More to the Story
I have been carrying around a story, like a stone in my brain, for nearly twenty-five years. It’s a true story; or rather, the events upon which the story could be written actually happened. Maybe that’s why I’ve had such a hard time writing about it—though honestly, I find it difficult to even tell the story. I’ve tried on a number of occasions to recount the long moments as they happened on that cold January night deep in rural Wisconsin, back in 1992: A man held a woman at gunpoint; I unwittingly intervened; he pointed the gun at my head while she escaped, then turned the gun on himself. But there is so much more to a story than its time line. In conversation I can’t quite capture the texture of the road, or the screaming fact of the shotgun barrel. The sound of running in the dark, or the weight of the cold, the sick loneliness of it.
For the first few years I didn’t touch the story. I left it lying there in the back of my mind, let the grass grow around it for a while. In graduate school I tried writing it as a long poem, but it turned into an erasure—I covered dark thoughts, not yet fully formed, with black ink until I had created a kind of secret dossier, disturbing details carefully redacted. Later I tried a short story. More recently I tried a journalistic approach, started an essay. I contacted the officer who interviewed me that night—Deputy Jack Frost, such an improbable name. I wanted to see if the official record matched my memory. But when I heard his voice I lost my nerve. This is either the story I must write, or quite possibly the story I will never finish.
I started thinking about all of this again after editing two articles in this issue that address the difficulty of navigating memories, especially traumatic ones, while reaching for narrative and emotional truth. In “This Is Your Brain on Fear: Trauma and Storytelling” (page 25), J. T. Bushnell mixes the account of a house fire with a crash course in neuroscience and lessons of craft in the fiction of Tim O’Brien, Tobias Wolff, and others. In “The Deepest Place” (40), Adam Haslett tells Kevin Nance that his new novel, Imagine Me Gone, in which the author lays bare his grief for his lost father and brother, is the most autobiographical thing he’s ever written. The story of Haslett’s five-year process of “transmuting his troubled family history into literature” is devastating in its honesty, and his new book is a masterpiece. He and the other writers in this issue have a fearlessness that is contagious. I hope you learn as much from their stories as I did, and that you are so moved to write.