Erika Putnam - The Last and Best Chapter
As I creep up one stair after another in my slippers I can feel the gradual rise in temperature from the warmth of last night’s fire. From the kitchen window I see the pasture below is glistening with fresh snow lit by what’s left of the moon. That means my morning routine will change from meditation, to the sound of my shovel scraping rhythmically across the deck. Before I venture out to breath natures chill I stoke the embers in the wood stove and brew a fresh cup of coffee. The routine itself is the companion I have crafted to allow a shift from the life I had to the one I want.
A bit chilled, I settle into the left side of the love seat and pull my coffee cup close. A new flame flickers in the fireplace and casts an eerie light on one half of the face of the Dall sheep mount perched above me. It’s before dawn and the Montana mountains are sleeping in the distance. The tall pines envelop my cabin from all sides and offer me the secluded privacy that gives my thoughts the space they need before I commit them to the page.
I have been writing a book for 8 years, and the ending has eluded me. Before the idea solidifies it evaporates like morning fog. Some things can’t be forced! At long last, a concept has emerged from the shadows of my spirit. The ending has needed the last two seasons of bear grass, huckleberries, and golden birch leaves to infuse what was then with what is now. Living here with nature’s raw edges has roused my desire to let go of a long lost love. My resistance has softened and the last and best chapter has condensed into a solid vision.
I am eager to pick up where I left off and open the Word file titled “Book Edits.” I am surprised to see I haven’t opened this file for almost two years. With a wince, I open chapter 3 and begin to read.
I loved my husband but our home life was making us both miserable. It was 2010. The economy was assaulting our investments and we were both failing step-parenting. To cope I buried myself in my computer with my mouth shut. He had withdrawn into guilt, shame and fear. Our battleground was set. We were not talking. Not talking leads to fanaticizing about things being different, which leads to obsessive thinking about a way out. Which leads to looking deeper for the truth about what I really wanted if I would get really honest with myself. I started writing a lot, looking for answers, waiting for my heart to speak up and speak up loudly.
One night I couldn’t sleep. Despite my insomnia, I was more willing to spend time with my computer than I was lying awake in flannel sheets of sorrow. It was two AM and I had perched myself on the leopard skin fainting couch and tucked myself into a writing nest with a blanket. My heart was as frayed as the grey sweatshirt I was wearing.
I was writing because I was searching for answers. I was giving myself permission to trust my truth. I was frightened to be completely honest but I had a desire and passion to find clarity. My motives were good. I meant no harm. My truth in this moment did not exclude my love for my husband or our marriage. What I was writing was not meant to be time stamped forever. My thoughts had been fleeting and irrational. I was writing to discover my intention as a way of self-exploration without confinement. I wanted to stop my own suffering.
I heard him roll out of bed. The bedroom door opened and my husband walked past me to the kitchen. He didn’t reach to brush my shoulder or kiss my head or even peak at my computer screen. I know he wasn’t thirsty, he was checking on me. He asked “what are you doing?”
I was cheating. I was cheating on him. I was writing, and it was about a man of my past. The one that got away, long, long ago. I looked up, said “writing” and looked back down at my computer. I felt like shit.
My husband wandered back to bed but left the tension in the air. The words started spilling onto the page.
Painfully, I recall that moment. I absorb the words and look outside to the gently falling snow. At last, the ending of that story makes sense. Moving on has closed the chapter of past suffering. Now, my fireplace has become a friend, my dog a companion, a sheep a reminder of my perseverance and winter the inspiration to finish eight seasons of waiting. I take a deep breath and begin typing the ending.
The story flows out and the sun comes up. I reach over to my dog, Zen, and rub her soft copper ears and say “Hey beautiful girl, writing time is over, let’s get to work.” I add a log to the fire and feel the deep understanding that my last chapter is now becoming my first.
Cynthia Urquhart - Those Words
It has always bothered me how my notes, words that I choose, cold and professional, would be the only vessel used to capture the circumstances of tragic incidents.
I reached for the little black notebook in my uniform pocket. For a fleeting moment, I tried to think about how many of them I might have filled, during my many years of policing, but lost the thought as I heard the ambulance pull away. The bright moon gave off enough light for me to write and with pen in hand, I was finally able to record the details of the night’s tragic accident.
I looked at the wreckage again, making sure my notes would be accurate.
Writing is something I do, all police officers do, every shift, in all kinds of circumstances. My words flow easily, as they do at every incident, but they are harsh, empty, and detached. Businesslike with lists, descriptions and facts. I am used to it…well, I tell myself I am. I start writing: time, date, place. Information that is straightforward, rote and methodical. Head on collision, thrown from vehicle, one dead, two injured. Disturbing, but manageable. Names, dates of birth, next of kin make it real. What I don’t write is this: Anguish. Their anguish, or mine.
I hate that words like grief and sorrow and despair are kept locked inside me by policies and procedures. No notations, no references, no freedom to be me, no place for my heartache in my notebook. How I want to release my pain. My sorrow. Words. Inside my head, they form, they flash, they bounce, searching for a way out. Looking for validation. I see them. I feel them. I fight them every day and every night. Until I can’t.
Same time, different day. I opened my eyes, panicked, turning towards the dimly-lit clock on my bedside table. I had been waking up at night for months, my therapist stating this was normal for someone suffering with PTSD. She said my brain was trying to process the years of buried trauma, that I was fighting it and that it would take some time. I often wondered how long “some time” might be, considering I had been in treatment for 2 years. I shifted my eyes to the journal sitting on the bedside table, purchased over 3 weeks ago, never opened, nothing to write. Or so I thought.
I stared ahead into the blackness, feeling a little more awake, but something wasn’t right. I could see the words. They were black, illuminated in white, in my head. Words like urgent and dread, calls, cold and cries. There were so many and they kept coming.
My panic rose and nothing made sense. I need to get up, I thought, and as I did, my eyes caught the journal and pen again. I wondered if I wrote the words down, got them out of my head, then maybe they might go away.
I grabbed the pen, picked up the journal, and opened its cover. I can’t explain what happened next, nor for the next 20 minutes to be exact, but I can say that the pen wouldn’t stop. The words flowed like water from a tap and revealed the stories from my world. The pain lay on the paper like shattered glass. Pieces of it here and there, big and small, sharp and jagged.
As quickly as it had started, it stopped. My mind was blank. The words were gone.
What just happened?
I sat there for a minute, turned on my reading light, grabbed my glasses, and began reading.
The call came in, I filled with dread
Who would be the next one dead
A child, a man, the dog next door
Cause someone needed to settle a score
There were words of sadness and pain, anguish and hurt.
The dispatcher said the news is bad
A child is screaming, she’s lost her Dad
She’s all alone, just 12 years old
She says his skin is growing cold
Memories I had buried so deep.
I walk to her, I hold her tight
I tell her it will be alright
My tear slips out, then two then three
The grief engulfs the whole of me
Those words made me see my pain and feel the hurt. Those words, in that instant, changed my life. I had fought against all of it for so long. Words, writing, stories and emotion. I smiled as my tears began to flow, thinking how ironic life could be. Words…the very thing that had closed me up and shut me down were now setting me free… .
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