, sending each one flying half a block in opposite directions.

The one I rushed to, asking him to keep talking while the paramedics arrived, kept moving his lips, his body twisted into a position not meant for humans, his head bleeding from his mouth, nose, eyes and ears.

The things we notice when we feel helpless, in shock, make up their own story: That the rock band I could hear was playing in the cafe I'd expected to be quiet, that the name of the cafe is The End.

As a dozen people gathered around this man, helpless and gasping on the sidewalk, like a catch hauled into a trawler, I recognized everyone trying, as I was, to figure out her place in it all. I suggested we all step back and not crowd and gawk at the man, and everyone obeyed, as though I was writing the script for the crime-drama they had now joined, in progress.

The paramedics arrived, and the story took on a new twist. Everyone seemed a bit more relaxed, started telling their versions of the accident to anyone who would listen.

But I couldn't bear any more, so I started to leave, taking one last look at the poor man who, judging by his tatty clothes and dirty fingernails, had had some bad turns in his story already, a man I could not help, except to say to him one last time to hold on. The medics were pulling the traction gurney out of the ambulance, and I knew his story was about to turn even worse.

Walking away, I don't think I felt or thought anything. It was only as I sat in a loud bar up the street, drinking a glass of wine, watching the autumn rain pour, I realized my story, both the one I'm writing and the one I'm living, will be changed by that one man's life.


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

My heart goes out to you, Tamara, and to the people in your story. Thank you for sharing this with us. (The shock of life. Things we'd never put in stories because they come out of nowhere, don't make sense, don't fit the theme, etc..., but real life is often oblivious to our needs for control, meaning-making and pattern. )I hope you're keeping well.

Mon Sep 22, 09:20:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Jacqueline said...

It's incredible how things just happen.

I believe that things happen in our lives to show us something or teach us a lesson or, as you said, to change us.

I hope this disturbing experience helped you somehow.

Mon Sep 22, 03:59:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Oh, dear, I didn't mean to suggest at all that this has anything to do with me. I meant to describe how real life stories, tragedies in this case, have a weight we can rarely capture as writers.

Mon Sep 22, 04:21:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Tamara, what a terrible thing to witness. You're right about how a single moment can effect so many lives: the poor man you saw dying, the woman who hit him, everyone who witnessed it. I hope you'll heal from this before long.

Mon Sep 22, 06:10:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Oh, Tamara. This came to you, sweetheart, and this poor fellow with the grime under his fingernails, I hope he can feel every heart you've touched by sharing his final moments with all of us.

Mon Sep 22, 06:25:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne said...

You captured the weight. Tamara.

Tue Sep 23, 11:13:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

Tamara, I feel awful for the victim, and I wish I could take some of the weight of your witnessing of such an event from your shoulders.

Although we as writers need to experience the joys and sorrows of life in order to pass them on to others, it's often a heavy price we have to pay...

Sat Sep 27, 11:57:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. I'm afraid I can't say too much more than that, as I believe I'm a material witness. But thank you, all.

Mon Oct 06, 03:00:00 am GMT-4  

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