Once I knew a woman who was a shell of a person. She’d been utterly drained of her humanity and had no idea who she was. So I made up a story about her, about why she was the way she was. I only started it, didn’t finish. I wonder if I’m the only writer around who starts these crazy stories and leaves her poor characters in suspended animation. Poor Claudia may never find herself!
Here’s my beginning:
The day Claudia lost herself was a Tuesday or Wednesday when she was seven years old. She wasn’t sure which day, but she knew it had been midweek—a cloudy, spitting day when Daddy yelled without words. Her recollections at twenty-five came in whirlwind snapshots like that, circular, maniacal like a waterspout on steroids. Sometimes the memories came in gale wind force—so much that her mind couldn’t race to catch up with them to sort them properly. Other times, months of dry spells would only be salved by a breathe of a memory, more like a fleeting vapor. She’d try to capture the memory, analyze it, but it would flee as quickly as her dreams upon waking.
She was on the couch when she remembered losing herself. Chris paced the room before her, asking her questions she could not understand. “Who are you?” he pled. “What is inside of you?”
“Nothing,” she heard herself say. “Nothing at all.” And that was when the Tuesday or Wednesday came whirling back.
Chris left. Usually in arguments like this he stayed, repeating over and over again that he loved her, something that only mildly salved her empty heart. His leaving pierced her now, wounded her. Not only was she empty, but she was alone to try to sort out the mystery of who she was.
The Tuesday or Wednesday had started as a clear New England day, with an Autumn crispness biting Claudia’s seven-year-old nose as she went outside to play after school. She smiled as she looked at her home in the pretty suburb—brick, stately, perfect. She’d had the perfect life, and somehow in her mind of seven years she was proud of that fact. She didn’t know then that her sister’s red car that roared into the driveway would shatter that perfection and steal her soul.
“Where’s mom?” Angela asked. Claudia remembered her face—flushed, pinched, like Angela had the stomach flu and was ready to throw up.
Angela, beautiful and gloriously seventeen, pushed past Claudia like she was inconsequential laundry on a clothesline. Claudia followed her inside. Even then, she knew something terrible was going to happen. She hung back in the front of the living room, wrapping the long olive drapes around her for protection.
“I have something to tell you, Mom.” Angela paced the kitchen, arms crossed over her chest like she was hiding something precious there. Later, Claudia knew she was simply guarding her heart. She should’ve worn armor.
“What’s wrong dear?” Mom had that tone, the same even tone that calmed and maddened simultaneously.
Claudia sucked in a breath, pulling the curtains tighter around her.
A pregnant pause shattered the dead air. Mom was speaking without words, with silent ice.
“Aren’t you going to say something?”
Mom walked over to the phone. She dialed it. “George,” she said. “Come home now. We have a situation.” She hung up the phone. She walked past Angela like she were laundry on a line and clicked her heels down the hallway. Her door shut—not hard, not angry—just shut.
Angela sat on the couch, white. Claudia stayed in the drapes. Dad came home, looked at the two of them in a dispassionate way and went to the bedroom. The door opened and shut. Muffled voices agitated the still air. Voices that would change the course of Angela and Claudia’s lives, and not for the better.