David Garstang

Spring, 1987


There is a certain magic possessed by writers, an indefinable force that makes them more than mere technicians, more than just people who know when to use a semicolon and how to spell "desiccate". I know, because I had it once.

In my adolescence, in that time when I was becoming someone new, someone whom I didn't know and wasn't sure I liked, I saw some pictures of a long-haired, slender young woman.  She had a pretty smile, and looked like a nice person; but it was her eyes that drew me in.  Was there the faintest hint of sadness showing through?  When I read the article that accompanied the pictures, I learned that she was dying, that she was twenty-two years old and had perhaps two more years to live.

I can't remember just what I thought and felt, for I have lost touch with the confused, frightened person I was in those days. But I do remember that I saved the pictures in a box above my closet.  I thought often about the dark-haired young woman with sad eyes, and constructed elaborate fantasies in which we met and I saved her life.

And I remember imagining what it would be like to be told you were going to die. I thought about it a lot. I wrote a story.

One of my teachers read my story and thought it was good -- perhaps more than good. I'm not sure, but I believe that she was actually moved by it, that my story had made the other woman's tragedy real for her.

This was something new for me. I had built many alternate realities in my head before, realities that had more vividness, more power than the one that surrounded me; but never had I been able to truly share one of these realities with another person, to get more than simple comprehension, more than "Oh yeah. Sure. I know what you're talking about."

This time, I had done something far more significant. This time, I had communicated with someone on a more basic level. This time, the words I had put on paper had touched another human being, had caused that other to feel what I had felt, to truly live my reality.

I have spent the rest of my life struggling to do it again.

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