“Truth is stranger than fiction,” has always been an intriguing concept to the writer in me. Most of my books start out based on true life stories that captivate me. Twilight Time was no exception. It is one of the most dramatic ones in my nine-book Story Plant repertoire.
Irony is that I didn’t, at first, think I could write about this harrowing personal experience. Revisiting it caused real physical and emotional meltdowns. I told Lou Aronica that I probably would not record the trauma. Ever. I wouldn’t allow my husband to discuss the life/death experience around me for weeks. It is, like my others, a set-in-fiction story that is partly based on true life. It is one that changed my course in life’s unpredictable twists and turns.
On New Year’s Eve, 2012, I experienced a near-death accident. I tumbled backward down fourteen steep steps in my home. My fall ended abruptly when my head pierced through a sheetrock wall at the bottom of the steps. Upon impact I saw an atomic explosion in living color and expected my twisted neck to snap at any moment. Wedged there in coiled position, I was rescued only by my husband’s quick actions of gently freeing my head from the death trap and calling 911. My neck was broken. My ankle and knee were mangled, and my entire body was battered. I was in the hospital three weeks before going home for intensive rehab. Days and nights of pain and traumatized brain challenged my will to live.
Yet, my survival was a doctor-declared miracle. My recovery was long and arduous. During those long bed-ridden hours, a book idea began to take root. Characters emerged with video precision. And slowly, the voyage provided a model for Twilight Time’s heroine, Rachel’s struggle through trauma. Simultaneously, her husband, Peter, experiences short-term memory lapses that unmistakably herald his family “curse,” the dreaded one that has already taken three of his older siblings and his mother. These prove so terrifying that, at times, he despairs.
The two find themselves wrapped together in sometimes-feeble efforts to comfort and encourage one another. Their own bittersweet Twilight Time is upon them. These struggles paralleled with mine and my husband’s. Now, writing about the trauma would become cathartic. And, as always, I glimpsed a way to help others who face such obstacles along life’s way. The dark aspect of my story also needed comic relief. Twilight Time’s drama mingles fact with fiction and much humor, so I would include “the gang” who meet regularly at a close-by restaurant for times of fun and laughter. I would also include a secret that threatens to destroy the marriage that has survived so much. To me, these were perfect components for the novel.
The book idea persisted until one day I sat down and wrote about the trauma itself in detail. I included my husband’s discovery that my head had passed between two studs behind the sheetrock. I missed certain death/paralysis by only three inches on each side.
The effort broke the dam of fear that had held me captive.
My instinct to “let it all hang out” proved to be miraculous in itself. By facing the dragon of fear head-on, liberation became mine. It was exhilarating, morphing from imprisoning terror to unreserved transparency in my writing. My husband’s condition was a more complex subject upon which to expound. Like most Alzheimer’s victims, he craved anonymity, a reaction justified by the attitude one faces when walking in his shoes. So, in Twilight Time, I tackled the issue of Alzheimer’s stigma, one that paralyzes the victims with fear and shame. Soon, the tightrope I’d walked with my husband’s condition began to fade and we had healthy discussions that left him with volition, something all humans crave, and, most important, his dignity. He became my willing partner in sharing good news for sufferers of all forms of dementia. He is my hero, a role he embraces with joy. He is the most noble, courageous man I’ve ever known.
The writer me realized how inspiring sharing this could be to others. And the writer me could not pass up such a huge helping of grace, mercy, and miracles.
Emily Sue Harvey is the author of several novels, the most recent of which is Twilight Time.