I spent a week in Portland with my husband and son last week, visiting my sister and brother-in-law and
enjoying reveling in the zero-humidity weather they are enjoying this summer. But this post isn’t about Portland, or the Oregon coast, or the silent, deep, conifer forest we hiked through at Lost Lake. This post is about stifling an unexpected onset of emotion with Cobb Salad at Pappadeaux in the Dallas airport.
On our trip to Portland, we had a two-hour layover at DFW, so we decided to have a sit-down lunch instead of grabbing a $10 hummus and crackers meal at the airport snack counter. We were just digging in when my husband commented on a woman who had entered the restaurant. “Wow, she looks a lot like your mom.”
I turned to look. She had the same haircut and color, and even wore gold wire-rim glasses like those my mom wore. Ironically, DFW was “her” airport – she worked for over a decade at American Airlines, the last couple of which she spent in the call center on the airport grounds.
On occasion, as I’m grocery shopping or running other errands, I’ll see a woman of about mom’s age and stature, and notice that there seems to be a uniform they all wear: comfortable, below-the-knee capris pants, sandals or Keds tennis shoes, and a colorful tee shirt – preferably with a floral design on it. It was the go-to for mom on weekends, and when I see women wearing the same clothes, I smile with that memory of her. I still like to garden in her last pair of Keds, as she did.
As I ate my salad, I kept looking back at the woman in the restaurant, fascinated with how striking the resemblance was. Without warning, as I glanced her way for the 87th time, I almost choked on a sob. It came from my gut and was a reaction so strong it startled me. I was mid-chew, so my mouth was full of food, keeping me from crying out loud. I actually had to close my eyes and put effort into stifling myself, not only for propriety’s sake, but to avoid inhaling boiled egg and bits of bacon.
It has been almost seven years since my mother died. (Writing that blows my mind… the combined brevity of time and immense stretching of time that happens after losing someone we love is a strange and frustrating phenomenon, isn’t it?) I have cried because I miss my mother before, but this feeling was new – it was very much a “gut-reaction”. I was overcome with an ache of longing as I looked at this woman. It was like those dreams in which we see someone we know but are unable to reach them, and they can’t hear us. Rather than the usual “I miss my mother on an intellectual level and feel sadness at this fact” feeling, it was as if she were standing right there, and I was not allowed to say anything to her. It was horrible.
It is this kind of emotion that I want to infuse into my storytelling. Obviously, I don’t want to cause my readers to choke to death (on boiled eggs or anything else), but I do want them to feel – in their gut – the same feelings my characters are feeling. Our lives are full of emotions, and it is up to me as a writer to capture them, turn them into words, and rewrite them into the lives of people we are creating on the page. This particular emotion will be interesting to explore, but I’ll make sure I am not eating at the time.