“The Weight of the Past”
by Jay Wilburn
The other day the little writing hut on our house was completed. It is basically a back deck that was enclosed when we first moved in and now it is finished off into an office off the bedroom. I have a desk and my computer out here. The air conditioner doesn’t connect out to the hut, but I have a ceiling fan hooked up. I don’t use it because I tend to feel cold most of the time from my kidney disease. I feel good writing out here, but feel the cold even more when I step back in the air conditioned portion of the house. I wear a sweatshirt a lot even though it is summer in South Carolina as I write this. I’m not sure what I’ll do here in the winter. Probably get a space heater. Maybe I’ll rejoin the house at that point like some sort of migrating creature that survives by producing words in my chosen habitat. I’ll snowbird in my own living room instead of in another state.
I have a shelf that goes around the walls under the windows of the hut. The Stephen King books that I’m rereading are along there. I have family pictures, my radio, and my zombie books. I brought out a box that I had picked up from my mom when there was some old Boy Scout stuff that she passed off on me.
My father died in October of 1999 four months after I was married. My brother died a few days before Christmas of 2001 three months after the September 11th attacks. The following January, I was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, the same disease that contributed to the death of my brother and led to the death of my father after many years of dialysis.
In the box that I brought out to the writing hut from the Boy Scout stuff, were several pocket knives, a couple watches that don’t work, some patches, and a carving of an owl. I had seen all this stuff a while back when I first got the wood box and just left it all in there on a shelf in the house. As I moved into the writing hut, I took out the owl and propped it up in the corner of a window over the desk where I work as a full time writer.
When my father carved it, we were a little distant, he and I. I was all ready an Eagle Scout, moved off to college, avoided home, and had survived a rather violent stretch of years under my father’s hand. He and my brother were all ready sick and the owl was probably carved as my younger brother was going through Boy Scouts. My father was sure that my brother would die first and he was constantly preparing himself for that grief not knowing that his heart would give out before my brother’s.
The owl as a creature and pictures on social media has become a funny little symbol among a few writers in the indie writing scene. It was strange to pull it back out again thinking about my father carving it then and me putting it up now. There are owls out here in the woods that surround our house. Sometimes they sound like a person screaming which doesn’t hurt the horror writing, I guess.
My father wrote a few stories as he was growing sicker and I was making an effort to come to peace with the man leading up to the wedding that my fiancé wanted to have my family include in. I read a few of the stories. I asked my mother, if she could find any of them in the stuff my father left behind, but she came up empty. I think he would be proud of me stepping away from teaching and finding a way to make a living as a writer. I think the man would be impressed that I found a way to make it work. He was a man that was quick to change jobs and quit a job even though he had a family to feed. We were poor, but we survived.
I see pictures of teachers I used to work with as they struggle through their year, they build themselves up for the start of a new year, and they breathe a weary sigh and celebrate the end of school years. I get up every morning and I write. I write all day typically with breaks every page or so. I have trouble remembering what day of the week it is, but I don’t dread Monday like I used to.
My shortness of time comes from my illness. I watched my family die from it and I know what is coming. I feel a sense of urgency in my work. I feel the weight of my past too. Each time I fail to be good or kind to my sons I think about the rough experiences I had with my father. He was physical. It is difficult for me to separate the physical beatings I took from the man from the emotional baggage I carry from it all. Failing my sons as a father hurts with all that pain from the past.
The characters in my stories tend to struggle with pain and regrets from family. They have baggage that guides their choices and challenges their steps. Even when it isn’t all fleshed out word for word, the characters I write tend to have substance largely from the weight of their pasts that they carry partly because their author feels that weight as he sits under an owl his father carved.
Check out the latest book and music from a new series by Jay Wilburn:
About the Author:
Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within the world of the novel The Sound May Suffer.
Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter @AmongTheZombies, his Facebook author page, and at JayWilburn.com