- Brandi Bradley
A story for the lonely
At Christmas this year, we went to Mass. We fiddle-farted around, not heeding Hubs warning that it would be impossibly crowded because this is when everyone else goes to church. I had hoped the service would be a children’s program because there is nothing quite like hearing a child scream/sing “Joy to the World” for the cheap seats. We were not late. We were technically on time, which is not early enough for Catholics at Christmas. We couldn’t sit in the sanctuary. We couldn’t even sit in the annex. We found a space to stand along the back wall. There were also no children singing. I was disappointed.
I forget the message of the homily. Sometimes I space out. Sometimes I focus on whether Behr is paying attention. It’s possible that I was thinking about my feet in heels, aching for standing for more than an hour. In the section where we offered prayers, the priest included “the lonely” in those who we prayed for. I was used to the poor, the sick, and the physically injured, but never heard them mention prayers for the lonely. I was struck by this and started to cry.
Crying in church is something Baptists do regularly, but I converted to Catholicism more than 10 years ago. And every once and a while the old Baptist in me comes out and I’m left blubbering while the stoic Cradle Catholics are left to wonder “What’s her deal?”
Prayers for the lonely. I felt that.
A few years ago, I was thinking about why I write – my mission statement for my writing career – and I considered the feedback I had received from others about my work. One friend told me that reading one of my essays felt like coming into a warm space after being out in the cold. Others have told me that I write with a sense of empathy for my characters. I don’t like to write villains, because everyone has a reason or a rationalization for their actions. And I came to the realization – I write so my reader doesn’t feel lonely. Because that’s why I sought out stories when I was young. I immersed myself in stories as an escape from my own loneliness.
Have I shown too much? Have I revealed too much about myself? Are you uncomfortable knowing this about me? I’ve been encouraged to allow myself to be vulnerable and to share more, but that’s hard. But I know it helps. Last week a friend of mine posted a selfie on Instagram and the caption explained her history with body dysmorphia. I have always thought she was fit because she was disciplined and possessed good genes. I was unaware of her struggle. Knowing it made me feel closer to her, but also made me feel self-involved because I always assume everyone else’s life is perfect while mine is a total mess.
As a young girl, I was flummoxed by this idea of how to make friends and how to keep friends. What did it mean to be a friend? How can you tell who your “real friends” are? Who were my friends? Often I found myself running with kids who teased or tore each other down. It was a time when this is how kids communicated – through competition and degradation. Few of them read books. None of them loved story. They were easily bored. They preferred dancing, cheerleading, and skating. TV was telling me that my oldest friends should be my best friends, but that wasn’t the case. TV was also telling me that my siblings would actually be my best friends – and that definitely wasn’t the case. It wasn’t until I was in high school did I have a conversation with another person and felt, “Yes. You hear me. You really hear me” It was like suddenly being able to speak a secret language. And we fell into a best friendship that lasted years.
This coming across as whiny! Can’t I talk about anything without dredging up my childhood? Wah! I was sad! Who wasn’t? Once in a session, my therapist asked, “Were you bullied as a child?” and my response was, “Yes. Wasn’t everyone?” then I fell into a hysterical crying fit that worried me that I may have lost my damn mind. I didn’t know where it was coming from, but it was like speaking it aloud had unleashed something. I was in such a state that she wouldn’t let me leave right away, and when I called Hubs, he told me he would come to get me so I wouldn’t have to drive home. I spoke the truth – I had been bullied as a child. I didn’t feel safe in my home. I’m easily triggered by chaos, slamming doors, and neglectful authority figures. But I always remind myself that my childhood wasn’t especially bad, but it wasn’t especially great either.
I don’t recall the first time I sat down and said, “I am going to write!” I remember drawing and hand-lettering things. I kept little diaries with fragile locks on the front that my brother and friends broke so they could read my childlike scrawl proclaiming that I had a crush on someone. I opened notebooks and wrote down things until I was tired. Some of the notebooks were pretty, archival paper, leather-covered. Others were basic composition books, wide-ruled, and doodled upon. I have a box of those notebooks dating back to my childhood in storage. On my studio bookshelf, I have a row of Moleskine notebooks, organized by date. When I was writing in those notebooks, I was in a world of my own design: anything was possible. Once while discussing realist writing with a colleague, they mentioned that some use storytelling as an opportunity not to rewrite their own history instead of writing in a realistic way. To which I responded, “Right, but what’s the point of writing fiction if you can’t create a world of your own liking?” The early stories of my youthful notebooks were often about being rescued from the farm, working with teams of people to defeat evil, or finding love. All stories of no longer being isolated or alone.
It didn’t occur to me that I was no longer lonely until I was pregnant with W. I was driving to my job, a coffee shop where I was a barista – fully pregnant – and I was talking to my belly. I realized what I was doing and thought about how I was going to have a kid and they would soon be with me all the time. I would love them and they would love me back. And that felt really nice.
I guess that idea circled around me when I wrote Mothers of the Missing Mermaid, even though when I launched the story I was focused on Bea – the young woman who learns she was kidnapped when she was a toddler. When I first developed the story, I was thinking about developing a character that was a young woman who was confident and fully loved, but she was raised without many privileges. I wanted her to be rich in love and not money. Only someone who had been incredibly lonely would be ready to love someone that fully – enter Kate, who needed that kind of love as well.
My hope – as a writer – is those who find me will feel less lonely while they are reading what I write. That’s important to me. I have writing goals: I want to do public readings, teach seminars, sign copies, appear on a podcast or two, and give interviews. And to be honest, I have already done all of those things already. Now all of those goals are designed to have eyes on the page. I hope to see my books in the library, passed around among friends, listed under the category of “I don’t know why but I’m going to read it again for some reason.”
Remember, I am still looking for members for the Boots on the Street Team! If my goal is to find people to share this book with, then the Boots on the Street Team is essential. Members receive a signed copy of Mothers of the Missing Mermaid and first access to any news, merch, or event information. Sign up at brandibradley.com/streetteam