Monday, November 14, 2011

Oh, the Stories I Could Tell

I went to a banquet for Savannah’s swim team last night. I figured I’d only know one person at the event (the mom of one of Savannah’s friends), and I figured that she’d be busy talking to other friends. I assumed I’d be spending the night sitting in the corner, talking to no one, and making up stories about everyone. When I arrived, Savannah took off to sit with all her friends. I sat down at a table by myself and tried to not to look like a loser. Shortly after, a middle-aged man approached my table, indicated a chair, and asked if anyone was sitting there. I enthusiastically flapped my arms in the general direction of the empty chair and said, “No, no, not at all! Please, sit down!” I was pretty sure he’d selected my table, not for my effervescent personality and wonderful company, but its proximity to the buffet line, but I was determined to supply interesting conversation and laughter nonetheless.

As we introduced ourselves and made small talk about how well the kids did throughout the swim season, I noticed a tiny, almost invisible scar at the corner of his eyebrow and I wondered how he’d gotten it. I bet it was from an errant hockey puck. But maybe, just maybe the whole hockey thing was just a cover. Actually, he’s a cop. And undercover detective. He got that scar when the blade of the druglord he’d captured, nicked the corner of his eye as he dodged out of the way just in time to keep from losing his eye. He then shifted his weight and used his muscular shoulder to barrel into the fugitive’s chest, knocking him back across the kitchen table, no wait, not a table, but a fallen tree branch because they were in some rainforest in Columbia.  Are there rainforests in Columbia?  I’m pretty sure that’s where drug lords come from.  And coffee.  Oops, back to the story.  He knocked the fugitive druglord back which bought him a couple seconds to reach for his gun . . .

I came out of my little world of imagination to find him staring at me as if awaiting an answer. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.” I smiled up at him, gracefully covering for my rude behavior.

Instead of repeating the question, he asked, “What were you thinking about?”

“Hmmm?” I asked, innocently.

“You were staring off into space. What were you thinking about just now?”

“Oh, I was making up a story,” I stammered.

He raised an eyebrow, begging me to expound.

I took a deep breath. I noticed the little scar by your eye and I started creating a story about you being an undercover police officer and getting into a fight with a druglord in the jungle or a kitchen, and then . . .” I trailed off at the mixture of amusement and concern for my mental well-being that was playing across his features. I looked down, a little embarrassed, and finished by quickly spitting out, “I was just making up a story.”

He smiled then, a kind of slow smile that lifted one corner of his mouth, lazily followed by the other as he looked at me with fascination.  It was the kind of quiet, curious fascination you’d express if you were at a dinner party and a guest suddenly stood up on the table and started rubbing pâté on themselves while singing showtunes. Except that curious fascination wasn’t directed at a deranged diner singing showtunes or a person muttering to themselves on the subway; no, it was directed at the freak show that was me.

I’m not sure when I first became aware that normal people don’t make up stories about everything they see. Normal people don’t create backgrounds for the people they meet. They don’t construct bits of dialogue to fit into scenes they view across a crowded room. They don’t feel a breeze, smell something cooking, or see a tree and create a whole scene around it. So, although, I knew on some level that most people don’t have a host of characters and settings and bits of dialogue just rattling around their brains, I’d never given it much thought.

Since I can remember, I’ve done this.  When I was a little kid, I had imaginary friends.  Junie, Rabie, and Aprica were their names.  I know, I know, terribly creative.  (Or seriously warped.)  They were a whole family.  I made up scenes and dialog and played with them for hours.  I’ve never gone a day, nay an hour, without making up stories.  It’s subconscious; as natural and automatic as breathing.  There’s always some story running through my brain and I’d never fully considered the possibility that not only was this not normal, but some people might consider it downright weird.

“Do you do this often?” he inquired, a laugh in his voice.

I squirmed under his amused gaze. I really wasn’t sure if he found the whole thing interesting and wanted to know more, or if he thought I was crazy and wanted to know just how crazy I was. I realized I was quickly scaring away the only other person at the banquet who was at my table. I could just imagine him politely excusing himself to use the bathroom and then making a speedy escape into a crowd of people for whom he’d regal with tales of the crazy lady over there in the green shirt. But I’m nothing if not quick-thinking, so I replied, “Oh yes, we authors do this all the time. It’s how we create our wonderful books. We make up stories and then put them down on paper. It’s an occupational hazard.” I shrugged and gave a nervous little laugh meant to convey I’m confident and not at all weird, and you’re simply uneducated in the ways of writers.

(You want to know just how messed up my writer’s brain is?  None of the above even happened. I made up a story about making up stories! Except for my imaginary friends. They’re real. Or real imaginary. I mean, I really imagined them. Ahem. I may need professional help. Or more wine. Yes, let’s go with the wine.)

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