This month I finished the revisions on my new memoir CRASH! The book now has a sub-title: A Mother, a Son, and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude. I like it. It captures that tricky-to-navigate space between gratitude that my boy is alive and grief for all he has lost.
In many ways this is the most difficult thing I have ever done. Going through the crash in the first place was of course a challenge. And writing the first draft of the book was a great deal of work. But the labor of revision was more intense than I anticipated. I think that is partly because when my editor kept assuring me that “there is not much to re-work,” I interpreted that as “there is not much work to do.” Her main suggestions dealt with chapter re-ordering and the narrative’s timeline. She moved large chunks of the story around, then left it to me to hide the scars left from ripping whole sentences, paragraphs and chapters out of place. I had to part the waters like Moses, drop storylines in the wake, then calm the tsunami created by the plunge. It took hours of mental concentration, days of reading and re-reading passages, making certain that the order was correct. Making adjustments for the fact that what the reader initially learned in chapter 5 now isn’t revealed until chapter 10. Pages of new story had to be written to meld the new storyline cleanly. Under deadline, it’s been physically exhausting to log five, six, seven straight hours a day staring first at a blank page, then at a blank screen. (I write long-hand first, then type my words into the computer effectively doubling my work.) It’s been an unhealthy process at times. I’ve been skipping my morning gym time, afraid that if I don’t sit down at my desk right away, one thing will lead to another and I’ll find my time frittered away. I don’ take time for meals. I find myself asking, ‘now what can I eat with one hand so I can keep writing with the other?’ So it came to pass that on more than one occasion, I ate cookies for lunch.
But it’s more than just mentally and physically taxing. I’m emotionally spent as well. Going back to the well day after day, re-living painful family memories opened fresh wounds on a daily basis. I spent one afternoon re-reading newspaper accounts of the drunk driver’s court appearances to get that timeline straight. I wept.
It also so happened that January—this month when I was being asked to revise a memoir about an accident that left my son with a traumatic brain injury and killed his girlfriend—is also the anniversary of that crash. I tick off events as I write about them. January 7th. Nine years ago today I was just learning about the hit-and-run. January 8th. Nine years ago today Trista was being taken off life support. January 12th. Trista’s funeral took place nine years ago today. January 7th. Eight years ago today Neil underwent a second operation on his leg, ironically a year to the day after the crash.
I’ve officially finished. I sent the revisions to my editor last week, two weeks ahead of deadline. The project literally has my sweat and tears in it and figuratively, my blood. At times, writing and bleeding have felt very much the same to me. Draining my soul of all life and feeling. Leaving me empty. And cold. And still.