A story about the story in the Barcelona Review

This newsletter will be a little different.

First, I’m excited to share that I had a story published in the Barcelona Review. This is a big milestone for me, and the story is near to my heart. 

So before you keep reading, I’d love for you to read this story in the Barcelona Review. It’s called “That One Night.” It’s free to read online, and it’s pretty short, too.

But that’s not all. After you’ve read the story, keep scrolling. Because you might have some questions. And today I want to talk about it. 

(If you don’t feel like reading it, that’s okay too! But the rest of this newsletter might be confusing.)

I’m going to throw my Elliephant of the week right here, so there’s a nice big break between this part and the discussion below. Again, click here to read the story in the Barcelona ReviewThen, keep scrolling and read the discussion about it, including a bonus paragraph that might clear some things up.

Elephant of the week: A pile of paws

OKAY. So. First of all, there’s a certain paragraph that I considered including in That One Night.

This particular paragraph explains some things. But it felt a little forced. I ultimately kept it out to preserve a sense of mystery. However, I saved it, and I hope that reading it will add to the story for you. The extra paragraph is bolded. 

The old man said, eventually: You know I can’t let you do that. You’d be killing me, too.

Who cares about you?

You do.

You’re disgusting. Lonely. A loser.

Only because you see me that way.

You’re miserable. And you don’t deserve to exist. The young man crumpled up his last beer can and threw it at the older version’s face.

The old man dodged it. He stood up. He said: 

You think you’ve got the world all figured out. You think the entire world is pain. That this pain, this night, is all that matters. That there’s nothing that will make this worth it. You’re a chump. One day you’ll look back and you’ll realize this was just another dumb night in a series of dumb nights, and the pain will be gone, or replaced with new pain, but you’ll still be alive and learning new shit and you’ll laugh at how dumb you were that one night.

Does that help? Maybe? Should I have kept it in? I’m honestly still not sure.

Next: Some of you might be thinking after reading the story, What’s the damn question?

First, I’d like you to take a shot at answering that yourself. Really think it over. Here’s another picture of Ellie’s paws as a distraction.

Here’s the answer.

The question is: What’s the question?

That’s the annoying, simple answer. It makes me giggle to think of a reader putting down the story and asking themself: What’s the question? over and over, never realizing they are asking it already, and maybe, eventually, realize it.

The more complicated answer is: It doesn’t matter, except that it exists.

First, there’s the logistical consideration that the old man is what the young man dreams of himself. Have you ever had a dream where you’re trying to read a book but the pages are too blurry? And the closer you look, the less you can read? Maybe you realize that it’s a dream and you’re the one creating the pages, and you will yourself to understand, but you can’t, it’s just beyond your grasp.

That’s “the question” in this story. It comes from the young man’s dreams and it’s just beyond his grasp, but he reaches for it, and in reaching, realizes there’s a question that needs answering. He realizes that he has something to look forward to, to bring him to the next day.

To me, no matter how hard things get, life will always be worth living as long as there are new things to discover. The idea that future-you will be infinitely better than current-you. That even as a body may deteriorate, a mind will keep improving with experiences and wisdom. I believe this strongly. But it takes work. It takes effort to keep learning and growing.

We all go through hard times. I’ve had a few. When I was a sophomore in college, life sucked, and I was too dumb and young to figure it out. I hated my major, I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, I had no close friends where I lived, so far from home. I starved myself for four months for an illusion of control. At one point I wondered if I was anorexic but I read an article that said anorexia requires eating less than 900 calories a day, so I ate exactly 900 calories a day. I had a boyfriend but didn’t tell him how miserable I was. I didn’t even admit it to myself, until I started getting panic attacks and my hair fell out. I didn’t like it when my hair fell out, so I started eating more, and my body came back to life, slowly, but jaggedly, and my panic attacks kept getting worse, until I learned what they were, and, in recognizing them, in discovering what was happening to me, I was able to heal. 

The worst part about all this was how much I denied and hid my suffering. I wasn’t able to tell Andrew, my then-boyfriend, until I was on the mend. Even then I wasn’t able to tell him face to face. I wrote him a letter. We sat in the same room but I wrote him a letter about what I went through and handed it to him. I couldn’t talk about it but I could write about it, and I wanted him to know. He was nothing but grateful that I had finally let him in.

It’s strange to look back and see how much has changed. I forgot about that letter I wrote Andrew until I sat down to write this newsletter, a piece of nonfiction reflecting on a piece of fiction that refracted a memory…. Young-me would have died of shame before writing about this in a public newsletter. Current-me recognizes the power in examining and sharing my experiences — power over myself and self-identity — even the experiences that made me suffer. Even the embarrassing ones, like being a stupid college kid who couldn’t handle life. Though sometimes I get to write about them obliquely. Like in a story about an unnamed young man. 

Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell younger me that everything would eventually be okay. Hopefully with a little more compassion than the old man did in this story.

❤ Denise

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