I wrote my first full-length feature story in Mrs. Bolasky's second grade class. It was a joint writing project. I paired up with my best friend, Jason. It was 1981. A boy-girl team of sleuths run away to live in a lighthouse that is haunted. They are precocious and brave. I can't quite remember what happens, except the girl escapes by tying a rope to the top of the lighthouse and jumping down the middle of the spiral staircase. After that, he was my boyfriend on and off until the seventh grade. That year on Valentine's Day, he gave me a heart of Ferrero-Rocher chocolates, then dumped me for Jennifer B two weeks later. She was rumored to make-out with tongue and let you feel her up. If I was into that sort of thing, I might have dated her too.
Jason and I have been friends since then. In high school, we were in different social circles. He was in lots of the honor classes I was in, but he played soccer, dated a cheerleader, hung out with the rich kids. I wore combat boots, was opinion editor of the high school newspaper, wrote long depressing poems about death and being misunderstood. I would stand in front of the afterschool literary magazine group, "Here is my latest poem, Death Surround Me Like A Shroud, #623. Oh, Death, my only friend..."
Even though we both had our own cars, some mornings, we would drive to school together just so we could talk. He would make coffee for us both. We would drive Coffeetown Road, and talk about politics, argue the validity of economic systems, discuss what we wrote for our history papers, debate wars and presidents and fashion.
Do you talk to your girlfriend about politics?
No, that is why I have you and my mother.
I have a feeling this is a pattern I will be repeating for the rest of my life.
Probably. You are too cool to date.
After he shut his door, I sometimes whispered, "But I think I love you." Unrequited love became my muse. Selfless adoration, pure writing fodder. It navigated my poetry. I had a boyfriend, after all, I don't know what I expected. I didn't love him as much as love the fact that fate kept us apart. I wanted to be a writer from the moment in second grade where Jason and I stood in front of the class together and read our story. The teacher fawned, and the other kids said it was awesome. That was in 1981, when awesome meant something. And I knew that I always wanted to live in that world with a lighthouse, and a beach, and mysteries that second graders and no one else could solve. All my other worlds are tangentially connected to the lighthouse world. That is the beach an hour's drive from the apartment where two characters are breaking up. There is a lighthouse in the hometown of the mother of the narrator of my novel. When the L&D nurse told me to find a place of calm during Lucy's birth, I sat against the lighthouse, breathed in the salt air, cried into my lap.
Funnily, it never occurred to me that I should be inventing stories for my daughter's bedtime. I bought collections of Greek Myth, folktales from around the world, Hans Christian Andersen, Inuit myth and nursery rhymes. Her bookshelf keeps growing and growing. A year or so ago, she asked me to tell her a story about a little bunny named Andrew and his little sister bunny May.
What book is that, mijita?
Just tell me the story.
You mean, make it up?
Tell me a story about a bunny named Andrew and his little sister named May.
Um, okay. Uh, once upon a time there was a little bunny named Andrew. And he was asked to watch his little sister May. And uh, they were hopping along...and uh...
It was a tragedy.
Not the story, the telling of the story. I kept pushing through, though, then one day, it clicked, and I began my career as a toddler storyteller. I began weaving magical yarns about a distant place where princesses only wear one color and flowers of all varieties grow in the same garden. Where there is a hedge maze, and a wishing well, a dragon, and little bunnies who speak. Sometimes there are holes to fall into, or other kingdoms with horses and unicorns. She has favorite stories now that are repeated, but mostly, I get elements from the girl and integrate it into the story she wants to hear as I sit on the edge of her bed. She pulls the duvet up to her chin. She always wants a princess. A blue princess with a poodle. A red princess and a yellow princess. The princess is sometimes bratty, sometimes brave. Sometimes she is very sad and lonely, or magical and flirty. She is as diverse and weird as me. Some days, the princess has problems very much like the ones we just faced before naptime, and she works them out in a way we simply were unable to work them out. When I fall afield from her request, Beatrice heckles me. "What about the red sailboat? You forgot the red sailboat."
You must be patient, my angel, the red sailboat will come. The blue princess and her poodle climbed into a red sailboat on the edge of shore. The princess was careful to lift her gown up, so that it would not get stained with the salt water. They sailed out to sea, hoping to find their home again, hoping to find the kindly dragon to welcome them into their kingdom. The red sailboat sailed the sea through storms, and calm days without a breeze. The princess was lucky to be carrying her wishing stone, which allowed her to eat popcorn, candy apples and bubble gum soda whenever she wished. After twenty days on the sea, and making friends with some very friendly sea turtles who guided the princess and her poodle, the princess finally saw the flickering light in the darkness. She knew instantly, because she felt her magic stone tremor that she was in her very own kingdom, and the light was from the dragon's lighthouse. And the blue princess and her poodle were finally home. They were finally home.