Assignment: Using “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff as a reference, pick a character and shoot him/her in the head. Name five things that your character would NOT remember, and name one thing that he/she would remember.
For the sake of this assignment, I’ll continue with the character, Waryn, created in the previous assignment. (If you are not my Creative Writing professor and unfamiliar with the story, I recommend reading it before you venture on to my exercise below.
To borrow a line from Mr. Wolff as my cue….
It was worth noting what Waryn did not remember, given what he did remember. He didn’t remember the little red-haired girl in his second grade class who offered a seat to him on the bus. Waryn was a the new kid on the block and thus a new student at school, at the bottom of the pecking order as things go. The little red-haired girl, Amy, shared her seat for the rest of the year, and in fact for the rest of their time in elementary school. In high school, she became the friend that he hung out with but without intending to be her friend. She was the girl who walked home with him after school, sometimes stopping at the Burger King. She never ordered anything, but managed to eat all his fries anyway. Amy secretly hoped that some day Waryn would hold her hand on the walk home, or maybe even more, but Waryn never saw in her eyes the affection she had for him.
He didn’t remember the day he got married to Helen. It was a typical Catholic wedding with all its pomp and circumstance. His bride looked lovely in her dress, and her face beamed of hopefulness and anticipation. Waryn didn’t remember his wife though he loved her, at least for a time. His restless mind and heart later found her to be uninteresting and unimaginative, and then her drinking became intolerable. For a long time after the divorce, the smell of wine would make his stomach turn and his libido shrivel.
Nor did he remember the last conversation he had with his father. In quiet moments, Waryn would sometimes go back to that conversation, recalling the thought of how thin and pale his father had become. His breathing was labored even with the help of forced oxygen. He wished he could never remember the smell of a hospital room ever again, but it stained his memory like bird droppings on a silk tie. His father, a man of few words, held Waryn’s hand, looked him in the eye and whispered, “I love you, and I’m proud of you. Don’t ever forget.” Cancer claimed him the next day.
Waryn didn’t remember the day he finished grad school, having defended his thesis successfully. He argued his case with remarkable skill that day, surprising even himself. His mentor, Bill, congratulated him and shook him by the hand. Waryn’s hand seemed lost in the paw of the large man with the warm smile and twinkling eyes. He had high hopes for Waryn and looked forward to great things from him. Waryn did not remember that he wasn’t there to offer his condolences when Bill’s wife died. He didn’t remember to send flowers or words of comfort.
He didn’t even remember the first time he heard the voice of Linda, the girl he met most recently through an online dating site. Their messages through the site intrigued and delighted him. It was a sensation that he hadn’t felt in a long time. Her voice wasn’t anything like he imagined. Instead, it was like a lazy Saturday morning that hinted of sex and adventure. Waryn didn’t even remember the arousal he felt after a late night phone conversation with Linda, or the brisk, cold shower afterwards.
What he did remember was something that he hadn’t thought about in a long time. He could feel the warmth of the summer sun on his skin, and at the same time coolness of air rushing past him as he moved forward then backward. His stomach would tense up each time the park swing would move forward and upward, then relax again when his body would travel backwards. The air smelled of the lake just beyond the park, and the sound of other children reminded him of the chatter of monkeys at the zoo. He could see kids at the park that he recognized, even some that he could call “friend.” He spent hours on that swing, not caring that there were others waiting for a turn. It was the first place that he felt free; he thought that he could just reach out and fly once he reached the height of the swing’s arc. He remembered that he tried it once. He pumped his legs and leaned back to use his body weight to swing higher and higher. He watched as he climbed closer and closer to a height level with the crossbar of the top of the swings. And then he let himself fly.