I have started rewriting my novel by hand. When I wrote my first draft, I wrote it in a flurry of madly typing fingers. It happened so fast, and the result was a story, but one ended up being mostly junk with a few snippets of brightness. Kind of like DNA: a couple of gene’s here and there, but the rest is junk code. So I am rewriting by hand. It is slowing me down considerably, but that is a good thing. I need to slow down.
It is like returning to my roots as a writer. I used to write everything by hand first. All my best work was done that way, but then I got out of college and suddenly forgot everything that works for me. I don’t know why I felt like I needed to walk away from my good habits. Maybe I felt I needed to grow up? Try something new? To have a more sophisticated process?
What bullsh***. Sometimes I can be so thick. So I am going back to the basics. I figured I would give a preview of the new “first” draft of the opening to my novel. Be kind: remember it’s still rough and needs fleshing out, but I finally feel in tune with my character. Like she is a real entity. She has a mind of her own, while in earlier versions she was just a shadow of herself. She keeps getting clearer each time I go back in and rework something. Any and all feedback is welcome!
Standing at the curb, her feet cold in her shoes, Lila realized that the house in front of her is no longer home. Her childhood home was a stranger to her and the name tacked onto the end of her own no longer belonged to her either. And for the first time in months she didn’t feel daunted by the fact that she didn’t have a home, or a job, or a husband, or even a plan. It didn’t matter that her résumé wasn’t up to date. For the first time in her life she felt free and wholly herself. It was like she was just meeting herself, her skin felt new and unfamiliar.
Admittedly, this wasn’t what she was expecting to feel, standing and staring at her childhood home. Nostalgia had been part of her expectations, but it had failed to sneak up on her. In fact nothing about herself was what she expected anymore. Her hair was still its matte brown, but it was now shorter than she had ever had it. It was choppy, messy, even playful. She had never been playful before. Her eyes were grayish, they seemed darker than they used to be, and there were the suspicious beginnings of laugh lines on her face. Those were new. She was of average height, and while she had always been thin she had turned wiry, energetic. That was new too. Even the fact that she was 30 now seemed to make her jump in surprise. Her jeans seemed to hang from her hip bones, giving the appearance that she just didn’t give a damn. She stood now with her hands in the pockets of her dark grey, zip up sweater. The hood pulled over her head, her blue t-shirt looking like a bed skirt, poking out from her sweater.
The cold of the concrete seeped through the soles of her shoes and she breathed a sigh of relief as she realized that this wasn’t going to be her destination. Ever since the divorce two months before, she had thought this is where she would end up. No matter how long it took her to get here, she would come crawling home. She had had visions of her driving to Main street, booking a room at the Old Bird Motel. She would have taken a slum job at the local news paper, writing obits and wedding announcements. She would have tried to make friends, after a fashion, but everyone in town would gossip about the big city girl coming home defeated and divorced. They would call her stuck up. They would tell her that she should have known better. They would remind her that she was one of them, and that she was better of staying that way.
But for the first time she realized that she was just passing through. That this didn’t need to be home. She didn’t have to do the walk of shame and flounce back into town. She didn’t need to be their poster child of failure. The one who was deluded with bigger dreams. Her sense of relief grew bigger, life-size. She felt it all the way down into her shoes. Her poor, scuffed shoes.
The little grey, one story house in front of her was where she had grown up with her mother and grandmother. It had been a house of women. The men had left ages before and their memories had been banished to the dark corners of closets and the spider filled crawl spaces. The house was tiny and they had bumped a lot of elbows and toes. But now the house was inhabited by strangers, while the chipped white shutters were the same chipped and peeling shutters of her childhood. The front yard was still neat, but only because it was barren, and the white picket fence that divided the front and back yards was listing slightly, drunkenly swaying in the air.
Not much had changed. Her favorite apple tree still loomed over the house, visible from the back corner of the backyard. The inside was harder to imagine. All of their things would be gone of course, replaced by new people, new knickknacks. The only thing she could imagine being the same was the old, large, black gas stove that dominated the kitchen. It sat in a corner, but it lorded over everything else. In the cold winter mornings, she would find her grandmother perched on a stool, in front of the stove with the door swung open, and the oven blazing hot. She used to say it was the only way to get her bones warm. In fall the house would sing with the scent of apple and cinnamon as large stock pots boiled away on the back burners, slowly turning the tart, almost inedible apples into applesauce. Turtlenecks and applesauce.
No one would sell that stove. It was ancient and antique. They didn’t make them like that anymore and it might have been the only reason someone would buy the old, dilapidated house anyway. But everything else was gone. Every remnant of her childhood: her grandmother, her mother, their dog. All dead; all gone. She supposed she could make it sound tragic–if she wanted to, but she didn’t have the heart. Her Grandmother and her dog had both passed in their own time. It was hard to get worked up over a good death, but her mother’s death had hurt–a body blow. It still did, but the pain was now soothed to an ache. Manageable. Livable.
In fact, she felt quite whole, standing there. Her eyes roamed back over her tree. The one thing left, she supposed. That and the stove. Without thinking she pulled herself off her car and across the road. The dampness of the lawn finding its way into her socks. She gave the gate to the backyard a rough shove. The wood was soggy and old, grey and green with mildew.
The tree was almost exactly the same. Her fingers traced the rough grooves of the bark, remembering the different tracks and trails of the wood. Standing underneath the tree, with apples dripping all around her, the branches seemed taller, older. The apples were bright green and red, glowing against the dark clouds. Their skin happily hiding the tartness beneath. She reached up with both hands and picked a brother and sister, checking both for worm holes before pocketing them. Then without thinking, or looking up, she grabbed a third and help it to in her hand. The skin slowly turning warm to match her own.
And that is all she needed, so she turned to go and while her brain was set on the car her body paused. With movements that surprised her she stopped and knelt beside the old tree, pressing the scratchy bark to her lips. She even fancied that the bark kissed back, a very scratchy pucker. Without warning, laughter bubbled up inside of her, breaking free harshly. She couldn’t seem to stop surprising herself, nor stop being impulsive. She blushed, but she refused to look around to see if anyone had noticed her.
The sky was getting darker now, and the air thicker as Lila stole back to her car. Low thunder grumbled overhead, as if telling her never to come back. She happily agreed. The energy in the air was catching, slowly working its way into Lila’s bones and in between the strands of her hair. She found herself smiling and feeling buoyant. The movement of her arms took no effort at all. It had taken her years to forget all the reasons she had left this town in the first place, and now being back it took only moments to realize that she had never really missed it. The first raindrops hit as she drove through town and she rolled down her windows, laughing in the wind and rain. The crazy weather.
For the first time, in what felt like years, she made a careful, conscious decision and turned onto the highway heading west. Back the way she had come. She imagined where she was headed: the small yellow cottage, the simple expanse of beach, and Minny. She smiled. All of them would, no doubt, be waiting for her. The wind sucked into the car and whipped her hair around. The rain hit her forehead and cheeks, but she kept the windows rolled down for miles.