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There once was a woman who wrote the story of her life.
It wasn’t a memoir or creative non-fiction. It wasn’t a screenplay or a novel.
It was her.
She woke up in the darkness of early morning each day before the rest of the world was awake, and took out a pad of legal paper. Then, with her favorite Bic pen with black gel ink, she wrote her life.
“What is happening today?” she thought.
As she sat, words would come and she wrote them.
A surprise package in the mail. A boring day at work, yawning over the computer. Her husband’s bad puns.
She wrote it all down on her notepad, exactly as it came to her.
Some mornings when she reread what she’d written, she’d laugh. There was such poetry about the story of her life!
Like the way they had tried so hard for a baby, had wanted it more than anything, and the moment they’d given up, she was pregnant.
Or the time when she was quitting her job. She’d created a business plan for the bed and breakfast she wanted to open, prepared her letter of resignation, and set a date on the calendar for the Big Reveal.
Then the next day in the wee hours when the woman took out her notepad to write, the story was that of a woman who let go of her dream business and stayed in the mediocre job.
There was no rhyme or reason that she could make out as to why the story changed. That’s just the way it came out.
At the end of every day, before climbing into bed beside her husband, the woman would read what she’d written and burn the paper, scattering the ashes across the backyard. In this way, she could never look back on what she’d written once it was lived.
The woman’s life continued this way for many years. Because the story she wrote sometimes changed so swiftly, people called her inconsistent and unreliable (when they didn’t like her story) or flexible and adaptable (when they did.)
The woman herself didn’t think much of it, since that was all she knew. But she never told anyone that she was writing her life, since it didn’t seem as if other people did it that way.
She cast the spell of her life with words and then instantly (almost) forgot them. There was always a smidgen of deja vu when things actually happened, like remembering a dream.
Then one morning the woman woke up and sat down to write in her notebook and nothing came.
This happened occasionally, so the woman sat and waited. Several minutes passed, and still there was nothing to write.
The woman began to worry. There was always something to write down. The words were always there for her.
She brought her pen to the notepad and forced herself to write, “I have nothing to write,” but no words appeared on the page, and the tip of her pen on the paper made no impression.
The woman tried again in desperation with a second and third pen. Still, nothing came into her mind to write and nothing would allow itself to be written.
Terrified now, the woman woke her husband. “I can’t write!” she said. “Every morning I write, and this morning nothing comes!”
“You’ll write again tomorrow, sweetie.” Her husband rolled over. “Come back to bed.”
The woman couldn’t think of anything else to do, so she crawled back under the covers and stared at the ceiling for the next two hours.
How would she live her life without writing it? How would she know what to do?
Her husband got up with the alarm as usual and took a shower. “Isn’t it time for you to head to work?” he asked, drying his hair.
The woman looked at the clock and recognized that yes, this was the normal time to leave for work. She supposed that’s what she should do.
So she gathered her purse, jacket and keys, and headed for the Subaru Outback. As she put the keys into the ignition, she had a thought.
“What if I don’t go to work today?”
Something about this thought intrigued her, though she had no idea where she might go instead. She sat in the car for a few minutes before it occurred to her that she could put it in drive and just see where she ended up.
When she reached the end of the road, she went right, because that’s what came to her. At each turn, she went right or left and sometimes turned around, whatever occurred to her.
“This isn’t so different from writing my life,” she thought. “I just show up and let it happen. Except this doesn’t require a pen.”
It was also very different not being able to read it beforehand. She imagined it was like being blind; she had to feel her way through it.
The woman drove and drove in whatever way came to her, until she arrived at a lake she’d never seen before. It had been hours and she had no idea where she was.
There was a rowboat with oars sitting on the stony beach beside the lake, as if it had been waiting for her. The woman kicked off her heels, climbed into the boat and began to row.
The boat pushed through the water and the muscles in her arms ached pleasantly. The warm sun caressed her skin.
The lake was much larger than it seemed at first, and the more she rowed, the longer it seemed to grow. The other side was still miles and miles away.
Eventually, the woman grew tired and stopped rowing. She let the boat drift in the subtle current of the lake.
Now, normally at this point in the story of this woman’s life, she would have been out of her mind with worry. She would have been judging herself as irresponsible, wondering how she’d ever explain this to her boss so she could save her job, and what her husband would say.
But there was none of this thinking in the woman’s experience. She was simply lying in a boat, letting it take her where it will.
In the next moment, it occurred to her that she was hungry. The woman picked up the oars and rowed with everything she had until she came to a dock at the end of which was Bob’s Fish & Chips.
The woman was usually the salad and decaf coffee type, but today it seemed perfect. She decided to enjoy what was right in front of her.
