Toni McGee Causey
Somewhere, there is a woman, sitting in a room, three days past a rape. Her bruises are turning purple and in a few more days, they're going to be that greenish hue of ghouls. She hasn't looked in a mirror, yet, but the swelling is starting to abate, and she can open her jaw without the execrable pain. The screaming is almost entirely in her head, now. The stitches hurting her remind her she's alive and she's not really sure why people keep telling her that, as if that's a good thing. She's not sure she wants to be. There's been just enough time to get past the initial shock, the stunned chaotic business of having lost any sense of strength in the face of the world. She has had just enough time to be processed, and there should be a stamp for her forehead: file # 56449A.
Oh, people have been caring. They have been very professionally caring. All of the people, scads of them. They have been very careful not to touch her or move too fast. Everyone is diligent about addressing her respectfully, using her name, always making sure she feels like an individual. She can see it, see in their eyes how she is now different. The opposite of the person on the other side of the desk, where there are things like strength and weapons and confidence.
And right now, she is finally alone, though the moat around her has turned into an ocean, and the screaming, it just keeps on coming. For a few minutes, not having to deal with anyone else is good. A relief. But then there is the silence, and in the silence, it all happens again. She cannot close her eyes, because it's all happening. Again. She cannot talk to someone, because the screaming will break free. Or the tears. Either may kill her.
She needs. Needs. To be somewhere else, other than here. Other than this thing she's become. Needs to be able to step outside of her skin for a little while. Maybe a long long time.
She's going to go to her bookcase and pick up something. Maybe it's something where the woman kicks someone's ass. Maybe it's one where the good guy wins. Or the DA is brilliant. Or the girl comes of age and has confidence. Whatever it is, she gets to step outside of the bruises and the cuts and the broken bones for a little while. She gets to live a different ending. A different beginning. Have a safe place to be. And somehow, maybe, have a little hope that this thing, too, will pass.
Write a story for her.
Somewhere, there is a man, sitting in a hospital room. His wife has cancer, and he's been there, every day, before and after work. Except now, he can be there full-time, since he's lost his job. He's spent days seeking help, trying to find a way to keep her there, to make sure she has the care she needs, when all of his benefits are gone. He's filled out more paperwork in this one week than he's done in a lifetime, and only barely understands half of what they've told him, if that.
He'll try to get a second mortgage for the house. Sell off the second car, trade his in for something cheaper. The savings--such as it is, there's not much with two kids--is gone. The retirement will go next, and that might last a month, at this rate. They don't qualify yet for any sort of Medicare or help. His sister is at his house, boxing up stuff to sell. Doing it while the kids are at school, so they don't see.
The screaming is almost entirely in his head, now. The anger, the rage, the helplessness. His wife's asleep, and sleep is so rare with the pain she's in, he can't risk turning on the TV. She's been in too much pain for him to leave the room, though.
He's lost. He sees it in the eyes of the nurses, sees it in the eyes of the administrator. The woman running the accounts payable office. He's become this other thing, this person he doesn't know, and right now, for a little while, he needs. Needs. To be somewhere else but here. Someone else but him.
He'll slump down in the God-awful chair they have in the room, punching a pillow that one of the orderlies found for him, and he'll crack open that favorite paperback he grabbed on his way out the house this morning. For a little while, he gets to be a hero. He gets to fight crime or solve problems, save the world or save the girl. For a little while, he gets to have hope.
Write a story for him.
When I first wrote this piece a few years ago, I had no idea I’d end up sitting in a hospital room, watching my brother suffer from an aggressive form of lymphoma and nearly die… several times. I had no clue there would be a night where this strong man—the guy who had been the 2007 World Champion in Sparring—wouldn’t be able to stand and walk three feet without falling. If you’ve ever watched a loved one fight that kind of battle, just to live one more day, just to fight one more time, just to stand and walk three feet, and then, maybe tomorrow, four… you know the pain I mean. I don’t know how I would have stayed sane all of these months if it hadn’t been for great stories.
When they were doing his bone marrow transplant, stripping out his immune system, I knew it could get bad. They tell you it will get bad. They warn you and warn you and warn you, but you still don’t understand. You hear it. Oh, yes, you hear it. But “bad” is relative, and it takes going to that horrible place where you wonder how on earth your loved one is surviving the torture of the cure and you can’t help them and you know you’re about to lose what little bit of sanity you’ve been clinging to. There’s nothing so painful as that helplessness. Except, of course, going through it.
And this, ironically, is when we need story the most.
Story-telling has been around for millennia for a reason--we need to connect. We need to both transport somewhere other than our own daily circumstances and to connect to others, to know that someone out there understands us. Understands our fears, our desires. We need to escape, without physically abandoning our family and friends. Stories do that. We need the hope, the connection, the dream.
So when you’re paused at the keyboard, wondering if what you’re doing is important enough, I want you to remember a woman, sitting in a room, alone with her brother, who is so close to the edge of dying that they don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and know that she needs something, anything, to break her free of that pain for at least a little while.
Write a story for us.