by Len Leatherwood
After a huge cry this morning, I feel better.
I have spent the past five days immersed in one of the toughest/saddest times of my life – moving to LA in 1994 to be near my brother who was about to go into active AIDS just at the point when the life-saving protease inhibitors were first introduced. (My oldest brother had died of AIDS just 3 years before.) My husband, three kids and I came after my brother offered me a job in his laser surgery center so that I could run his business when he and his partner got sick and we could be near him as he died. If that weren’t bad enough, he also had a “loving” boyfriend who had targeted him for his money. I wish I could say it all went smoothly. It didn’t. The result was an emotion-ridden roller coaster ride that forced me to grow up and understand that tough love is sometimes the only love that makes sense.
Robert had the opportunity to choose life over death with the help of those coveted protease inhibitors. In truth, Robert chose death. In the book, I had him do one thing differently, which helped him to see why and how he could choose life. In both real life and fiction, my brother and I made peace with each other and were deeply bonded as a result of this experience.
I went with fiction for lots of reasons, primary among them being that the predatory boyfriend is still alive and would sue me in a second. However, I also wanted the freedom of fiction and to have the chance to “re-imagine” what life could have been if my brother had made a different choice. Plus, John Rechy, my writing mentor, with whom I workshopped this book for five years in a Masterclass, is well-known for calling all of his books fiction even when some mirror his life fairly closely, and he strongly encouraged me to go this route.
I read through every volume that I have produced over these past 18 years of trying to wrestle with this subject – five major drafts most of which were memoirs – and finally concluded that my decision to factionalize this book was indeed the right choice for me.
Alas, I worked 18 hours a day on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday and then stayed up almost 24 hours on Tuesday so I could finish the editing.
Is it perfect? No. I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I’d forgotten a scene that must be included. I also have a few scribbled notes regarding details I need to make sure are right. In addition, the pacing might have a bump or two and the ending might need one more run through. However, am I finally going to be able to put this baby to bed so I can move on? I believe so.
I am tired, but also happy and relieved. Hooray.
Len Leatherwood: Program Coordinator for SCN’s Online Classes, has been teaching writing privately to students in Beverly Hills for the past 17 years. She has received numerous state and national teaching awards from the Scholastic Artists and Writers Contest. She is a daily blogger at 20 Minutes a Day, as well as a published writer of ‘flash’ fiction/memoir.