On Wednesday, November 29, at 5:30 pm, EL 347 Creative Nonfiction Workshop will host the (mostly) annual This Whitworth Life: Whitworth’s Untold Stories in the HUB MPR. The event brings together students, staff, faculty, alumni, board members, administrators, and other Whitworthians to share some of their true and “untold” stories. The 2017 cast includes Rachel Aldridge, Judy Dehle, Lauren Klepinger, Leroy “Mac” McCall, Quincy McCune, John Sowers, Claire Symons, Raja Tanas, and Logan Veasy.
For a taste of the kinds of stories you’ll hear on November 29, here’s “The Ten-Year-Old Elephant” by EL 347 student Jake McCollough: Jake McCollough is a senior at Whitworth and is majoring in English. Jake enjoys writing fiction and poetry, the following piece is one of his first forays into the creative non-fiction genre. He describes the story as “deeply personal” and expressed that it was “difficult to write due to its sensitive and complicated topic.” Please enjoy Jake Mccullough’s piece, “The Ten-Year-Old Elephant.”
The Ten-Year-Old Elephant
The doorbell rings and I open the door. My aunts, Alex and Vanessa, have come to visit with their respective boyfriends, Brandon and Chima. Behind them is the family elephant, massive, imposing, and glaringly obvious. My family and potential family greet me with squeals, hugs, questions and smiles. We walk into the living room and they smother my mom, their sister, with more hugs. The elephant follows silently behind them, impossibly heavy, its footsteps reverberating years into the past, calling up old wounds and unspoken agreements. The bamboo boards beneath its feet buckle under the weight of ten years of familial estrangement. It strides into the room and stands in the center of my mingling family, directly over the coffee table and the drinks my mother has set out for the visitors.
The house is soon filled with laughter, but it is merriment tinged with awkwardness, sadness, and separation. They ask if my sister and I are dating anyone, how school and swimming are going, my plans for the future, etc. We make small talk and catch each other up on what has been going on in our lives. Sometimes I forget we are related. Soon, like always, Alex and Vanessa begin reminiscing about when my sister and I were babies and how we would run happily through the house of our maternal grandmother, Lydia (the mother of Alex, Vanessa and my mom), and her husband, Mike. Mike and Lydia’s names are never actually mentioned, but the conversation pauses almost imperceptibly before continuing. We all know who is being referred to. No one says anything, but we all look toward the elephant. We all know it’s there. It trumpets loudly, but only we can hear it.
After an hour or two its time for the guests to leave. They pack up, leaving behind their hallmark of half eaten food and a forgotten scarf or glove. They promise to come back soon. This usually means months later. As I close the front door, the elephant squeezes past me and out into the night, waving good bye with its trunk. In the silence that follows I can almost here the final series of fights between my parents and grandparents that ended our contact with them, the dreaded conversations about the horrors of alcoholism that followed, and family secrets that I regret ever having to learn. I turn towards the rest of my family. They look just as relieved as I feel that the elephant has left.
We still have contact with Alex and Vanessa, but we only see them during the holidays or maybe a few times over the summer. We have absolutely no communication with Mike and Lydia. Alcoholism has engulfed them in a tidal wave of wine, sweeping them permanently out of my life. The girls have contact with Mike and Lydia and act like nothing has changed. They are 18 and 20 years younger than my mom, the product of Lydia’s second marriage to Mike. He pays for everything the girls want or need. Money is hard to refuse even if it comes at the price of abuse and watching your parents slowly drown themselves in wine, STIs, and tax evasion. No one talks about the estrangement, but we all know about it. It lives in all of our minds, a permanent reminder of a family torn apart by severe alcoholism and unhealthy family dynamics. The elephant is always present when we come together, we just choose to ignore it the best we can.