A month or so ago, the blogger Laird Sapir posted a challenge for writers. To enter, you had to write, preferably off the top of your head, a three-sentence story based on a prompt she chose at random by hitting Wikipedia’s ‘random article’ button. The prompt had to be used in one of the three sentences. Her random prompt: Think of Laura.
I read about the challenge, thought briefly about my cousin Laura, then thought about my Grandmother whose name isn’t Laura, and then dismissed the idea of entering the contest. I know how important it is as a writer to put your work out in front of others but the “preferably off the top of your head” part of the challenge made me feel nauseous. I’m shy enough about sharing polished stories I’ve written. There was no way I was going to let others see what comes out without considerable forethought and careful editing. I closed the blog post and played a game of Words With Friends (FYI: all discomfort can be relieved by playing Words With Friends).
I discovered that I was wrong. After finishing my WWF games (yes I play with several people at once), I still felt odd and knew that I had to go back to Laird’s post. Something was brewing inside and while I didn’t have the ability to articulate what it was, I did have the ability to type the words “Think of Laura” on the top of the page and start writing. Thus began one of those moments that all writers dream about. I started to type, the words rolled off my fingers faster than I could think them, and when I came up for air, I was joyfully and painfully surprised by what I had written.
Eighteen years ago, we received a call that my 27 year old sister-in-law (Emily), who’d been traveling abroad with her younger brother (my husband’s siblings), had become very ill and was being transported by a medical plane to Singapore from Nepal. They’d already amputated her leg in a Nepalese hospital (where my brother-in-law had to hold a flashlight for the doctors so they could see what they were doing) and they were sending her to a better equipped medical facility for further treatment.
As soon as we were able, we (my in-laws, my husband, and myself) boarded a plane from Boston to Singapore. It is a long flight under any conditions but the anxiety of not knowing what was going on with Emily made it unbearable. When we arrived, my brother-in-law met us at the airport and a business associate of my husband’s drove all of us directly to the hospital.
I still can’t describe what we saw when we got there, but suffice it to say, the body in the bed, hooked up to all of those machines, did not look at all like Emily. Our silence upon seeing her was broken only by a cry I will never forget that came from deep inside my mother-in-law. “Em-i-lia.” Then she went and sat beside her daughter, who had slipped into a coma during the plane ride.
That night we went back to the hotel and forced ourselves to eat at the restaurant. I remember somebody asking me to order because the restaurant served Chinese food and I ate Chinese food with my family almost every Sunday of my youth.
Most of what happened after that is a blur. Emily’s boyfriend/fiance and his mother flew in from England. My husband got food poisoning. The doctors told us Emily was in sepsis, that all of her systems were shutting down. The businessman took us out to see some botanical gardens. The waiters at our hotel thought my brother-in-law looked like Jesus (he did). Days passed. The tests results came in and the brain function of this once thoughtful, intelligent young woman was beyond repair. She was taken off the machines that were keeping her barely alive. My brother-in-law went back to the hospital after we went to sleep and was with her when she died. I can’t even write this down without sobbing.
One day, I will tell this story in more depth. It is still too raw, 18 years after it happened. But I think my mind is finally trying to put together all the random pieces from those shattered days in Singapore. I think that because when I wrote down the words, “Think of Laura”, my fingers typed this:
On our first night there, after twenty hours of sleepless travel and a long day of seeing and not believing that it could be, they asked me to order because I’m not a blood relative and I once said we ate Chinese food every Sunday when I was a girl. It was a round table, five of us instead of six, and we told jokes and laughed but not one of us could hear or see or cry. I told the waitress to bring more beer and several plates of food and to keep coming because for a short respite that really wasn’t one at all, every single one of us needed not to think of Laura.
When I heard that I had won the challenge, I reread what I had written and I cried. I haven’t read it again until today when I decided to write about it. Guess what I am doing right now. Good thing everybody else in the house is asleep.
I only hope that when I post my writer’s challenge (the winner hosts the next round of Laird’s writing challenge) next week that my random Wikipedia words inspire another writer to find a part of him or herself that has been lost for a long time and dredge it up to share with people they may or may not know.
In pain there is release.
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