I’ve read that readers like to know how authors come up with their stories. And for this reason, I planned to reveal where the concept for my original short story, “Dragon in the Mirror,” was created from that was released in 2016. I planned to write this blog post in late December and then found I had better things to do like break down old boxes, clean the fridge, and work on new projects.
Procrastination took over me and then the non-existent post haunted me. I finally attempted to write this post again in earlier January and found that I started several times, stopped, and then threw out multiple versions. As time passed, I found that I snapped at my husband more frequently, began to forget things, and was distracted as I combed through my memories and drudged up events to include in this post. One morning, I sobbed in the shower as I considered whether a YouTube video might be easier. I realized at that moment, it wouldn’t.
This blog post was difficult for me to write on many levels and I know I can’t address all the reasons in a single post. The overwhelming reason though, is that slithering in the back of my mind a question will always haunt me and it’s this: Did I do all that I could to help my family?
Let’s first go back to the original question about where my stories come from. Short stories for me will sometimes appear out of nothing. I will begin to scribble into a notebook (or sometimes with fingers tapping on my keyboard), and the words will roll into each other that will form words, sentences, characters, and a plotline. Occasionally, a novel may begin this way too.
However, other times, the ideas are a combination between reality and fantasy; a mixture of traits molded together to manifest a quirky character or in the case of “Dragon in the Mirror,” a terrified and powerless seven-year-old girl who watches as her parents sink into financial and emotional depression who’s named Jayden.
My childhood was riddled with both high and low moments. We were comfortable as far as I remember, for much of my preteen years where my father worked as a Construction Worker and my mother as a Poultry Farm Manager. Then when I was sixteen-years-old, our situation changed when a recession strangled Canada and hit the area I lived in with high unemployment.
The fallout was that my father, the Construction Worker, lost his job. I was not Jayden, the seven-year-old girl we first met in the short story, “Dragon in the Mirror,” who was helpless and couldn’t do anything to ease her parent’s financial burden. Instead, as a teenager, I walked along the thin line between teenager and child that resulted in me flipping back and forth between helping, whining, and being angry about how unfair life was. To this day, I have moments when I’m proud of the teenage girl I was; while at the same time, preferring to hide my face in shame at some of the words I said to my father.
How did my father’s job loss impact me? There were times when our fridge was nearly empty and basic toiletries were depleted. I remember on paydays, there was a sense of jubilation in the air when my dad, mom, or I got paid because it meant we could buy a few groceries. When the muffler on the car went, my father would fall silent, or would sometimes explode in a fit of frustration. There was also a time when my parents lived without heat in their house. There were many days my father sat at the dining room table and counted the money he had in his wallet and then would turn and stare blankly out the window. Repeated attempts at asking a question would be met with continued silence from him, and when he finally answered the question, it was a meager reply.
The recession ended eventually but for my parents, their financial worries never went away. For them, financial instability lingered and swelled like a boil over time and was compounded by other events that happened later.
I would like to say I was the perfect teenager. Truth is, I was, at times, exceedingly selfish. Embarrassingly now, I remember one time we went to the mall to go shopping and I stared at a dolphin poster for some time as I contemplated whether I should purchase it. My father looked at it and said we couldn’t afford it. I snapped back, “I can afford it!”
Then there was the time I accused my father of purposely preventing me from getting my driver’s license because he didn’t want me to drive. (I was playing the girl card because my family wasn’t always very liberal towards females. But my father always supported me and encouraged me to pursue a university education. So even back then, I should have realized this wasn’t the case.) Somewhere along the way, either that day or another day, it came out that my father simply didn’t have the money to pay for my driving lessons like he did for my brother a few years earlier. Those are just two examples. I’m sure if I thought about it long enough, there are many more situations that would make me want to run away and hide.
I did feel guilty, though. Guilt for wanting things, for expecting anything from my parents who gave me more than they ever should have, and remorse for attending University in a city that was more than six hundred kilometers from my parents. Briefly, during my university years, I’d thought about dropping out of school so that I could go home and find a job to help my parents financially. When I confessed this to my father, who had borrowed money to send me when my Student Loan funds were gone, he said, “Help yourself first, and then you can help others.”
At eighteen, I left home to go to University, and from that moment on, I frequently cried because I believed my father would die of lung cancer. My father knew my worries and joked, “I’ll probably outlive you.”
One Thanksgiving weekend, a few years after I’d completed University and was married and settled in a different city, I’d returned home for the holiday. I remember a moment when I drove up the driveway and saw my father as he slowly walked out of the front door. There was that familiar distant look in his eye and he also held a hand to his chest. But, there was something else about that moment that left me unsettled; a concern that after years of struggle, my father might have felt no one cared about him.
So, to show our appreciation, I spoke to my mother and brother, and a plan was hatched to throw him a surprise party in the spring of the following year for his birthday. The plan went as planned; almost, perfectly so. My father, overwhelmed and grateful, shifted uncomfortably at the large number of people who gathered to surprise him made up of family and friends. It was a day to celebrate. Repeatedly he asked, “When did you guys plan this?” in his worn work clothes.
Hurrah!!! We had done it! We had shown the man we cared!
My father would die eleven months later of lung cancer.
I’m convinced poverty kills. It kills people through prolonged stress that leads to poor eating habits and results in an increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Or, it will kill more directly through the consumption of cigarettes and/or alcohol that makes it more difficult to quit because of ongoing stress. (Yes, my father was a chain-smoker.) Those are just two examples. I’m aware, there are many more.
This is where the original concept for “Dragon in the Mirror” came from—from witnessing my parent’s struggle to choose between necessities. The full-length novel continues to address poverty through Jayden however, it tackles many other themes as well.
But if I had to summarize though, I would say “Dragon in the Mirror,” was my attempt to communicate how heart-breaking and devastating poverty can be—especially when viewed through the eyes of a child.