Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Saying goodbye...to characters

A few weeks ago, I went for my 6-week postpartum check up with my OB. I know from prior experience that this final visit is a little bittersweet. This won't come as news to those of you who have given birth, but you go to the OB a lot when you're preggers.

At first you go every month or so, then as you get closer to your due date you go more often. When you're right up against your due date, you go every week. (And more often if there are any issues.) Apart from the rather casual and familiar level you reach with your OB by the end (on account of having him/her up in your business every week; likely this is more often than your own husband at the last part of your pregnancy), you form attachments to the staff. The staff begins to just call you by your first name and you see each other so often that you just start communicating by smiles and head-nods, and perhaps toss a "Hopefully I won't see you next week because I'll have delivered by then!" Followed by much jovial laughter.

Anyway, at the last post-partum check up, you see the staff for the last time likely for a year until your next pap smear, barring any untoward gynecological issues in the meantime. And it's kind of sad. After all, you had gotten to know these people. You saw them every week. You might, in a fit of kindness, have brought them cookies. (I didn't, but nicer people might have. Then again, I can't imagine any pregnant woman wanting to share cookies with anyone, so maybe this doesn't happen.) And so it was with me.

“Goodbye,” I told the very nice receptionist. (She’s not really a receptionist, she’s a medical worker but I don’t know the proper word for a medical worker who sits at the front desk. She was so nice, I never had to say my name to her, she knew me on site.) “Take care,” I added, not a little wistfully.

"OK, see you in a year then,” she said, smiling, and then she turned back to her work. Coldly, almost. And there I was, thinking we were all great friends. Let’s face it, they knew all my intimate details--heck, some of them had seen those details up close. But anyway the visit came to an end and I had to go. I’m not sure what I thought would happen: I knew the appointments would stop sometime. I just wasn’t ready for it to be so abrupt. I felt like I needed a little weaning.

It struck me that this is what happens when you finish a story or a novel--reading or writing it. You form attachments to the characters, deep ones. You get to really know them. You follow them through the hard times to the good. You were there when they were innocent or selfish or stupid, and you were there when they grew and admitted they had been selfish. You cheered when they got what they wanted. You watched them walk slowly away, off into the sunset.

It breaks your heart a little to go.

If you're like me, you want to keep walking with them. Sometimes when I finish reading a book with particularly strong characters, I actually feel frustrated that it's over, as though the back cover was preventing me from going on with them. Sometimes (don't tell anyone about this one) I even dream about the characters. Probably the most recent character that I felt this way about was Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games series. While Katniss was given a future via an epilogue, she was so strong and I felt had more to offer that I definitely was sorry to see her go.

I've certainly felt this way with characters I've both read and written. The ones I've written are the ones I return to, to rewrite into a better story. Does this happen to you? What are some of the characters you've had a hard time saying goodbye to?

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