“An order of fish and chips with a glass of unsweetened ice tea.” She smiled at the waitress.
To her delight, they were real, English style fish and chips, and not bad ones, at that. She chewed happily.
After eating, the woman noticed that she really wanted a nap.
“Is there a place nearby where I can rest my head?” the woman asked the cashier.
He recommended the bed and breakfast just up the hill. “They have a hot tub and free cable tv,” he said.
The woman got a room, threw her things on the floor, climbed into bed and fell asleep. When she woke up, it was 11:33pm and the room was completely dark.
The woman felt like having an adventure, so she put on her shoes and called a taxi.
“Where to, ma’am?” the taxi driver asked.
“I’d like to see a movie,” she answered.
“Nothing open at this hour,” the taxi driver said. “It’s Tuesday night.”
“Take me anyway, please,” the woman said, sitting back to enjoy the ride.
The cab pulled up outside the Nightlight Cinema just as the employees were sweeping the popcorn off the floors and getting ready to close up. She climbed out and watched them through the windows, tested the door to find it locked before knocking.
A man in a red and white striped suit cracked the door.
“We’re closed till 3pm tomorrow,” he said.
“How much to rent the theater?” she asked.
“It has to be reserved in advance,” he said. “Sorry, lady.”
“You look like the owner,” she said (or a candy cane, she thought, but didn’t say.) “You can make an exception, can’t you?”
The man stared.
“How’s a thousand dollars to rent it?” The woman gauged his response. “Two thousand.”
“Alright,” he said, stepping aside for her to enter. “But no mess in the theater. We’ve already cleaned ‘em.”
The woman wrote a check to the Nightlight Cinema for $2,000. “I get to choose the movie then,” she said. “What’s the oldest one in your collection?”
Ten minutes later, the woman was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and munching on a bag of popcorn.
She’d never been so happy, but she was so busy being in her happy that she couldn’t be bothered in that moment to think about it. But if she had thought, that’s what she would have been thinking.
When the popcorn was done and the theater lights came on, the woman gathered her purse and jacket.
“It would be awfully nice to have someone to snuggle with and fall asleep,” she thought. It was almost three in the morning and she was tired.
The woman remembered that she had a husband and a home.
“That’ll do the trick,” she said.
The woman called another cab and gave her home address. When she crept into the bedroom, her husband bolted upright.
“Where have you been?” he demanded. “I’ve been calling and calling. Everyone is looking for you. We thought something awful must have happened for you to just disappear like that.”
“I didn’t write this morning,” the woman said. “I’m sorry you were worried.”
“Worried? I thought you were dead.” The woman’s husband slumped over the side of the bed, fighting tears. “You have no idea what I’ve been through.”
“You’re right.” The woman slipped her arm around him. “Why don’t you tell me?”
She listened to her husband tell his story. It was almost like a movie. How he called work, her sister, the police, the hospitals. How she’d never done anything like this before and he hadn’t known what to do with himself. He even thought maybe she’d run off with a lover.
“Where have you been?” her husband asked. “What happened?”
The woman thought for a moment about how to explain. “I didn’t write this morning, so I didn’t know what to do. I just did what came to me. Which led me to a lake and a boat and fish and chips and watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in the movie theater.”
“You just ran off without telling anyone because you didn’t write this morning?” Her husband’s face was bright red. “I ought to tell you to get the hell out. I can’t believe you.”
The woman felt many things, confusion, sadness and amusement among them, but no guilt. It was simply what she’d done, even if she would do it differently next time.
“I am sorry for causing you worry,” she said. “The next time I go off unexpectedly, I’ll leave you a note.”
“At least there’s that,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Would you like to sleep now? I’m exhausted and you look like you could use some beauty rest, too.” The woman tucked her husband into bed and kissed him on the forehead. “I’m going to take a shower and then I’ll join you.”
“You’re not going to run off again?” her husband asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “This is what I’m doing right now.”
The woman showered and put on her silk pajamas, then curled up next to her husband, who had already fallen asleep.
She thought about the day and what she’d chosen to do. The woman couldn’t say why she had done any of those things, other than the fact that she’d wanted to do them. There were other things she might have liked to do, but she hadn’t done those.
“What made the difference?” she wondered. “With all the things there are to do in the world, why did I come home?”
It wasn’t a question she could answer, really. Coming home had just seemed like the thing to do.
She wondered what might be the thing to do tomorrow, but only for a few seconds, because she liked the idea that anything could happen. She drifted off into a deep and dreamless slumber.
She would know what to do tomorrow when it came, and not before, because she was done writing her story.
Now the story was writing her.