Would I fit in here? It no longer matters – wikipedia photo
Like many authors, I write stories by stirring up a mix of real locations, imaginary characters, and things that could probably never happen in real life with a liberal dash of old memories. I change the memories for the stories because saying “it’s true” doesn’t cut it if the material doesn’t read well and because I don’t want real people saying, “hey, that’s me and all of my friends know it’s me so I’m going to sue.”
While the names and circumstances have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty alike, I think that on the off chance anyone “who knew me back then” were to read one of my books, they might well not recognize themselves or the events. Of course, since people know my fiction often refers to things that really happened, they often take some of the more over-the-top scenes and say, “you really didn’t do XYZ, did you?” In most cases, the answer is “no.”
Even when the answer is “yes,” I might cross my fingers and lie about it.
I’ve mentioned before the notion of saving old memories and long-gone locations and circumstances by placing them into fiction. In some ways, it keeps them alive, allows others to witness them, and to know such things once happened and/or were they way things were years ago. However, I wrote the following sequence into my novel “The Seeker” because it’s an event I never came to terms with. I was very much against the Vietnam war and strongly considered, as my protagonist does in the novel, going to either Sweden or Canada. Both countries were safe havens for war resistors.
While I have changed the names and otherwise fictionalized the circumstances, the following is essentially true. It happened almost fifty years ago. Nonetheless, until I wrote this scene, I was not sure I made the right decision. I was more or less sure, but I had doubts whenever I happened to think back on it. Yes, I was nostalgic for the magic of old memories. But I was also using one of a writer’s handiest tools: writing something down as a way of knowing how I truly felt about it.
The following scene occurs in the novel in 1967, a year before protagonist David Ward will be drafted into the military for probable duty in Vietnam or leave the country:
Excerpt from “The Seeker”
Brita Lind told him while they lay on the beach drinking Oranjeboom beer and watching the skûtsjes sailing on a wind-filled day at Lemmer that she was sure kind angels persuaded Tom to detour through the Netherlands for four weeks of business meetings on their way home from Pakistan.
“Did we not climb higher than K2 on still nights in the Drouwenerzand wood, on the shore of the Ijsselmeer, and in our room at Elahuizen?” she asked just before she boarded a ferry boat in Groningen to return to Göteborg without him.
“I will miss you,” he said.
“Did we not hold hands over breakfast and say jag älskar dig—I love you—until our uitsmijters were cold? Did we not listen to the Beatles singing ‘Yesterday’ and share ourselves with each other while ignoring the skinny bridge, the wonders of the Rijksmuseum, the beer at Heinekens and the chewing tobacco at Niemeyer’s?” she asked as though he needed to be reminded.
“Yes we did, but we made no promises.”
“You are right. Consider hearing me again, though,” she said, “when I say you may come to Göteborg with me right now and share my home as long as it’s standing, my bed as long as you want me, and my life as long as it pleases you.”
“That would please you?” he asked.
“It would,” she said. “We fell in love quickly. It’s real, David. I know it’s real even if you think you are rebounding from your Florida swamp lady.”
“Jag älskar dig! I love you for you, Brita Lind. I will cherish you for the rest of my life for inviting me into your life.”
“I have read in the newspapers,” she said, hooking a foot around his right ankle, “when your name is called by the American military, a step forward constitutes induction.”
“It’s an efficient method of making a commitment,” he said.
She pulled gently on his right leg. “Taking a step forward now is an efficient method of boarding a ferryboat without having to make a commitment.”
“But it is a commitment, Brita. While Sweden will accept me with open arms, the United States will consider me a criminal who will never be able to go home again without facing a prison sentence. If my family supported me, I would board this ferry with you in a heartbeat and I would marry you, if it pleased you, and I would learn Swedish, even if my grammar and my accent were horrible, and I would be ecstatic in the knowledge that I finally found everything I was looking for.”
“You’re making me cry.”
“Please don’t. I can’t say goodbye to my family forever without their blessing. That’s what it would be.”
“I think you’re making a mistake that you might regret one day.”
“I regret it today.”
The Mystery of the Many Worlds
The Many Worlds version of reality – Wikipedia photo
Some quantum theorists and kabbalists believe that reality splits into multiple worlds at the defining decision points in a person’s life. They would say that one Malcolm came home and ended up on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam and that another Malcolm in a parallel universe went to Sweden. I tend to believe this. Naturally, most people think the concept is ludicrous and that even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter because no knowledge or information is knowingly transferred from one universe to another.
The theorists believe that we know about alternate universes subconsciously and/or that one day we’ll be able to communicate between them. If I had a magic telephone that would allow me to call the Malcolm who went to Sweden, would I do it? Would I want to know how it went? Prior to writing the Brita scene for “The Seeker,” I probably would have picked up that magic phone to ask Malcolm #2 how he liked Sweden.
But now, I wouldn’t call even if such a magic phone existed. I no longer have the need to know what would have happened if I had stepped on the ferry boat. It just doesn’t matter anymore because writing the scene flushed all the “what if?” questions out of my mind. As a writer, I have quite often felt that writing about old memories is the best way to enjoy the good ones, banish the bad ones, and put to rest old ghosts.