So I am midway through my latest novel (which means that, because I never write linear, I am crafting the end of my novel) and have hit the most climactic scene of the book—where my hero experiences his moment of self-discovery. It rocks him like a gut punch. Forces him to sit in an excruciating, yet utterly authentic, truth. A deeply emotional scene, it is the culmination of a character arc which sees a sardonic yet thoroughly sensitive man navigate his way through an internal journey of agony. In crafting it I have had to pull tricks out of both my writing bag and my counselling bag, needing to consider how any of us feel when we face those moments when all the masks come off and we’re looking at our most unworthy traits.
It truly sucks, doesn’t it?
I’ve been there. A few weeks ago I was rummaging through my closet and—“Whoa! Where did these come from?” There were a pair of pants. Jeans, to be specific; a great cut, a nice wash….really cute and for the life of me I could not remember buying them. It made their discovery a whole lot like finding 20 bucks in your pocket—except better because these were the whole pants, not just a pocket! Score, Bonnie!
I tried ’em on with no hesitation and they fit like the proverbial glove. They were even the perfect length—a truly awesome bonus because the whole inseam issue of pants has always been a little vexing for me.
That should have been my first clue.
Of course it was not. I was too busy rocking those Found Pants. Paired ’em with a sleek sweater, a few pieces of funky jewellery….did I not look like a million bucks? Without question, I most certainly did.
Then came Laundry Day (caps intended).
A creature of habit, I always take the clean clothes upstairs to my bedroom, fold them on the bed, then deposit everyone’s stack in their corresponding bedroom (we will discuss my Type A traits in a later post. Or maybe never, even better). Out come the clean Found Pants and, with their waist in my hand, I snapped ’em into submission, preparing to fold them in half with a proper crease and hang ’em up for the next time I wanted to look awesome.
But fate is a fickle friend, my dears.
In the act of snapping the pants their hem met the floor and I stared. Kissing the floor as it was, the hem was precisely where it would be if the pants were on my person. Ooo-kay. That in and of itself was not the problem. It was the position of the waist that ripped my eyes so big that I’m still surprised my eye sockets didn’t somehow swallow the room.
How—how—could the waist of the pants be lower than the mattress on my bed?! I looked at the pants. Looked at myself. Is my ass that close to the floor? Surely to God my ass is not that close to the floor! I snapped the pants a few more times. Perhaps I expected them to grow.
They did not.
So I employed a crude sort of hand measurement, comparing the height of my waist, (and the pants), with the bed. This did nothing other than frustrate me with (hoped for) inaccuracy and (more likely) confirmation of what was now staring me in the face.
But I ain’t no quitter.
I got out the tape measure. ’Cause this had to be the weirdest optical illusion ever, right? I am a regular sized person, am I not? (Incidentally, and in case it is not already painfully obvious, in the counselling world we call this ‘Denial’).
The tape measure was a huge mistake. So was finding my ten year old’s jeans and lying them over Found Pants only to see that the difference in length was negligible.
As I stood there gaping, denial flooded out and an old, familiar rush of body image scars flooded in. I threw the Found Pants on the bed and blinked my eyes, now smarting.
Who had I been fooling? I had not looked awesome in the Found Pants. Hell, I hadn’t even looked good. More accurately, what I’d probably looked like was an aged child with a too-thick middle and (now horribly obvious) stumpy legs.
The clarity of vision was an instant and paralytic Pandora’s box of embarrassment, humiliation, and resentment.
Authentic self awareness can be like that.
Backed into a corner with nowhere to run that doesn’t look like the truth, we travel through the five stages of grief, forced to let go of what we believed and instead hold in our laps what is.
There is shock. Denial. Bargaining. Anger, and then….
A lifetime ago I took a creative writing course and had the privilege to craft tales alongside a Native woman, Mildred, who, in her quiet way, wore every pair of pants in her closet. A recovering alcoholic with ink dark hair to the waist and a rhythmic accent, she penned stories of self discovery which she called “The Beauty of a Struggle”. She blessed me with the knowledge that the deeper the truth, the deeper the story, and the harder the fight before the truth is embraced, the wiser, more loving, and ultimately more peaceful the character becomes. In short, what Mildred taught me was essentially the skeleton of what makes a satisfying tale—that this Beauty of a Struggle, our life’s journey toward all our truths, comes with a promise of peace at the end of the pain.
Or, in counselling-speak, it comes with the final stage of grief: Acceptance.
The character in my novel is now at the last crossroads of his journey and, because I love him, it kills me to run him through the wringer of pain he has always managed to avoid by keeping his eyes wide shut—and trust me, he’s fought me every step of the way. He tells lies. He sabotages relationships. He even hides evidence that proves he’s not a killer. Still, I am making him wear the pants, and while they fit, they also hurt. They make him feel exposed. Vulnerable. They place him in the crosshairs of judgment. They make him feel afraid.
And yet….the pants also make him feel a hell of a lot more comfortable than anything he’s ever worn before. ’Cause whether he likes them or not, the pants are honesty. And honesty is just another word for freedom.
Freedom. Happy-ever-after. It’s his—or any of ours—for the taking. All we need to do is experience the Beauty of our Struggles. All we need to do is wear the pants.
Postscript: Years after I left university I learned that Mildred, who had achieved the B.Ed. she’d been working toward, and was teaching out on the Blood Reserve, was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The irony of that truth remains something I have yet to accept with authentic peace—yet I’ve little doubt that Mildred herself is completely at terms with it. I imagine her, sometimes, alongside The Great Spirit in whom she deeply believed. I like to think they walk together daily, enjoying the profound conversations she was so deftly capable of.
b.r. December, 2013