I have been putting off writing about Idaho. It’s a childhood memory that I have long suppressed and that only came racing back a few weeks ago, as I was innocently scribbling stream of consciousness notes into a journal about the backstory of one of the characters in the play I’m writing, and then boom, there it was: a moment in my life that I had completely forgotten about. This is a phenomenon that has been happening to me more and more as I continue to put pen to paper, this act of remembering.
For a long time, I deluded myself into thinking that writing fiction was “safer” than writing memoir, because the story wasn’t mine and I had made up characters and imagined storylines to hide behind. Except that isn’t true. I’ve realized that though the circumstances may be fictional, it’s impossible for me to write anything that matters without putting myself into it. Especially not this current piece I’m battling with: a play that revolves around a tangled web of Los Angelenos trying and failing at love in all sorts of toxic and dysfunctional ways. There’s no way to hide when writing a piece like this, a piece that – fictional or not – puts the writer’s heart under a magnifying glass. Surprise, surprise: it turns out that writing about love is dangerous as hell.
As the author of this play, I am ultimately the architect of all of my characters’ bad choices. So naturally I have to ask myself why? Why would otherwise intelligent, sane people make such crazy, irrational decisions when it comes to love? And like so many other things in our lives, the answer to that question can be traced back to the formative years of childhood. Which brings me back to Idaho.
Both of my parents were alcoholics. My father was open – almost to the point of being proud – about his drinking, while my mother hid her addiction. When I was growing up, the period between the end of the workday and the start of dinnertime often dissolved into a nebulous, lingering happy hour. Sometimes it passed in a saccharine haze of laughter and love, and other times, it escalated into full on war between my parents. Looking back on it now with the wisdom that only hindsight can bring, I am certain that I grew into an adult who became far too tolerant of bad behavior because I was a child that recognized the soundtrack of screaming, yelling, hurling insults and slammed doors as a part of normal, everyday life.
It was around the age of ten that my mother started talking to me about Idaho. We’d stay up late, long past my bedtime and after Dad was fast asleep, sitting in the darkened living room of our home in Anchorage and Mom, her eyes welling with tears, would make her sales pitch.
“Let’s pack everything and just go, Sar,” she’d urge. “I promise, you’ll love it there.” And then she’d fill my head with visions of crystal clear lakes tucked into the bases of purple mountains and fields of wildflowers in the summer and ski resorts in the winter and endless blue skies puffed up with clouds and starry, starry nights. Idaho became a place that both embodied hope and promised redemption, a beautiful dream made all the more beautiful because I believed, as she did, that my mother would finally be happy there.
We never made it to Idaho. My mother never worked up the courage to leave my father, and it wasn’t until many years later that I realized that she never really wanted to. Their relationship, toxic and infected by addiction as it was, endured because they loved each other desperately. My mother loved my father so much that when she found out he was dying, she drank herself into an early grave, preferring to leave the earth first rather than live without him on it.
I have penned rough drafts of nearly every section of my play, but the section about Idaho, where one of my central characters tells the story of a haunting childhood memory to a lover she barely knows – a lover she experiences far greater intimacy with than her partner of many years – remains unwritten. I know I need to write it, even if it never makes it into the final version of the script. And I also know that writing it will cost me something.
I strive to be as honest as I can on this blog, and I think, for the most part, I am. But there are still topics I run from, still things that feel too exposed, too vulnerable to speak about.
This is a step in that direction, a step toward that more exposed, more vulnerable me. So thank you, Idaho. Thank you for reminding me of the dreams I’ve had that never came true, and the knowledge that it’s okay to grieve them. Thank you for encouraging me to be brave enough to go into the places that scare me, and to shake off the dark secrets that are weighing me down.
And thank you for giving me hope: the hope that the truth, if I really do tell it all, will be the thing that ultimately sets me free.
Until next time, friends.
P.S. – the stunning photos of Idaho pictured in this blog are from www.visitidaho.org
Doesn’t it look glorious? Someday I’ll go there. I promise.
That was a wonderful post. I think we all have things from our past that we would rather hide from than face. You are showing bravery by even thinking about being courageous enough to pen it at some point.
Wonderful. I’m sure your play will also be wonderful.
Thank you so much, Natasha.
*hugs* Amazing that it came out after being hidden so long. Wishing you the strength to carry on digging 🙂
I think the part in your play that includes Idaho may just end up being the best part. It is those things that are so difficult to write about, the ones that we put our whole soul into, those are the parts that involve the reader so intensely.
You should definitely go to Idaho. It’s lovely; it’s a lot like Canada actually 🙂
I totally agree Justine. Thank you.
My mind is reeling with quips about you having your own private Idaho. Drat it, I just couldn’t refrain!
Some of my blog is about me being honest with myself, too. There are a couple things I’ve written about myself, stuff I didn’t want to admit to the world, that I’ve had to tuck into posts that otherwise looked innocuous. I’ve got one of those coming up Friday.
Haha! I didn’t even think about that, but yeah it’s tough to resist. Good luck with the writing!
Beautiful words, I can feel the emotion coming through in your writing. This is therapeutic for you and I think you should keep at it. Thanks for sharing your story.
I will! Thank you, I appreciate that!
