I don’t have any clear memory of beginning to write Arugula’s Mother. What I do remember is that during that spring and summer, life at the clinic where I worked began to get very…exciting.
Some might call it scary. Once a patient broke through the front doors (literally leapt through them, shattering and spraying glass) and I was caught in the hall beside him, as he looked around derangedly, wielding a knife. I ran on pure instinct–an Olympian 100 meter dash–luckily grabbing the patients near at hand and towing them along with me. (Otherwise I would’ve had to live with the fact that when faced with an emergency, I saved myself, and let the others drown.) Another time a patient brought a gun into group.
This was pre–9/11. Security was a whole other thing.
Anyway, every bit of that fear and drama went into my evolving manuscript. I realized I was writing a suspense story. I hadn’t known what it would be that day back at the gym.
I do have two clear memories of the writing of it. The first is of driving home from work in an equally driving rainstorm and pulling over to call my husband. The experience of the cessation of the rain when I drove through an overpass was taking shape in words in my head and I wanted to preserve them for the Book. So there in the thunderstorm, I dictated, and my husband scribbled down what I said.
The other is of talking to my brother, three years younger. Just the kind of catching up talk two people do who used to witness the day to day of each other’s lives but who now lived independently and had to describe what was happening in bigger blocks.
“My novel’s really coming along,” I told him. “I have more than two hundred pages.”
That was back in the time when I didn’t even know if I could finish a whole novel–when that was the hard part. The metaphorical pile of pages on my hard drive was a reassuring signal to me.
At first, writing it was the hard part, the primary source of uncertainty.
This was going to change.