Focus Your Obsession

Backstory: July 15

Looking at something until it becomes real


We are all obsessed. There’s no denying it. One thing or another grips us and we cannot shake loose … for years, maybe. Maybe for a lifetime.

Last week in workshop I asked participants to make a short list of the things that obsess them, and then to choose the one that interested them most. One participant chose heaven. One chose peace. Each abstract concept was then whittled into a place, person or event in the physical world that a character (autobiographical or fictional) would strive for, with a villain thrown in for complications.

A rabidly obsessed participant wrote about her thrift store hunts for useless but compelling objects with a villain who seems to show up everywhere she shops and beats her to the same inexplicable chrome spirals. Isabella Orion, whose nemesis was “time,” responded this way:


By Isabella Orion


Lillian never cried — she was of the firm stock carved out of the rocky hills of Missouri. And not only did you have to show her, you had to show her twice before she believed you. That is why when her brother told her that the old family farmhouse had finally been emptied and no family belongings remained, she had to go to see for herself. And she would look 10 times if that is what it took, before she would believe it.

The mailbox of the family’s farm sat on a dusty road, and the drive into the farm was a pitted path of cemented mud, finally hardened by long seasons of drought following drenching rains. This was good for the fields of clover and acres of corn, but hard on the axles of the old trucks and wagons and now the car that had made its way along the route up to the base of Tator Hill, around it to the west and up to the old farmhouse.

As Lillian opened the door of the car, she could see that no windows remained in the two-story grey shack that had once been her family home. The yard had disappeared into clusters of tangled brush with blackberry vines woven through them creating large thickets of green with the purple/black berries sprinkled generously throughout, utterly impassable without a machete.

The old barn, so huge and orderly when her father ran the show, had long since begun its exhausted lean towards the middle where once the tractor had parked, so that now, large wedges of sunlight testified to the absence of piers in the foundation and supporting beams above. The structure had given up and was now resigned to defeat by the next Blue Norther with its gale force winds — just a matter of time and not much more of that.

It was a shocking sight taken in all at once and not observed over the decades since her last visit, and the disbelief of her own eyes was overwhelmed by the sure vision of her past.

Lillian stood, leaning against the closed door of the rental. She stood there so long and still, that observing her, anyone would have thought that she was waiting for someone or something — an arrival of some sort — but that was not the case. Lillian was waiting, taking in the last visions of these places, these memories as they played back before her. The old pump well, the helpless fence, the missing gate that had kept the cattle out and the chickens in. The old smokehouse where she would play as a kid as the meats were prepared and dried and aged — and she could taste those meats even as her eyes rested on the pile of wood that remained.

After what seemed like hours, Lillian opened the trunk and took out a machete she had bought at the local hardware store on the way through town. She purposefully whacked a path to what had been the front door, feeling the prickles of the berry vines as they tangled against the tool, scratching her hands, scraping her arms as she progressed toward the opening.

Once there, she saw that there was almost no floor left, but some beams remained leading over to the old staircase, so narrow, but standing still. Her eyes counted the steps she could see and there they were, one, two, three at least remained, very warped, but intact. Carefully, slowly, she crossed the beams, using the machete to support her now against the wall, against the boards lying in chaos around her. Once to the stairs, she bent and used the sharp tip to wedge open the top of one step. There in the burlap bag she had used to hide it from her siblings, lay the wooden box inlaid with mother of pearl flowers and a little brass hook lock to close, that her father had given her.

Lillian felt her eyes water and knew these must be tears, tears of relief, sadness and joy. She closed her eyes and looked again because, after all, it always took her at least two times to believe anything.


* No part of Isabella Orion’s piece may be used without her permission.

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