In The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams’ author insert character and narrator has a famous opening monologue to the audience, which starts thus:
Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.
As a summation of what writers and other storytellers do, that’s about as good as it gets. Even the most outlandish fable has an underpinning to it that an audience of human beings can connect with. We recognize it. But perhaps even more importantly, even the most tragic story presented in the most realistic manner still has that pleasant disguise of illusion.
I write a story. It’s a story where people have died. Where people will die. Grief and how people handle grief is a big thing, in fact it’s been front and center for these last few comics. Then Dawn and I decided to put things on hold for a bit because we had some family issues to deal with in addition to preparations for San Diego Comic-Con.
As I stood by my aunt’s hospital bed yesterday, with no sound but the rattle and hiss of the respirator keeping her breathing, “family issues” took on a level of intensity we had not expected.
Yesterday the doctor had advised everyone that could make it to say their goodbyes. She was still awake when I got there, but couldn’t speak (obviously), and because of the sedatives could barely manage a hand squeeze. Then she went to sleep, and by the time we had to leave no one could still say if she was ever going to wake up again.
That kind of thing is, I suppose, like the difference between watching a natural disaster on television and being caught in one. It wrecked me. I really can’t remember the last time I felt such intense sadness. There was no pleasant disguise of illusion. This was happening.
It didn’t come entirely without warning. She’d been diagnosed with congestive heart failure a couple of months back and had to come to the extended family reunion on Sunday in a wheelchair, but she was awake and talking then, discussing with me about how she still planned to come to San Diego with us like she and my uncle have for the past few years, although we were looking up where to go for disability services since she’d still be wheelchair bound. Her doctor had given her the okay to go if she wanted, but she was scheduled for a biopsy Monday morning. Nothing huge. Probably would just leave her with a scratchy throat.
And then something went wrong. And suddenly not only was someone who (aside from my wife) I considered my #1 geek buddy in my family not going to make it to Comic-Con, there was every indication she Might Not Make It. Period.
Before I bum anyone out too much with this: in spite of all the negative prognoses she did wake up again as of today, and she’s off the respirator, and she’s talking and smiling and probably will be released to go home tomorrow. Not to Comic-Con, but she made sure we were still going and made us promise to send her lots of pictures.
But holy crap was that ever a close brush, and it made me think how paltry the efforts of even the greatest storyteller can be in trying to convey the whirlwind of emotions that encompass real tragedy. And how maybe that’s a good thing, like it’s one of those vaccines that contains a weak version of a virus that might otherwise overwhelm us.
Want to know the craziest thing? My aunt’s name is Suzie. We didn’t consciously name the protagonist of Zombie Ranch after her, but she was always tickled to share the moniker. It seems they definitely share some of the same stubborn fighting spirit, and thank heaven for that.