There’s nothing more tragic than a story untold.
May 8, 2015
THE THOUGHT STRIKES us all.
Most of us later.
As soon as we pass the age of thirty, we become suddenly aware of our own mortality.
I passed thirty a long time ago.
I think the Wright Brothers had just flown.
Or maybe it was Wiley Post.
I have lived a long time trying to outrun my mortality.
It hasn’t gained on me, but I can sometimes hear the echo of its footsteps down a dark and rain-splattered alley somewhere.
That’s how I want go someday.
In a dark alley.
The darker, the better.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the dark alleys that occupy my novels.
I figure I’ll have company among the shadows.
Writers, more than anyone, keep asking: what do we leave behind when we are gone?
Here’s the short list.
May God forgive us for our secrets.
We’ll leave a few published stories and a few published books.
And, tragically, we leave stories untold.
On our desks, the great unwashed will find scraps of paper that hold our ideas and assorted passages we planned to include in a novel someday before the days finally run out.
“What do they mean?” they ask.
No one knows.
Perhaps no one cares.
Perhaps no one even asks the question.
There will be scattered pieces of wrinkled and yellowed paper where we outlined our plots and plot twists, dressed our characters to meet the world on the outside of the novel, and scratched out potential titles.
Most are better left unread, wadded up, and thrown away by the cleaning lady.
If God is as merciful as I hope He is, those scraps will burn before my ashes do.
Here is reality.
What looks like a brilliant idea today may wind up looking downright silly in tomorrow’s light of day.
We bleed words.
And not all of them are the right ones.
That’s why everything is scribbled on scattered scraps of paper.
Scattered scraps of paper is where we want them to reside.
If it were a perfect world, we would leave after typing the final period on the final sentence of the final chapter in our final novel.
It would contain the stories of our lives tucked away in three hundred pages, maybe more, provided, of course, our lives have plodded up one road and down another as we weave our way through an epic.
Then again, others might be better off leaving their legacy among the pages of a novella.
I figure a good short story will just about cover it all.
I am haunted by those final months of Jory Sherman’s life.
He was quite an author who had produced four hundred books.
He was a legend.
But Jory was old.
He was tired.
He was blind.
He was too weak to write.
He couldn’t see the computer screen anyway.
He just lay in bed with a smile on his face.
And he told us all, “I’m still writing novels in my head.” He paused, took a deep breath and said, “You know, some of them are pretty good.”
We’ll never read them.
We’ll never know what we missed..
They say you can’t take it with you.
But they’re wrong.
Our stories all come with us when we go.
Caleb Pirtle III is author of Little Lies.