Friday Feature ~ “Unfinished Business”

They say that every writer has to write the story he has about a friend’s death, and every writer has a friend who died. The point is to get it out of your system so you can get busy with your real writing. I guess that applied to me, but I managed to get my story about this, “Unfinished Business,” finally written and published.

The writing of this story dates back to my St. Louis life, so more than 30 years, and the origin of this story is in my early teen years, which is a terrible count of years. It is based on the actual death of my best friend at the time. The story tracks pretty closely with our friendship. We were really not much alike. He was sporty; I was a reader. I had a huge family; he had just his mother. We went to different schools. But we lived two houses away from each other, and we were the same age. We did stuff together and hung out, and I guess that was enuf. Sometime shortly after I entered high school I learned that he had “spots on his lungs,” which my mother told me was cancer. As in my story, he had already lost his arm to cancer, and it had moved into his lungs. I was wholly unequipped emotionally to accept or understand what was happening at the time, and I recall several adults taking an interest in me because I seemed so unaffected by it. I guess they never saw my episodes of rage. (My mother’s friend in far-off Connecticut even wrote me a letter trying to help me understand what I was going through.)

And that is the foundation of this story. The character is grappling with his unresolved emotions; he is haunted by the ghost of his friend. They say that ghosts linger because they have unfinished business in the life they cannot quite leave. That felt like a perfect metaphor for how my character (and I) saw things. He struggles to make sense of what he didn’t and still doesn’t understand about himself, and he tries to fabricate a happy ending, which he knows won’t happen.

To this day I still feel the loss of my friend. Or rather, I feel the hole that seems to be inside me about him. I actually think about him often, even after nearly half a century. I have visited his grave several times over the years. It took me more than 20 years to get this story finished. It went through various very different drafts and had a number of titles. But I think once I settled on the character being haunted by the matter, I knew how to resolve the story.

It was published in the Green issue of Midwest Literary Magazine in 2010. I have no records on how I came to submit to this magazine though I suspect that it had to do with the Midwestern setting. I had only submitted it to two other publications at the time. Now Midwest Literary Magazine is defunct and the bound copy with my story in it is the only thing I have left.

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