At first glance my two stories just published in an anthology have little to do with the memoir I’m writing except the theme – death. The death of my parents looms in my memoir as that is part of its focus – growing up an only child in the 50s and 60s when your dad is dying of cancer and when he’s gone, it’s mom’s turn. In Gathered Streams, the Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch anthology hot off the press from Hidden Brook Press there is something connected to death in each of my stories. As I said when reading at the Book Launch July 18 at Toronto’s Bar Italia, “Both my stories are about death. One is actually in a cemetery. I chose to read from the more serious one.”
And that’s where my stories steer somewhat away from the memoir’s theme. The title alone of the short story tells you that – “My Brother’s Keeper.” The story is about a twenty-something woman, Claire, dealing with her older brother, Danny’s suicide. I’m not going to go into a big discourse, this post, on suicide, except to say that a cousin committed suicide and I attempted suicide over 25 years ago. However, after someone from a distress centre helped bring me back, I decided to train for and volunteer for that telephone distress centre, which I did for five and a half years. These facts put together gave me the story idea but it is not about me or my cousin. What I find interesting was getting into the head of a woman who isn’t an only child and who has a very dysfunctional mother. I don’t consider that my late mother was dysfunctional – but she certainly was an eccentric character. So was my dad and maybe more so.
My other story in the anthology is a personal essay – a humourous look at how I felt taking pictures in the dead of winter (any pun intended) in a cemetery. And this one is all true. I have the photos to prove it. But again it shows how things can evolve from a certain premise. I went to the cemetery with the intention of photographing unusual gravestones. I did some of that but also got mesmorized by the trees in the cemetery. And I had to overcome my feelings of “I shouldn’t be here doing this; it’s disrespectful” as well as deal with deep snow (it was February) hardened by an ice storm a few days before.
So where does all this hook in with being an only child? I think it shows that as an only child you have to develop some resilence; you have to move yourself forward to do things, often without support from others, certainly no siblings or in my case as an adult – no parents. Not all only children do this. However, having siblings doesn’t guarantee support or even making and keeping many friends. I know one woman with several siblings who isn’t really close to any of them – at least from what she’s told me. She also hasn’t developed a network of friends and other support in her life, whereas I have – not overnight, but over the years.
And that may be the bottom line – what you have inside you helps determine how you fare in this life. But that’s fodder for a future post.
Go check out Gathered Streams at http://www.canauthorstoronto.org/anthology.html