Several months ago, as part of the Writers Workshop, we published poet and novelist Kim Triedman’s essay about the how and why of using multiple points of view in her novel, The Other Room. “Making the choice to use multiple points of view for my novel was one of the most important – and serendipitous – decisions I made.” Now, we’re pleased to offer MidLifeBloggers’ readers an excerpt from that book, which is, as Kim described it, “a character-driven narrative, a tale of family dynamics and relationships strained to the breaking point by the trickle-down of grief.”
By Kim Triedman, award-winning poet & novelist
Sometimes I wonder: Is my life better or worse for having had her? In the dark of night I do not always know. For months after I could not settle, could not find a place in our big, old house where I could sit myself down, listen to my breaths or watch the minutes tick themselves carefully around the clock. Every noise I heard spoke only of the stillness, the way an echo describes space. And this is what they said to me, every creak of every door: there is nobody here but you.
I understand now about that house, why neither of us could finally live there anymore. When we came back, weary and wrung, our insides turned out, it sat there, snug and compact, two newspapers stacked neatly by the front door. The garbage had been put out at the curb, and the neighbor’s cat sat contentedly atop the fence post, licking his fat double-paw. The air smelled of melting ice, and the ground beneath it. Up on the second floor, the shades were all tightly drawn, as though the family that lived there had been away on vacation. It was then I understood how long the rest of my life was meant to be.
I followed Josef up the stoop, watched him bend down to pick up the newspapers and fumble for the key ring in his pocket. I do not know how he did these things. It was all I could do to take air into my lungs and bring it out again, to place one foot squarely in front of the other. Maybe that is when I knew: that we could not survive it. Maybe it was the way he stooped over that morning to pick up the papers.
When the door opened, I stood for a long moment, looking in, testing it with my eyes the way a child might touch the bath water—gingerly, anticipating pain. And this is what I saw: everything was as it had been. The jackets still hung in a crowded heap by the door, one stray pink mitten on the carpet beneath the coat rack. The mail lay in the basket on the table, unopened, and down at the end of the hallway the answering machine flashed its urgent red light. I waited there for what seemed like a very long time, not moving, not breathing, and all that I could feel of my body were the pupils in my eyes, growing wider and wider. Somewhere, far beneath us, I heard the burner kick on and then off again, and I watched bewildered as Josef rounded the corner to check on the thermostat.
“Shit, it’s 54 degrees in here. We must be out of water.” He said it just like that, just like he had a thousand times before, not understanding what he was doing to me with those words. I looked over at him as he placed the newspapers by the door, willed him to see the panic rising in my eyes.
“I’m going down to fill it, okay? I’ll be right up.” He turned as he said it and that was that, the beginning and the end. I pulled my winter coat tightly around me and stepped up into what had once been my home, closing the door gently behind me, setting my purse down carefully on the hallway table. These things I did slowly, watching myself from a safe distance, feeling each muscle as it clenched and slackened in the service of these small movements. When I turned to find Josef once again walking down the hall toward me, I felt as though I was moving through water, or walking on ice.
“I filled it,” he said. “We’re lucky the pipes didn’t break.” And I thought about that for several minutes, rolling it around sluggishly in my mind, wondering if he felt lucky. Wondering if he felt anything at all.
I can’t say how I made it through those first few hours. There are places where my mind still won’t go, and that is one of them. That day I made it to the house, to the door, into the hallway, and then it is a blank, a place I know I may never return. I do not know if we ate, scanning our freezer for something we had made another night, a lifetime ago, laughing with one another or crying together above chopped onions. If I were to guess, I would have to say that Josef did and I did not. Already I could see that these were the things he needed to do: to open a freezer, or fill the boiler, or brush his teeth, as though the very dailiness of these acts could somehow protect him like a thick layer of gauze. I knew it the moment he bent over to pick up the paper, that those were the places he would go for succor.
For me it was quite the other way: those things that kept him anchored to the earth as it spun faster and faster were the very things that sent me reeling off in time and space. They were the enemy, all those things that people do in a day, the tiny victories. I could not do them. I did not see them as things that needed to be done. They terrified me—the refrigerator, the light switches, the laundry that piled up in the corners of our room. All these things I stared at without moving and they stared back at me: waiting, taunting, mocking me with their eyes and their crooked half-smiles.
The Other Room was published in October, but we held onto this excerpt because we think it will make a fantastic holiday gift for the writer and/or reader on your list. Here’s the link to buy it: http://www.amazon.com/The-Other-Room-Kim-Triedman/dp/0983476470