Thank you for sharing. It’s never too late to follow your dreams…it looks beautiful there! 😉
wow…. amazing. Very true and raw.
It just reminds me of my old home which used to be heaven for my family. thank you for the post and its simply amazing.
That was beautiful
Beautiful and so courageous.
Reblogged this on dupewrites and commented:
What the heart dreams, the writer holds close
Thanks for sharing your memories…it means a lot.
Love this post and understand it completely. I’m also a playwright and have struggled with writing about the darker areas of my life. Maybe some times they just need to be let out, sometimes they don’t need to be displayed for all to see, sometimes just writing them out is enough…. But you have to write them and then rest them to know, I think.
I think you’re right, Karen. I usually don’t know how I really feel about something until I’m able to articulate it in writing. And then I can figure out whether or not it needs to see the light of day. Good luck to you!
Idaho, the Northern Panhandle, speaking her upon both, it was right after the most traumatic points of my lifetime, one of three such points of my entire lifetime, my heart was raw, open gashed and bleeding, I chased down bears pleading with them to take my heart pain away.
-But they would only leave me there in the wilderness of vast awesome mountains, to let those Mountains, wild rivers and vast forests heal my heart, and live as I was born to be, unchained, free in my spirit. It is the most beautiful State of these beautiful states in which to live in Sarah. Your Mother knew something very special, of a place of which her soul could heal in turning to the beauty and wilds of awe inspiriting nature.
-Live you will, watching the many bald Eagles in their place of winter spawning, their migration in October perched high above in magnificent forests of green conifers reaching to the shores of Fernan Lake, just a few miles from Lake Coeur D’ Alene, which is a Lake that equals the beauty of Lake Tahoe, Cali.
-What your mother held in her heart Sarah, no one could ever steal away from her, no one, and you were very privileged to have her share such wishes and secret places she held dear. This speaks volumes of her love for you Sarah. Idaho is as beautiful a place of Wilderness and mountainous towns that it is a a vast Beauty, it must be felt with one’s heart.
-There are only two people who could best describe the Magnitude of awe and Beauty of Idaho. The Late John Muir and the Late Helen Keller. And Helen said it best Sarah.
Quote: ~ “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the Heart” – Helen Keller.
You opened your palm to her, and your mother touched your Heart like none other could ever do Sarah.
That’s so beautiful. Thank you for that.
Wow!its simply awesome
Wow. You are brave!
I think if I was you I would be afraid to go to Idaho. It can’t possibly be like your mother imagined, and that will be a sad thing. But then again, who knows what you would find there?
The fear is real, Tandi. But I’m going to go anyway, because you’re right, who knows what I may find? And the sense of possibility is greater than the fear.
You have inspired me! Possibility is real and fear exists only in our minds. Thanks for pointing this out. Who knows what wonders we will find when we chose possibility over fear, or life over a kind of death? Wishing you great things on your journey.
Aww, thank you. I’m glad to hear that. You’re very kind.
Writing about your personal experiences is very difficult but results to the most beautiful reactions. I aspire to this. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you so much. Thank you for reading.
What a beautifully written piece of memoir. You really could expand this into a book. I so enjoy your writing.
Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I am thinking about writing a book after I finish my play.
I like your article , very inspiring, and thank you for your post
Those photos are absolutely incredible!! So many wonderful places to go😍
Such an amazing post. While I know how hard this must have been for you to write, I want you to know that I, as well as many others I’m sure, appreciate your openness and your honesty. As cliche as this may be, life is such a wild adventure, bringing you up and down constantly. I often ask myself why? Why do such traumatic events happen throughout one’s life…I feel as though I may never find the answer to that question. But what I do know is that everything you deal with, good or bad, is an experience. An experience helping you to grow as a human being. I hope that everything works out for you and your family. Thank you again for sharing.
I’m very touched by your comment, Renae, thank you. And I agree with you! ❤️
I really enjoyed your post. I agree with Renae and hope that your life will evolve into a place that you can call home (or Idaho). I can relate to trying to hide from your past. My mother was murdered when I was nine and that led me down a crazy path growing up.. but through trauma we are given the gift of perspective and there is so much beauty in what you see… and what you have created. Keep sharing and keep growing!
What an incredibly traumatic childhood event you’ve lived through. I can’t even imagine the crazy path (as you put it) that you’ve had to walk down. I completely agree with you that trauma gives us perspective. Even though there are dark days, I feel a deeper sense of gratitude for my life than I’ve ever had. The dark makes us appreciate the light. Thank you so much for reading! Wishing you well. xx
Thank you for sharing this. As a writer I can relate. Even fiction has to come from the heart. I think it’s wonderful that you allow yourself to go back to this time and grieve this dream that never came true. Things like this are part of what makes us who we are. I hope you do go there to visit someday!!!
Thank you so much! The more I work on this play the more I realize I need to get to Idaho. I think it’s going to happen sometime in 2016. Best of luck with your writing!
Gorgeous! I’ve never been to Idaho…..looking forward to following your blog.
Thank you so much Stephanie! I’m hoping to go there within the next year.
Absolutely astonishing and inspiring!
This is a great piece of writing! And so courageous to share with others. Thank you for the inspiration.
Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words!