To celebrate the first six months of Writers Night Out, we asked guest reader Beth Filson if we could share the piece she read at our December gathering. Beth graciously agreed to share this excerpt from her memoir, which is a work in progress. It is a fine sample of the work we are privileged to hear on the first Tuesday of every month at The Elevens. Thank you, Beth –
1986 – After my father died
After my father died we came undone, unwound. We forgot to hang fishing rods in their proper wall cradles, leaving them instead to lean against a wall where they would warp –, or scattered on the floor like pick up sticks. No one put tools away at the end of the day; if it rained, we did not remember the proper sequence for sheltering, stowing, battening down. Reels tangled. We forgot crab baskets in pools of salt water, failing to rinse them so that they would not rot. We did not latch doors or wash down the floating dock or coil the garden hose into perfect ellipses in the center of the yard. No one raced out in the rain to turn off the pump so that it would not explode when lightening struck. We walked in our bare feet. We did not lose toes, limbs. We didn’t bother to climb out of the water when shrimp boats passed – and there were no sharks, after all, following the boats in, just the gulls. Gas cans did not explode if one was careless with the ritual of refueling at Brady’s marina.
In some ways, life was easier. All pretenses gone. Watching TV We put our feet on the coffee table despite the fact that for god’s sake we eat off that table and no one died or sickened from the biological terror that we tracked in from the world out there. We were apathetic about finding the lost TV Guide. We left lights on in empty rooms; we left things uncapped, unsecured. We scooped the ice from the icemaker with our hands, or the glass itself unconcerned that the glass lip might chip and shards lie indistinguishable from the cubes.
It was not that we did not care about each other, or the things he left behind. I think it was more that we were trying to figure out if he had been right – were ready to sacrifice ourselves to prove we could not live without him. We took more and more chances, went to extremes waiting for catastrophe.
Before I went crazy, before it began, I understood exactly how it would happen, that it was inevitable. That all semblance of order was lost and what bound me to the earth was too insubstantial to hold. I came undone, unwound. It was me.
In the seclusion room, I am a boat tied to the dock in a terrible storm, is how I must think of restraints. No one understands that good sailors unleash their boats, steering them to the middle of the river when a hurricane comes so that the boats will not batter themselves in the wind and rain against fixed and hard pieces of land: docks, pilings, rocks. Once the hurricane is past, then the sailors will return their boats to their berths – whole and seaworthy; these sailors inseparable from what must be saved.
Beth still considers herself a newcomer to Western Massachusetts. She grew up in Savannah, GA but lived in Kansas, New York, Iowa and on Martha’s Vineyard. Her scholarly work and visual art have appeared in various publications and journals. “I feel like I am returning home to my writing here. Western Massachusetts has such a rich literary community. The monthly Salons and workshops have given me a way to take part. I am constantly inspired.”