My mind is on my new release When You Were Older today, and I've been thinking about the way I use "crucial moments" in some of my novels. In Electric God, a life was lost over a crucial moment. A moment when the main character, Hayden, could have done something, but didn't. Of course, he had no way of knowing it was a crucial moment. We almost never do. That's what I find so fascinating about them. Looking back, you realize the gigantic nature of a moment, the way life turned on it. In fact, in Electric God I referred to it as a "fulcrum moment." But at the time you have no way of knowing you just passed an important crossroad.
In my newest, When You Were Older, Russell is late for work when the phone rings. And he almost doesn't get it. Because he's late. Thing is, he's late to work at the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001. If he had kept going and ignored the phone, he would have been at work when the first plane hit. If the call had been of no importance, he might still have made it in time to be killed. But it was far from unimportant. It was a neighbor in his home town of Kansas, telling him that his mother has died suddenly, and he has to come home and look after care for his brain-damaged older brother, Ben. So he doesn't rush out the door. And he survives.
The closest moment I can think of in my own life was when I was laid off from a job in January of 1991. I was working as a baker and pastry chef in a small restaurant here in town. Which closed its doors in January. Leaving me out of work. And this is a tourist town. There's no work in January. There's work in June. So while I was waiting, I wrote a novel. I loved that job and would have done anything to hold onto it. I thought losing it was the worst thing that could happen. Of course, it wasn't. It was the best.
Not as dramatic as my fictional moments, but you get the idea.
So...in honor of the release of the new novel, will you tell me about a moment when your life turned? You can leave it as a comment, or email it to me to post on this blog. I'd really like to do some guest posts on the subject, but I'll base that on the response.
And, by the way, the Kindle ebook of novel is marked down to only $1.99 in honor of book-loving holiday shoppers. That price will hold through the 23rd of December.
Hope to hear from you, and feature your moments!
And...I've already gotten the first "moment." Thank you to Sara for writing this out for me (and my readers). I used to have short stories on my website, and one was about the aftermath of a plane crash. The photo I used to represent it was a plane angled sharply down, as if falling out of the sky. That was when Sara, who has been a fan of mine for a very long time, first briefly mentioned this incident. But this is a very full version. I hope it will inspire others to share their moments.
August 26th 2006 was an ordinary day in my little family. In fact I’m quite certain had it not been for the events of August 27th 2006 I’d have no idea what I did on the day that came before. I’m not real sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it’s a remembered thing.
I’d purchased tickets for my parents, my boys and I to attend the local Barnum and Bailey Circus event. My kids loved the circus. I loved the circus. It’s about so much good entertainment, and sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. We’d skipped nap time, so leaving the event I had two hyped up yet tired children to fuss with.
I’d run out of my preferred body lotion that could only be purchased in this small shop inside the mall and so we’d made a run there to pick it up. My phone rang. It was her, Lynda.
She was so much to us. I talked to her briefly, I heard that her daughter’s nanny had broken her back and that she’d be flying that night out to Atlanta to cover childcare till her daughter could arrange something else. I’d passed my phone to my mom, so I could herd the kids around better.
The only thing I don’t remember about the 26th is if I told her I loved her before handing off the phone.
I woke August 27th, a Sunday, showered and started fixing my hair for church while the boys slept. I had the news on despite having my back to the tv and the volume muted. For some reason I looked in the mirror to see words scrolling backwards across the bottom of the tv screen. I turned around to read them. A plane crashed shortly after takeoff at Bluegrass Airport.
Somehow my heart knew. I called my mother. Mom said Lynda was leaving the night before but I had that feeling that something terrible had happened to us, we just didn’t know it yet and requested she call Barry (Lynda’s husband) just to be sure.
I knew. Despite all the reasons why it shouldn’t have been her plane, I knew it was. I woke the boys and hurried them into clothes prepared to jump in the car and go. Mom called. I knew before answering it what she would say. Bewildered, she said Barry thought it was her plane. She’d been bumped from the flight the night before. It could be her plane.
I knew. I knew life would never be the same, perhaps never even okay again.
We drove the 75 miles to meet with this new group of people we were suddenly, without any choice in the matter, a part of. We waited till 2pm when they released the names of those on the plane and while we knew, while I’d known for hours, we’d still held hope until there was none at all to hold onto.
It was a cluster of things. The lights on the runway were being worked on, so there were no lights, the pilots had made an error and were looking at a map of a Tennessee airport instead of the Kentucky airport they were flying out of, the runways were being repaved and had yet to be repainted, the flight tower cleared the flight for takeoff without visualizing the plane. All pointed to doom at the end of a runway too short for a plane too large to be on it.
They crashed into a line of trees; the wings were torn off as well as the fuselage. Then moments after the first officer was pulled badly injured from the wreck the entire thing burst into a hot fast fire. Forty nine people died. One of them I loved.
I think it’s safe to say we knew that day it would never be the same, but I don’t think we knew that day just how different life would turn out to be. She took with her so much of this family that it’s almost like we don’t even have one anymore. Sometimes, six years later it seems impossible that she’s gone. Yet other times it feels that life of Sunday family dinners and her thanksgiving sweet potato casserole, and the late night phone calls were thousands of years ago.
We’ve kinda done a terrible job of staying together, and I know if she knew she’d be upset with us. We were never really good about talking about it and now it seems too long ago to talk about so we choose to stay at arms length mutually. Thing is, I think about it all the time. We probably all do.
Lynda, if there is internet where you are, and I’m sure there isn’t…
I always told you, you were the backbone to all this and you always said that wasn’t true. I wasn’t lying. I tried, I think we all did. Thanksgiving was awkward that year, and Christmas was downright painful…did you happen to see? We had it in your house, and even thought it had only been 3 to 4 months since you’d left us the gaping hole you left was unavoidable. Your house even seemed to be mourning your loss. We did church, and we did family Sunday dinner, but that was really awkward too. Every restaurant we walked into there you were. Yet you weren’t. Memories would flood my thoughts and our conversation would turn stale and before I knew it we all made excuses not to go.
Yet here it is six years later and we’ve still not figured out how to be okay with your absence. Or maybe the problem is we aren’t ever going to be okay with your absence because it’s not supposed to be. It just is. Everyone’s coming here Saturday. Everyone who agreed to come at least. The house is festive and we’re cooking up a storm. And lady, you who thought so little of yourself, will be missed greatly by the broken hearts who still wish you were here.
The scariest thing? I’d figured at least another 30 years with her. And I didn’t exactly appreciate her while I had her. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate her. It’s just…I took for granted she’d be driving me crazy for quite a while longer. That’s what changed the most when she left. My heart’s been full of fear of who goes next. Of not saying what I meant to say. Of someone not knowing who they are to me.
I know for certain she knew I loved her. Just 7 days before she died we sat together in church and she rubbed my hand and whispered…”you have the softest, baby hands” and I whispered back “your hands are puffy.” We both chuckled. And somehow despite years of interaction between her and I, that’s what I remember most. I’ll rub the back of my own hand and remember her words.