Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Picking Scabs

A very excited version of my dad called me this week asking for computer help with a video. (Not that I have any computer skills beyond ability to type and click a mouse.) Dad had found a video on YouTube that he desperately wanted to save onto his computer’s hard drive and/or some other media. The video was a grainy black and white from the early days of VHS, when the recording camera needed a tripod because it was that heavy. The video was eight minutes long, eight minutes that are legend in our family: the 98-lb state final wrestling match, a match which would end up being my father’s only chance at coaching a state champion.

Jimmy’s path to that finals match has also been memorialized, to the point that the family can recite the names, schools and match scores from his other opponents. And of course we remember that final match score: 8-7 in favor of Jimmy’s opponent. What I remember best about that match was that Jimmy was putting the other kid on his back at the end, in four or five seconds more seconds he would have won, but time ran out. What my dad remembers best is that he told Jimmy not to try that arm drag a third time, that the other kid would be ready for it. Whatever led to the loss, I still couldn’t believe how happy my dad was to find that match. He had it playing the whole time he talked to me on the phone. To me, reliving that moment like that, albeit in a fuzzy black and white, was like picking a scab so that it can’t heal. Why would someone want to relive that?

Okay, I admit it. I have a serious weakness for reunion romances. Most of my characters, including those in my WIP, are driven by an opportunity at a second chance to make things right.

But that’s fiction. And what I love angsting over in fiction is not quite what I enjoy experiencing first hand in real life. Revisiting a crushing disappointment, like that finals match, or missing out on college honors by two one-hundredths of a point (if I’d known, I’d have done that extra paper in that basket-weaving course) or perusing a three-inch high stack of rejection letters is not fun for me. I run from unpleasant realities into fiction as fast as my imagination can carry me. After all, that’s what fiction is for. Escape. I don’t even mind fiction that makes me sob, as long as I get my happy ending.

I should add that my dad couldn’t be prouder of Jimmy if he had won the States. Despite a serious disadvantage in size and height, Jimmy went on to realize his dream of becoming a Navy Seal. My dad measured his accomplishments as a coach not in the hardware of awards, but in molding boys into strong, responsible men.

But although I’ll help my dad store his video, I won’t be watching it. Knowing that you can’t rewrite real history, that second chances in real life don’t come along very often, is why I would always prefer to take my reality with a big healthy slice of imagination.

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