The Unintended Audience
The story is in the front section of my writing binder. It has a post-it note on it, reminding me that it is ready for a final read through then it is time for submissions. My goal as an unpublished writer, my New Year’s resolution, is to collect as many rejection slips as I can this year. I have seven.
I pour a glass of rosé on this hot night, my baby asleep, my husband working late. The binder makes that satisfying click as I open and close it, the sound of organization and finishing things. As a writer I have never been good at either.
I read. I mark a few line edits and then a chilling thought settles in. What if? What if it is published and he reads it?
It is fiction, but I began this piece after reading an essay about a writing class that started with a real life incident, then explored with subsequent drafts different point of view characters, changing what happened and who tells the story and the emotional impact.
It isn’t just a story. It was a real thing that happened. Years ago I went away to teach in a foreign country, and while there I met someone, an older man who groomed me, eventually making me feel guilty for not offering some physical relationship.
Ever since I have tried to write about it. What happened? I didn’t really understand it until later, when I came home and tried to get him to release his grip on me. First he tried to visit. Then he sent emails arguing my refusal. He wrote a hundred or more postcards, he sent packages I never retrieved from the post office, and even wrote a letter to my parents. The threats were vague and with no prior violence, I had no case for a restraining order.
In the story the person who could be me is already gone, and he is twisting truth and falling in love with someone else. Writing it this way was healing. After all these years, exploring his motivation, giving his character a needy depth and overzealous adoration of the two women in the story helped me let it all go.
I set the story down, my rosé glass sweaty and nearly empty. I search on the Internet. Keywords: Sued over real events in a story? Can a writer be in trouble for writing fiction based on real people?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: I should probably change many more things about him, so that he is unrecognizable. I expect rejection (otherwise I’d never be ready to send it off into the world), but sending this story as it is now is like sending a message to him and waiting for him to come find me.
I still have a little fear of him. I am angry now that he can stop my fiction, after all these years, after all these miles.
I am an elementary school teacher in Portland, Oregon. I have a flash fiction piece forthcoming with Mash Stories.