On Writing Down the Bones

I was nervous. I worried what my son would think of the essay I’d written about his accident, the one that I‘d read on public radio. The essay, “Billy,” was about the man who rescued him from his burning car after a bad accident; it only barely mentioned him or the great struggle he’s had since that day last July.

I remembered the woman in my writing workshop who remarked, “It almost seems like you care more about Billy than your son.” She often says these blunt, difficult things which, at first, irk me, but then later make me think harder about a piece. Once she circled every time I used the word “I” in an essay. I watched her circling from across the room, her lips barely moving as she kept count. She had a point, however bothersome it might have been.

I don’t care about Billy more than my son. I just know that Billy (and his four friends) not only saved my son’s life but saved me. From grief, from changing bandages, from despair, from having to see the man who was my baby screaming in pain, from all of that. So Billy.

My son’s girlfriend, the one who nursed him through the surgery that stitched together his hip with a the long rod and a dozen bolts, said that the essay made her cry. And I was glad for that in a way because she was there when it all happened and her opinion carries much weight with me. My son only nodded with a little smile. When they left that afternoon, I hugged them both. I kissed my son on the cheek and said, “I haven’t written the piece about you yet.” And I may never. It may be too hard.

He shrugged at me, not knowing the crammed-full closet of wild emotions that could be let loose if I started just plain writing about him and his accident. Better to stay arms’ length, talk about Billy, the weather, the triumph of it all. Not all things have to become words.


Photo by Meta Zahren on Unsplash


3 thoughts on “On Writing Down the Bones

  1. I thought your essay on Billy was powerful and beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. I’m left feeling awfully sorry for the woman in your writing group who is so focused on finding things to criticize. I imagine that trait runs through her entire life. How much beauty she is missing!


  2. I can see where writing about your son, the nitty gritty, “oh my God, I came so close to losing him” piece could be soul wrenching. I’m not sure I could do it, but I’m not half the writer you are.


  3. billy, his girlfriend, you, his friends, all part of what happened – all part of the larger story. the ones who have been impacted in a more behind-the-scenes way that may not be obvious to one who knows what happened. all of your stories need to be told, it shows the collateral effect that we have on each other. the universe is not a solitary exercise. if you do write about what he’s endured one day, that will be your choice. if not, you have made his story understood in a different way that is very impactful.


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