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.