January 13th, 2001 - Gwendolyn Paradice
Lately I’ve been thinking more about what I refer to as the “secret side” of writing: the processes and brainstorming and influences that contribute to our writing but may not be visible to a reader. I’ve been dwelling on this because of the forthcoming publication of my first short story collection and how, when my editor asked if I wanted an acknowledgement page, I cried for days because of the secret side of the book that I don’t talk about. Even though my work is fiction, the book is informed by a woman I’m no longer friends with, and I mourn, with terrible guilt, the loss of our friendship.
After my divorce, I moved to a new city, to a new house, to live with my best friend from childhood, a woman I’d known for almost two decades. The winter Eva moved in, I reveled having her in my house—our house—because she was a comfort, a safe space, and a creative individual that inspired me to work. But living together, and entwining our adult lives, also meant revisiting what happened when we were younger: the instances of abuse I witnessed in Eva’s life, abuse that sometimes I was also a victim of.
Ten years ago, living with Eva meant I began, again, to share a place and space with her family members that caused trauma. Weekly, we would attend lunch with these family members, and I went because Eva invited me to and because I thought I was some kind of protector or buffer. Slowly, as time passed, I came to understand that the abuse from childhood was still being perpetrated, the mental illness of her mother still putting Eva on edge and affecting how she could move in the world.
I have no training in helping people the way a psychologist or counselor might. I could not, as Eva’s emotional state became more erratic, help her. But worse, I thought it was my place to do so. I did not know how to listen without imparting advice. How to live with someone with post-traumatic stress disorder. Did not know how to balance my needs as an individual with her needs as an individual. And so, when she moved out, our friendship started slipping into memory.
In my book that’s coming out, almost every young protagonist in those narratives channels either myself or Eva. She stayed with me, even when we were not together, because I could not—and still cannot—comprehend the enormity and ramifications of the extended trauma she endures. She is the secret side of this collection, a book that never would have come into existence if not for her.
In many ways I feel haunted by this book. Its publication is a co-mingled excitement and dread. A part of me wants take tremendous pride in this hurdle of publication. Another part of me wants to take the copies I’ll receive and leave them in the box they arrive in, stacked in my garage with the Christmas lights I won’t put up, the spider-web coated tools I don’t use, and the old box of pictures I no longer look at. But a part of me is also proud because I am still here, and Eva is too, only states away with a life I don’t know. As of now, I don’t know what to do with this book, constructed by guilt and a love that is still there, only complicated and undercut by the inability to support her and me.
Maybe writing my short collection helped me process something—I like to think that it did—but the reality is that I don’t think this is true. Writing the book was another form of revisiting abuse, was not a form of therapy, and did not act as a way to work through what happened. Everything feels unfinished and unresolved, even as I line edit, collect blurbs, weigh in on cover design, and receive proofs and promotion opportunities. So what do we do when the writing we produce—nonfiction or fiction—does not settle? Does not become a pathway to understanding? Does not transform us? Does not help us? I have no answer here. I can only pose questions that risk non-answers, or many answers, some of which, are still too terrible to write.
Gwendolyn Paradice is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, identifies as two-spirited, and is hearing impaired. Gwen's first collection of short stories, More Enduring for Having Been Broken, Black Lawrence Press’ 2019 Hudson winner, will be published in January 2021. Their essays, short stories, and poetry can be found in Tin House, Uncanny, Booth, Anomaly, Crab Orchard Review, and others. Gwen lives with their partner and their pets, and when they aren't writing or reading, they are playing video games, lifting weights, or listening to music. You can find more information at gwendolynparadice.com
Gwen encourages you to learn more about Rescue.org and the organization's emphasis on gifts for safe birth and healthy child rearing. Visit gifts.rescue.org.