Between Truth and a Human Being

Fog. Days and nights of fog so thick I wonder if the artist Christo has wrapped the peninsula in cotton batting and left us to suffocate. I drive grandma speed, hunched over the steering wheel, on the lookout for deer casing neighborhood gardens during their pre-dawn perambulations. They like to appear suddenly in your headlights with that deer-in-the-headlights look.

It’s a hill repeat day. That’s runner-speak for “run up and down hills a bunch of times like a natural-born fool.” I have a few favorite hills in and around the state park north of town. Four hundred and thirty-five acres of forest, meadow and a restored 19th century military fort built on and below high bluffs overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, bordered by two miles of seashore–it’s a runner’s dream.

It’s just past 7 a.m. Usually there are other humans about, walking dogs or clutching travel mugs of coffee, heading for a bench on the bluff to greet the sun as it crests the Cascade Mountains. But on this morning, there is no dawn. There is only fog. The air is blue-black, thick, wet, cold. I am alone. I complete my warm-up mile around the former military parade ground and head down to the beach for my first set of repeats.

A gray ghost glides down the bluff and steps onto the road in front of me. His eyes flash gold and red, catching the pulses from my lighted wrist band. I halt in mid-stride, but my momentum nearly carries me head-over-heels downhill as my knees Jello out. I back up. Coyote watches me for a few heartbeats, then trots up the way he came. Me? I turn and run.

Back at the car, behind the safety of the open door, I search in the fog for Coyote. He stands on the edge of the bluff peering down at me, so close I could toss a pine cone and hit his brown-gray flank. I’m in awe, jolted and not a little pissed.

There goes my run. Coyote 1, Julie O.

But we’re both adaptable creatures. I head back into town and run the Washington and Monroe St. hills. Ever on the lookout for the damn raccoon that snarled at me last week.

It’s a jungle out there.

A few days after Coyote, I’m in a local bar with some women friends–a monthly get-together. We drink a couple of pints, talk local elections and books.

As we settle up our tabs and sort out jackets and purses, one of the women turns to me and says, “Julie, you are in such great shape. But of course, you’ve never had kids.”

Coyote stops in mid-stride and fixes his red-gold glare on me.

God DAMN it.

There goes my run. Coyote 2; Julie 0.

You’d think at some point shit like that would stop hurting. But it doesn’t.

The thing is, that statement had with no more malice than Coyote had for me, floating out of the fog and crossing my path. Said in ignorance? No, this woman knows my past, knows my pain. Said without thinking? Clearly, for there are so very many things wrong with correlating someone’s physical conditioning to their experiences with childbirth. And it’s one of those things you just.don’t.say. to someone who has suffered infertility and miscarriage.

Yet, here I am, making excuses for thoughtless people. What am I going to do–throw pinecones at Coyote and hope he’ll turn tail so I can continue down that hill without looking over my shoulder? As if.

Me? I’m the deer in the headlights. I turn and run. Straight into my own words.

A few days after the Coyote and The Bar, this e-mail landed:

Dear Julie,

We are thrilled to announce that your submission has been accepted into Three Minus One. Thank you so much for your wonderful contribution. Sean and I welcome you! 

We also ask that you spread the word widely about Three Minus One. It is a labor of love for all involved! Please feel free to share on social media any and all developments regarding the book, and create links to your own websites to presell the book once it becomes available. We will do our best to keep you all in the loop as developments happen.

Here is a link so you can share your acceptance with your friends:  Three Minus One Congratulations to Contributors 

There are approximately 75 contributors.

Again, congratulations. There were over 600 submissions and it was tough competition, so this is a huge accomplishment and we are celebrating with you!

Very best,

Brooke and Sean

Three Minus One is a book project tied to the soon-to-be-released film Return To Zeroabout a couple whose child dies in the womb just weeks before his due date. Brooke is Brook Warner, editor of She Writes Press. Sean is Sean Hanish, the film’s writer and director. He’s also the father of that little boy. Three Minus One, to be published by She Writes Press in May 2014, will contain the essays, poems and visual art of women and men who have lost children through miscarriage or stillbirth. I am honored to be a part of this project and amazed that my voice will be among those speaking for all who cannot.

