Category: Secrets

The Fear

I am part-way through the second draft of a long piece of writing. It’s book length, non-fiction, and that’s all I want to share. The fear has got hold of me, fear of if it’s any good, if anyone will want to read it, if I want anyone to read it. Perhaps I just needed to write it, and it doesn’t matter if no one reads it. Perhaps, once this second draft is complete, I’ll rest it, not look at it for a while, or never look at it again. I might just destroy it – a passing thought. I know I won’t do that.

I have written a paragraph to summarise the book, the kind of thing that might appear as a blurb, on the back cover. There I am, calling it a book, as if that might happen. Ha! I am drawn back to my MA class when Patricia, my tutor, would say, ‘What is it about?’ when we were discussing texts, or workshopping one another’s writing. And I find that the book is not just about what I set out to write. It’s also about loss, about grief, it’s about the toll that trauma takes on the body.

I wrote the first draft in two months, which is the fastest I have ever written anything of that length. I wrote a little every day, scared that if I missed a day, I wouldn’t return to it. Some days I wrote only two hundred words, others much more. I found that the gingerbread man timer I usually set to stop my wrists and back from hurting, if I type too long, had been ignored, and my wrists and back were indeed hurting when I stopped writing and noticed things other than the words on the screen, on the printed page.

Some things were hard to write, having held onto them in silence for so long, some for forty-five years. I felt better for speaking them, for writing them, but sometimes I don’t, and today is one of those times.

I didn’t plan this book before I wrote it, just wrote scenes and chapters as they occurred to me. I thought I could sort out the order later. And I find that they do make sense in the order in which they came. There is only one chapter that I might place elsewhere, or maybe cut it all together. I wrote it as light relief, as a positive story about that time, about myself. There are a few stories like that in the book. It’s good to remember those fun times as well as the trauma. Light relief for the reader as well as the writer. The reader! There it is again, the thought that someone might read it. Maybe they will, maybe it will go out into the world as a book. Maybe it will help others who have been through the same kind of things.

Early in the writing process, I wrote a dedication: For those that have not yet spoken, and for those that have. I must remember that, when the fear takes hold, why I wrote it. For myself and for others.

The ending is set on a day in March of this year, when I went in search of a tree to climb, in memory of my friend Karan, on the anniversary of her death. It’s a remembrance of loss, but also of hope, as the book will be. A memoir of grief, loss, hope, and understanding. Here is an extract, a reminder of facing the fear:

We slide down the muddy slope. It’s incline is one I would normally attempt, with a tree to hold onto on the first couple of steps down, then nothing to halt the slip and run towards the bottom. Bob goes first. He says, ‘Just go for it,’ and the rush of the last few steps is liberating, even though there is a risk of falling. How seldom we do this as older adults, just go for it, see what happens, risk falling on your face or your arse, and would that matter, after all?

I size up the horizontal branch. It takes a few attempts to pull myself onto it. I worry that I can’t do it. I just don’t have the upper body strength. Then I think of my granddaughter on a climbing frame at a playground a few weeks before. She tells herself that she can, when at first she thinks she can’t, when attempting scary climbs, or anything scary. I am doing this for Karan, to regain that childhood feeling, and I haul myself onto the branch, straddle it like a horse, and I am grinning, laughing. The seat of my jeans is damp and slimy where the mist has clung to the bark. My coat is splattered with mud. I am ten years old again.

Shall I tell you a secret?

Shall I tell you a secret? How weighted that phrase is. If I tell you a secret I am relieving some of the weight from my shoulders and bestowing it on yours. What would you do with that secret? Like the man from the story who had to shout into the ground, ‘The King has donkey’s ears’, as he couldn’t hold the secret any longer, secrets can rarely be buried.

Notebooks full of secrets

Notebooks full of secrets

I’ve been thinking a lot about secrets in the weeks since my mother’s death. Our family was and is full of secrets. My siblings and I were told, as children, not to talk about things outside the house, things that happened at home. We also didn’t talk about secrets amongst ourselves. Over the years, some secrets have oozed out, secrets some would know about and not others. ‘Don’t tell your father’ was a regular phrase we heard from our mother, often followed by, ‘It’d kill him.’ So the lesson was secrets can kill.

I am writing this, for once, without drafting by hand, in my notebook full of secrets. Without reflection, research and careful thinking. I want to watch myself. Who knows what could slip out. Whom I might kill.

I carried secrets for years, under threat of killing or harming others. The result was that I harmed only myself, and when I did speak those secrets, guess what? Nobody died. But people fell silent. Or blurted for a while before it was all zipped up again. Or told me I was to stop upsetting people by speaking my truth.

Notice I’m not telling you the secrets. There is still a chance that people might die (though not my father; he is long gone; nor my mother; recently departed).

I did not go public about my mother’s death on social media. It was a secret. Mine. But I have let the secret out little by little to those who know the bigger secrets, some of whom have secrets of their own they have shared with me. Some who, like me, have spoken their truths and found the truth was not a welcome guest.

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