In today’s ORIGINS, Christopher Valentine talks about the inspiration for his story “Up on Old Gaither Road,” which appears in the spring 2012 issue of jmww:
We all do it. Lie to ourselves, that is. To some degree. Usually—hopefully—we’re the only ones who are affected by these lies. “I can pull off that shirt”; “I’ll see them again in heaven”; “They aren’t cheating on me.” It’s easy. It feels good, so much better than the truth. These don’t really do much harm, but, as is often the case, problems lie in extremes.
There’s that moment when you’re talking to someone, when you feel something’s shifted, something’s just not right. It’s the moment when you squint your eyes and turn your head slightly in suspicion, even if you don’t really know the person or the story they’re telling. It’s the moment when you just know the story has become not what happened, not even just their perspective of what happened, but what they tell themselves happened. Sure, truth always lies somewhere in between, but it’s not that. This is the story they need to have had happened. And they truly believe it.
I once read an account of a woman who had given up her baby to her old sister because there is nothing worse than having a child out of wedlock. She lived as if this child was her niece. Years later, even when the truth was presented to her by her own family, she swore up and down it wasn’t true, shocked at the accusation. She never had a child; she had a niece.
When our lies become our reality.
Then there was the image.
For some time—years perhaps—I had an image in my head, which is generally how my stories begin. In this case, a woman is driving a school bus down a winding rural road with some kids in back, and a man walks out of the woods. That was all I had. She had to pick him up. That was the story. But why? Finding a reason why she would stop, let alone pick him up, took some time to figure out. When these two ideas merged, “Up on Old Gaither Road” came to be.
It takes a special kind of psychology, a special kind of self-destruction, to move from seeing this man to stopping for him to accepting him into her world, especially when she also had the responsibility of these children. It takes a person who is so in denial, so compartmentalized—depersonalized perhaps—someone who is willing to ignore reality. Not surprisingly, these are the people who somehow always find trouble, although they can’t understand it how it finds them. In the end, they’ll do and say anything they need to for it all to be okay again.
Luckily, I don’t know anyone like this. At least that’s what I tell myself.