By Christine Meade
I found out I am having a boy this spring—my first child. He was not planned for or expected, and yet it feels like he must have been waiting within me this entire time. This boy is due to arrive just two weeks after my first novel, The Way You Burn, is also scheduled to make its debut into the world and onto bookshelves. I think of the book, much like the baby, as an unformed thing, existing somewhere in the ether within me until I called it forth into existence. And yet, the effort and time it took me to write, revise, and publish a novel has been far greater than conceiving and growing a child so far. These two forms of creation—sure to be two of the great pinnacles of my life—give new meaning to the term authorship for me.
According to my pregnancy-tracker app, external genitalia of the fetus is now fully formed. Each time I press a hand to my stomach, I can’t stop thinking about the fully-formed penis floating around my abdominal cavity. As I wrestle with the task of mothering a boy in today’s society, I realize—with some irony—that maybe I’ve been puzzling out this question long before conception. The coming-of-age novel I’m bringing into the world this April also features a young male protagonist named David who is searching for a better understanding of who he is and the person he wants to become.
For the past seven years, I have lived and wrote in the house my father’s family has owned since the fifties. I sleep with my growing belly in his childhood bedroom. I cook in the kitchen my nana spent most of her days, feeding her family of seven. When I walk the halls, I feel like I am tethered by thin, invisible ropes to my ancestral lineage extending backward. To the ghosts of my grandparents and the boy they lost as a baby and the other son they lost to cancer and to the imprints of my father and his surviving siblings’ childhoods packed between these walls. I now bear the added weight of knowing I am carrying the future lineage of my family somewhere back behind my belly button. Such a responsibility is enough to make me reluctantly agree to skipping the large glass of ruby-hued pinot noir and the enticing tuna sashimi dish with dinner. I am now a link connecting the future and the past—both in life and on the page.
In my home, I search the cracks and crevices for signs of my family’s history. I found old plastic army men that once belonged to my father while digging in the dirt in the yard. I discovered a tightly rolled photo of my grandfather’s army troop from World War II, each of the men having penned their names and addresses in careful cursive on the back of the photo. I am a collector and family archivist in this way, while I create space and form for the future generations to come. Similarly, and maybe not by coincidence, the protagonist in my novel, David, explores the crevices of the home he inherits from his late grandfather where he uncovers the secrets his family has kept hidden for generations. David is largely influenced by the stories—those told and untold–that link his family together.
When I was a young, my father would tell me stories each night before bed about this house and his childhood and I could never discern fact from fiction in these tales. In truth, I liked it better that way. The “not knowing”. And maybe that is why I have always been drawn to fiction, because there is often a little bit of truth hidden within the imagined. He told me about the wild pigs that lived in the basement that nosed around a trough set against the far wall. I imagine them massive and snorting, each time I tip-toe down the dilapidated back steps. I half-wait for a heavy snout to push up against the back of my leg, nearly knocking me over, but it never comes.
I would tell my dad that all I wanted to be when I grew up was a novelist and to have adventures like he had in his stories of his childhood. Of catching toads bigger than a man’s head and hiding them in the bathtub for his mother to find. Of carving out his cousin’s birthday candles and filling them with gunpowder so when they lit, the cake exploded in a grand splash of chunky frosting across the dining room. Of meeting up with friends on the railroad tracks to flatten pennies. We are both storytellers, but now, as a first-time mother and a first-time novelist, I dream of the adventures my son will have and the stories I will write, both for him and for those who came before me.
Christine Meade is a writer, editor, and educator. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the California College of the Arts. A native New Englander, Christine currently lives and writes outside of Boston, MA. “The Way You Burn” is her first book, to be published by She Writes Press in April 2020. To learn more about Christine Meade’s life and work, visit her website, https://www.christine-meade.com.