I began a routine of driving home from school, entering the house, saying hello to my mother, and crawling into bed with Chad for a nap. As he lay recovering physically, I needed to begin a recovery of my own, in my mind and spirit. I had been diagnosed with PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. And I felt disordered. I had order in my schedule, in my classroom, in the care of my husband, but my insides were wasted. What this girl needed was an existential anchor and a path back to me.
My solution didn’t look like redemption at first. And that statement requires some explanation.
Prior to Chad’s illness, prior to his father’s death, my husband found himself frequently back in Miami. The reasons always concerned his father, but sometimes the trip was a medical emergency, sometimes an issue with the house. Regardless of the errand, my husband packed up boxes and boxes of family mementos and shipped them to Idaho. We, my daughter and I, enjoyed an archival Christmas each time the mail arrived. By the time Chad’s father, Chum, had agreed to come west and live closer to us, half of our bedroom was furnished with plastic containers of Chumbley memorabilia.
Here I was, a basket case, and my room was jam packed with historic documents. I am a historian with an active interest in research. I teach advanced placement history. I am operating under deficiencies near a nervous breakdown. Still I couldn’t add one plus one and see the route to my recovery in front of my face. It took a student to help me along.
When my course reached the Great Depression era, I always described Chum’s air race. People did all sorts of activities during those years to make a little money. I showed the kids the trophy, discussed the drama, and reveled along with my students over Chum’s daring. In the same vein when we talked about the world’s descent into fascist hell, I shared Helen’s story of dancing across Europe with a backdrop of swastika’s and regimented Italy. Inevitably one or another student would remark, “Sounds like a movie.” And I would always agree.
A boy, a junior asked me why I was waiting to commit the story to book form. My pat answer was not to offend anyone in my husband’s family. This self-assured young man, Ethan, who thought more of my abilities than I did, looked me dead in the eye and accusingly challenged, “That’s just and excuse. What are you really waiting for?”
At that juncture, my husband was lying prostrate in bed, a close colleague had died of a similar infection, another colleague’s husband dropped dead officiating a soccer match, and this boy wanted to know what I was waiting for.
I began River of January in May 2011. The prose was terrible–more venting and judging than describing all the characters. An editor fired me because the book stunk, and I continued to re-write, a friend helped me line by line, and I continued to rewrite, another editor asked if I was kidding with this book, and I continued to rewrite.
And dear readers, through all that time and uncertainty, Chad grew stronger and I gradually began to recognize myself in the mirror.
Writing has healing properties of enormous power. I just hope River reflects the strength and the determination that restored my life.