this morning, as i created a collage of photos mixed in with the newspaper articles about the real girl's fall to use a cover for the manuscript, i felt immensely sad. she was--is a real girl. i hope that the story i have written honors her.
the psychological and descriptive details of my protagonist's life are mine--but the story is imagined. so it's memoir of a sort--false memoir. i had to write the story this way: i have written "my life" in a way that could be understood.
There is a young girl—now a young woman—whose story haunted me so that I wrote a novel imagining her.
Almost ten years ago, I read—horrified—a newspaper story about a woman who took her kids to the top of their building and threw each child off and then jumped.The woman, a young mother, was despondent and depressed and saw no other way out.
The young mother pushed the children off one-by-one, but the girl lived!
The story stuck with me—I had so many questions: How would the girl grow up?How would she deal with the difficulty of dealing with the legacy of her past?I am a writer and I decided to make up her story—the result was my novel manuscript Light-skinned-ed Girl.
Light-skinned-ed Girl is the coming-of-age story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish immigrant and a black G.I.After Rachel survives the family tragedy, she moves to a racially-divided Northwest city to live with her African-American grandmother.Rachel must confront the intricacies of racial, cultural and class borders as she also negotiates the grief of her past.It is with the help of two other people--Jamie (a young neighbor boy who witnesses the accident) and Laronne (her mother’s friend and employer)--that Rachel ultimately unravels the mystery of the tragedy and the legacy she must confront.
Although the manuscript has not been published, I’ve had the opportunity to read my work to enthusiastic audiences.Most recently, I was invited to read my work to nearly 200 people at the State University of New York and also at the University of Copenhagen. In New York, it was thrilling to see a young woman in the front row weep as I read—that my words could create such a response . . . well, that’s the reason I write: to create an opportunity to feel real things—to create inner revolutions.
It occurred to me recently that the young girl, the real young girl, would be the age of my protagonist now: close to 18-years-old.Now, I can find out what really did happen to her.Now, I could actually find the young girl who has been a part of my imagination for so long.
But I don’t know how to contact her.
If she has closed the door on that part of her life, I would not want to be the person to open it.But if she has a heroic story to tell—if she has succeeded to create a normal life for herself—if she still knows how to love and be loved after such a horrific tragedy, then I would love to know that too.Certainly, in my novel manuscript, she is that heroic, successful, loving young woman—I would love to know that the real young woman is too.
Could you help me find her?
I have enclosed a copy of an excerpt from the book.This excerpt won the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition, the Chapter One Fiction Contest, and the Willamette Award for Fiction.It was published in Alaska Quarterly Review Spring/Summer 2005 and in the Hemingway Days Festival Guidebook.Another excerpt will be published in The Literary Review in Winter 2006.I do hope you enjoy the read.I would love to know what you think.And I’ve enclosed, as well, a copy of the newspaper article about the tragedy the young girl survived.
i started to look for the people -- the girl who survived and the grandmother or aunt she went to live with. it looks like they recently moved to florida from upstate new york. i'm not sure what to do next. would she welcome hearing from someone who has been haunted by her tragedy? would she want someone to have written a story that is not her life? would she think i understood or got it right? she's probably 18 now. has she put the story behind? my next step. i will write a letter . . .
yesterday i found out the original newspaper article that haunted me and became the inspiration for the novel manuscript i have written. i haven't looked at the "real story" for years--and i was nearly moved to tears when i looked at those real people's faces. it is not their faces i've seen as i have been writing--but it was their real tragedy and their really gone. but she has a real name; she had a real brother--a twin--who died; it was her real mother who took her to the top of the roof and threw her and her siblings off. she really is still alive right now--just about 18-years-old i guess. i want to find her.
i've been trying to write the "story" of the novel manuscript and realize that there is something missing in the story i've been telling people at readings and lectures --and even socially when i catch up with friends. the story is autobiographical only insofar as it is about a biracial and bicultural girl growing up in the northwest. i guess that is to say: the confusion of the character is a confusion i experienced. but, the story--the girl who survives the family tragedy--well, that's inspired by a real story i read about in the news many years ago. so, as i think about the story of the story: i realize that i wrote this novel because i wanted to imagine the young girl's life--but now, the young girl must be going into puberty--and teenager-hood. i think i will try to find her.