I must learn to live with Coyote, to know when it is time to raise my hands and shout to frighten him away or when I should back off and find someplace else to run. I can’t fight every battle, but I can add my words to the peace treaty.

“You have to understand, my dears, that the shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story.”
― Anthony de Mello

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Autumn Fog, Quimper Peninsula

14 thoughts on “Between Truth and a Human Being

  1. Julie, your words touched a cord in me and brought back a conversation I had with a close friend several years ago. Words I had buried, but apparently are still there. We were traveling and stayed in the same room. She had been up in the night, but I heard nothing. I was told me I’m a deep sleeper because I’ve never had children. As if. Her words also weren’t said in malice and were just off the cuff, but they struck me and made me feel that my life is somewhat less or small because I don’t have children. I know Eleanor Roosevelt says no one can make you feel a certain way without your consent, but I have a hard time reckoning that statement. A big congratulations to you on the acceptance of your short story!

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    1. Thank you for sharing this with me, my friend.

      I think one of the things I’m learning through the experience of this comment (and so many others over the years-remembering days after I’d learned I’d miscarried our first, being asked by someone if we were planning to use our upcoming vacation to finally “make some babies?”, or how many times have I’ve been asked if we’d ever considered adoption, or…they go on and on) to no longer worry about the motivation of the commenter. I can’t do anything about them or why they said it, or really even care. I just need to acknowledge how it makes me feel and let it take flight (although, as a writer, I file it away for future use! )

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    1. Thank you, my friend. I always wonder, Do I say something? Does it matter? I know she’d be mortified to know she hurt me, but is that what I want- her mortification? So, I hold my tongue, write it out, let it go.

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  2. Julie, I am so, so happy that your beautiful, heartfelt words – bravely written about such a devastating experience – will be included in this collection. Please keep us updated, as I will definitely be pre-ordering.

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  3. “Yet, here I am, making excuses for thoughtless people.”

    Julie, I have reached the conclusion that only a small percentage of people have the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and comprehend their pain and reality, even if it opposes their own reality. But, armed with this knowledge, there are still those moments when a thoughtless comment catches us off guard and cuts through the defences in a moment of fragility. Hugs x

    Three Minus One – congratulations! You deserve to be recognised and celebrated.

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    1. Dearest Bianca,

      I want to be the better part of compassion. I want to be the one with the duck feathers, where this all rolls off and I can laugh about it. I want it not to matter so much. I think, as I said to Yvonne below, writing it out means grasping perspective. It means seeing how I can use what hurts to learn about myself and more importantly, what surrounds me. I know what this woman said reflected how she is feeling in her life, it really had nothing to do with me at all. So, I listen and observe. And what I learn, I work to reflect in my writing. And I heal.

      Thank you for the congratulations. It’s an awesome project!

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  4. Oh Julie – those careless comments must cleave you in two. Every time. I am always amazed by the ease with which good people, even those we love and who love us, can say things that should never be said.

    When I first encountered your writing, I was deeply affected by it – as I recall you were inspired by something Sherman Alexie said about being brave enough to write about what scares you the most. I may not have that detail quite right …
    I am glad your well-placed words have made their way into three Munus One and hope they reach a wide audience.

    Yvonne

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    1. Dear Yvonne,

      You got it just right. Sherman said to write about the scariest things. It feels as though, by writing and sharing the scariest things, they are released from me and I from them. I can walk all the way round, stand back and say “Hmmm…THAT happened.” If there is a chance my words can speak for someone else… but that is why we write. “Writing is a way of saying you and the world have a chance,” said Richard Hugo.

      Thank you. Thank you for getting it and for encouraging me to go on. You are ever an inspiration.

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