By Aaron Paul Lazar
By Aaron Paul Lazar
The past nine days have propelled me from dizzying heights of joy to the depths of despair. I survived, and thankfully so did my grandson.
A rare new form of strep bacteria invaded Gordie’s baby lungs, aggravating his asthma. He wheezed, coughed, and struggled to breathe. I know what that feels like because I have asthma, too. Unfortunately, I passed on the genes that cause it and am still struggling with the associated guilt.
Gordon is a two-year-old with a sturdy build and curly copper hair. But when he lay inside the oxygen tent in his voluminous hospital gown, he looked frail. Tiny. The moisture coated the inside of the clear plastic walls of his tent and turned his hair into damp ringlets. I couldn’t look at the IV. The bloody spot beneath the layers of gauze made my stomach lurch, and the board they attached to it to keep him from bending his elbow made it worse.
For three days he stayed in the hospital with his parents in attendance, enduring six daily nebulizer treatments, slugs of massive antibiotics through IV, and the dreaded prednisone. Improvement was slow. Finally, after three long days, he came home.
Though still wheezing, Gordie ran from person to person and toy to toy – picking them up and playing as if he’d been away for a year. He jumped onto his tall fuzzy horse and cantered side by side with his three-year-old brother, Julian. He found his beloved turtle, and searched for his dinosaur – the one that looks like George’s dinosaur on “Peppa Pig,” his favorite cartoon. He also picked up a few bad habits - understandably so. When things didn’t go his way, he screamed, “I don wannit!” I chilled to think of the times he must’ve said that to the nurses or doctors who hurt him while working so hard to keep his airways open. The only saving grace is he probably won’t remember the experience. He’s still laboring to breathe, but he’s home now.
This morning I choked up when he woke before the rest of the household and found his way up to my bed. I rubbed his peaches ‘n cream skin with the back of my hand and snuggled with him under the covers, thanking God for his recovery.
While Gordie was in the hospital, I stayed home from work to care for Julian. We visited Gordon and stayed in close touch; thankful he was in good hands. For the next four days, we spent time side by side. My grandsons and I were always very close, even though they’re only two and three years old. But this experience cemented our bond even tighter. Though we worried daily about Gordon throughout this ordeal, we also rejoiced in the gift of time together. My gardening buddy and I spent hours outdoors each day, from early morning until suppertime and sometimes beyond. We planted a forty-foot triple row of onions and mulched beds with oat straw, watching bumblebees buzz around the flowers and listening to the symphonies of birdsongs each morning. We watched the progress of the peas, beets, lettuce and other seedlings as they sprouted and grew. The peas have over five leaves on each plant. We know. We counted.
Each morning, after breakfasting with Grandma, we’d march outside. Julian would say, “We have a lot of work to do today, Papa, don’t we?” I’d agree, listing our chores. We raked, chopped dead tree limbs, cultivated, and created most impressive burn piles. I continue to marvel at the intelligence of our little three and a half year old. Smart as a whip, he has a deep understanding of things around him, incessantly curious about the process of life. He uses words like “actually” and “absolutely” and makes me laugh when I realize how much like me he sounds. We both exulted in the therapeutic power of working hard together outdoors.
In stark contrast to the worries about Gordon’s health, something else happened. Something delightful.
I received the kind of good news that makes one’s heart flutter with disbelief - a publishing contract offered by Twilight Times Books. Tremelo: Cry of the Loon, will be published in the fall of 2006 under the Paladin Timeless imprint. This was the first time it’s been offered to a publisher. It’s the fifth novel written in the Gus LeGarde series, a nostalgic and stirring flashback to 1964. Tremelo may be billed as a “memoir-cum-novel” and features Gus’s eleventh summer at his grandparents’ camp in the Belgrade Lakes of Maine.
“Memoir-cum-novel?” Yes. It’s a term suggested by my new publisher, an insightful, lovely lady named Lida Quillen, every author’s dream. Memoir – because it’s based on my summers in Maine as a child. Blissful, sun drenched, pinetreed summers. Novel – because I plunked Gus, Elsbeth, and Siegfried in my grandparents’ camp and gave them a mystery to solve. I suggested “memoir-cum-mystery,” but don’t know if that will fly.
Lida is amazing. She communicates, shocking as that may sound, and does so regularly and eloquently. In the first week of contract signing, we’ve endlessly discussed publishing details, genre, title, history, and target audience. We’ve talked about offering Tremelo for younger adult readers versus the broader age group I envisioned. We’ve discussed grandparents reading the book with their grandchildren. Gus learns some serious lessons about the horrible topics of bigotry and rape. Through it all, he becomes strong and grows into a tolerant, wiser eleven-year-old.
Lida has put up with a million questions from me and answered with a virtual smile. Willingly. Politely. Immediately. In an unexpected way, thanks to Twilight Times’ welcome, I feel like I’ve come home, too.
But of course, along with the supreme joy that accompanies this news, comes angst. The moment I opened the acceptance email, I tossed my current work in progress (#10) into the “wait” pile and furiously began to polish Tremelo. Again. Nerves took hold. Is it good enough? Does it represent my best writing? I wrote it several years ago, so obviously it couldn’t be my best. Should I rewrite it from scratch?
After a day of mental turmoil, I decided to toss Tremelo up to my “Inner Circle” for one more round of edits. Lida graciously allowed me as much time as needed to buff it up. So, my treasured troupe of readers and writers will have another chance to catch those awkward phrases or timing inconsistencies. These folks are amazing. In spite of their own personal trials, they come through for me. One friend, for example, is struggling with a troublesome publisher. Promised the world, strung along for months, and constantly disappointed, she remains ever optimistic and faithful, searching out my stupid mistakes with unfailing support. Another, dealing with severe home issues, continues to “nit” to perfection, finding time in her traumatic life to help me reach closer to the elusive perfect manuscript. Another struggles to balance her husband’s needs with her writing life. There’s never enough time for both, never mind her own writing, yet she finds time for me. And so on. And so on. These “crit buddies,” if you will, are the lifeblood of the process. I may rewrite the manuscript a dozen times, but not without the final polish achieved by “fresh” eyes on the prose.
Things take time to grow. With time, seedlings turn to plants, given sun, rain, and good soil. Baby lungs heal, provided time and meds. Worries diminish, after hours in the sun with a little boy. And literary careers flourish, with doggedness, resolve, and friendship.