The repetitive use of “the way” is very effective. Did you consciously craft that or did it end up organically evolving as you wrote?
Thank you! I usually like to do two things in a piece—build tension as I go and come full circle. I started “21 Allen Drive” with the repetition of “the way” in the first paragraph, then let the lists take over in the next two. By the fourth paragraph, when I knew it was time to end the micro, I leaned on “the way” again to achieve that full circle thing. It wasn’t fully a “craft” choice though. “The way” felt powerful to me. It wasn’t the things themselves in the first and final paragraphs that impacted me so greatly. I was their “way” (if that makes any sense), so I went with that.
The familiarity with the household, the intimate details, is what makes this piece so moving. Could you describe for us a favorite place of your and what made it so?
21 Allen Drive is the actual street address of the house my family moved into sixteen years ago. It was a big change for us—we’d moved from a suburban area to a much more rural town. I loved the house. It backed up against woods. There were all kinds of animals and animal sounds, and we actually saw stars at night (something new for me). Less than five months after we moved in, my husband was killed in a car accident on his way home from work. This is a story I’ve written many, many times from many different angles. While we’ve long since moved away, this house, this town, this place seems to visit me on the page no matter how far I try to run from it. I’ve come to just let it show up without resisting its presence and let what unfolds, unfold. The place details help keep me grounded. I think when one goes through the trauma of a huge and very sudden loss, place details take on a new significance.
I often see words in colors; for instance, when you wrote “screaming out flashes of red,” this made perfect sense to me! The word scream itself looks red in my mind! Are there words you associate with colors or phrases that are particularly visual for you?
I definitely associate colors with feelings. Strong colors, strong emotions, and those call for strong words. On this particular night, my kids and I entered a dark house. This was back in the day when we all still relied on answering machines rather than on voice messages. The flashing red light indicating missed calls stood out, a bold statement against the black of the kitchen. It did seem to be screaming out at us, calling urgently for our attention. It needed to tell us what we all knew to be true but didn’t think we could bear to learn.
The natural world, animals in particular, play a role in this piece. Is 21 Allen Drive an anomaly or are animals frequent in your writing? Are there other works of your in which animals figure so largely?
When I was in second grade, I used to write the same poem over and over—just varying the specific animals and setting. It went like this:
There was a baby elephant in the jungle.
Her mother died.
She was all alone.
There was a baby deer in the forest.
Her mother died.
She was all alone.
So, I guess you could say yes, there are plenty of other works in which animals figure largely!
I used to volunteer at several animal shelters, cleaning litter boxes, walking dogs. The oldest and/or most ornery or terrified of the bunch—the ones considered unadoptable or least unlikely to find a home–would often come home with me. So it makes sense that animals would find their way into my writing—although not as frequently as you might imagine, given the number of four-leggeds I’ve lived with in my adult life.