Post by Lois Greiman
Those were the first words out of the woman’s mouth as she handed me a book to be signed. This was many years ago at a B. Dalton’s Bookstore in Ames Iowa…when there were still bookstores to be found. I had never met this woman before in my life, but she opened up to me the moment we met, telling me how her first husband had damaged her face so badly that she had to have the bones replaced.
I was struck dumb only to be introduced to a woman in Des Moines the very next day whose story was, arguably, even more horrific. She had been declared a missing person when an unknown man from a nearby army post had shoved her into his trunk and abducted her for nearly a week. For obvious reasons, those stories have stayed with me for decades. And perhaps, for equally obvious reasons, I began doing fewer and fewer signings.
However, I recently spent three days at the State Fairgrounds at an event called the Minnesota Horse Expo. Since my Hope Springs series is based on a cattle ranch in South Dakota I thought it might be a good venue to hawk my wares. It was, but once again, I was made privy to some gut-wrenching stories. One woman told me that she didn’t read but she was trying to write a book so that she could tell the story of how her daughter was sexually abused by both her husbands and how that daughter now blamed that abuse on her. I had scarcely gotten over that shock when a wheelchair-bound lady informed me that she had just been recovering from arsenic poisoning (intentionally caused by her ex-husband) when she was run over by a truck.
As a human being and a novelist, a million questions immediately pop into my mind when these kinds of stories are voiced: How can these things happen? Is there no justice? Where were the people who love them…who were supposed to protect them? Is every word they speak the absolute truth? And why would anyone spill these tales in the midst of a hundred milling people? Do they so desperately need to share the experience that they’ll talk to anyone? Or is there something about meeting a writer that brings the tale bubbling to the surface.
I don’t have any answers. Just more questions. But how about you? Have you ever been the recipient of this kind of tale from an absolute stranger? If so, how did you handle it? Or have you been on the other end of the spectrum and found yourself sharing details that you would normally keep to yourself?