The Family Business
by Emmy Buck
I used to beg my grandmother to tell me a story, always wanting to be left with a sudden chill on a hot Texas summer day. Each tale was narrated with a new, shiny twist, brimming with danger and adventure. I would sit on the edge of the champagne leather seat of Granny’s car, gripping the stitched edges with anticipation of the next moment. I lived for the thrill and breathed a sigh of relief when the mystery was solved. Years later, I found myself flipping through the array of books in Granny’s library; the shelves were stacked with various Agatha Christie titles. As I skimmed through the yellowed pages I couldn’t help but notice the distinct similarities between And Then There Were None and one of Granny’s stories. It was obvious. It was without a doubt. Agatha had clearly committed plagiarism. But I shrugged off the illusive crime, and stored the mystery to be solved at a later time.
Since we wear the same shoe size, I attempted to follow in my Granny’s footsteps, adapting to the role of storyteller. I dabbled in tales of fantasy, where magic lived within the nooks and crannies of the letters of the alphabet. Most of these stories remain incomplete, missing an entire ending and leaving you hanging at the most crucial moment. I could have become the next Stephen King at the ripe age of 10, if I had an attention span longer than a goldfish.
I had thought to maintain my amateur writing status for all eternity, until I finally gave in to the pleadings of my parents, who had suffered years of conventional and cliché stories. I signed up for Creative Writing as a senior in high school to develop an appreciation for the art of writing. The course taught me the skills I so desperately needed to artfully convey the emotions and frustrations I experienced as an elder sibling to two children with special needs. I never quite noticed until that year how many of my fictional characters walked around on crutches, signed ASL, or were autistic. My stories were no longer the ones of great fantasy that I shared with Granny. I had become my own storyteller, finding my own perspective. The newspaper published an uncomfortably aggressive essay I wrote to the athletes of our high school who used their grandparents’ handicapped parking stickers to have front row parking. While my passion was alive, my subtlety still needed some work.
When I came to college I did not jump into the literary circle immediately, but rather I hemmed and hawed around the edges until I took a course in creative nonfiction writing my junior year. The course tempered my fervent desire for disability advocacy with the patience to write and rewrite and rewrite, and rewrite again vibrant stories of my family. From a simple, angry essay to a long devoted chapter on my brother’s unique disabilities, I discovered a medium through which I could channel my passion. And yet . . .
My siblings and I march down the grocery store aisle, pushing the shopping cart simultaneously. “Oh, you liked that movie did you Eiler? I bet your favorite part was when Chuck Norris came in and killed everyone with a Ziploc baggy. And Addy, there’s no need to cry. We will get you your Cheetos when we walk down the chip aisle.” We smile with the same dimples, we walk with a similar stride and we share the same dry humor. And yet, I am the only one who audibly communicates with the boy at the cash register. Eiler signs and Addy babbles in the fashion of a child of one or two.
I observe the unique way Addy and Eiler move down the aisle, one with crutches, the other in a long swagger, and I am suddenly acutely aware of the weight of my pen. I am calm with narrative authority, yet plagued by artistic doubt. I wonder if my words will one day stop acting as a voice of freedom and rather obstruct and silence the voices of my siblings. I feel as though I am walking with my brother’s crutches, wavering between stability and falling on my face. I’ve never known the feeling of relying on crutches; I can only describe what I’ve seen from my brother’s experiences.
I’m a self-doubting writer. And yet I still attempt to reach a balance on my brother’s blue crutches. There’s a sort of tickle in my fingers and a twitch my in toes when I hear a worthwhile story, or a see a character in need of a description. My passion is not to be heard over others, but to share with others. And that is the honest truth.
Emmy Buck is a senior English major at Georgetown University. She initially wrote this piece as a personal reflection while crafting her thesis—a family memoir on disability. Her thesis advisor suggested that she put into words the frustrations and joys that come with being a storyteller. “This piece is not simply a snapshot of myself as a writer,” says Emmy. “This piece is a reminder of why I love and continue to write.”
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