Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Writing Truth in Creative Nonfiction

by Shirley Drew

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
 ~Ernest Hemmingway

As I stood facing a dryer that was a minute or two from stopping, I positioned the rolling basket in front of me so I could pull the clothes from the dryer into the basket. Suddenly a man strode through the door, walked directly toward me, grabbed the basket and wheeled it quickly to a washer on the other side of the room. I said, “Hey, I was using that.” He replied, “You were just standing there. I need it now. These baskets are for everyone in here—not just you.” I was astonished. As he wheeled it across the room and loaded his clothes into it, I made a loud comment over my shoulder to my husband about his rudeness. That’s when everything spiraled out of control. He began shouting obscenities at me. During this rant, he said, “I work for a living, unlike some people.” I replied that I work for a living too. He said he didn’t care what I did. And on it went. At some point he got in my face and began telling me what I could do with my complaint about the basket. I responded in kind. I am not proud of this, but in the interest of honesty, I need to tell you that my behavior was every bit as rude as his. Even as it was happening, I couldn’t believe it. I was angry and shaking. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see other patrons of the laundromat staring at us. This whole interaction lasted about 30 seconds. You may wonder what my husband was doing during this exchange. I think he was in shock. At some point he walked over and called the man a “jerk.” A jerk? Really? Is that the best you can do? I thought. The man responded in kind. He walked back to the basket and pushed it hard in my direction from across the room. I caught it just before it smacked my leg. Then he stomped out of the laundromat and jumped in his truck and drove away. Then all I could hear was the sound of the washers and dryers doing their jobs.

People went back to their sorting and folding. A man folding his laundry next to us said, “We’re not all like that.” I responded by saying, “I know. Neither are we.” Clearly there was an understanding that he was among the locals while we were obviously tourists. Were we that easy to spot? Apparently so. And I’m guessing that’s what triggered the whole thing.

While I was furious at that man for treating me as he did, I had to admit I was more troubled by my response to him. You see, his behavior doesn’t really matter. But mine does—to me at least. Sometimes it’s hard to admit the truth about something we’ve said or done. But writing the truth about it is even harder. Still, I think we must try.


RichardK said...

I may the first to post a 'This reminds me of ...' comment. This story reminds me of my retail days as a Macy's salesperson. A man came up to the counter to purchase an item, then left for a long period of time. Another customer stepped in and I started ringing her up. The man came back, got irate, yelled, and ripped the sales sheet from my grasp. I had to get a manager involved since I was ready to jump over the counter and beat him senseless.

Sarah Sullivan said...

I think you proved your own point! That was a great story and I wasn't thinking about judging anyone's behavior I just wanted to know what happened in the end. Even though you may feel embarrassed about your actions, the emotion was very real, believable and human. Who hasn't flown off the handle when caught off guard like that? I also wondered more about the man. What was his situation? Was there mental illness or did his dog just get run over by a car and so he was venting? Those are the very things that make stories compelling; real human emotion and trying to understand the motivations behind peoples actions. Who wants to read a story about a friendly encounter at the laundry mat with sunny happy people just being nice to each other. Boring!! I liked your story much better!

Lynn said...

That's an essay. Write more about it and tell us how the experience changed you. Then submit it to a literary magazine. Everybody can relate!

Shirley Drew said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. Thanks for saying you "get it", Rich. Actually, Sarah, there is more to the story but I had to shorten it for the blog. And the rest of it deals with exactly what you ask about--his situation, or at least my "guess" about it.
And Lynn--it is a much longer essay. Maybe I should submit it--I appreciate the suggestion.

Patricia Stoltey said...

It's been awhile since I've freaked out in public, but it has happened. Being taken by surprise is usually the trigger because we act/speak before we have a chance think about the consequences.

Shirley Drew said...

Patricia--That's an excellent point--I was completely surprised by his outburst. Thanks for the comment.

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