I’m not great with timelines. I can’t tell you what year I graduated or how old I was when I moved to Winnipeg. I mean I could, but I would need to sit down with a pencil and paper and work it out and even then I might not get it right.
I’ve never felt like it was important to know exactly when things happened, I use the term ‘the other day’ to mean something that happened sometime between last week and the beginning of time.
In my life, time doesn’t matter that much.
In my writing, it is everything.
When my characters come into the world I need to have every detail of their lives etched into my mind. There is no room for not knowing, there is no one else to fill in the blanks.
For instance, I could tell you that Skye was born on January 27, 2004, although the parents who raised her didn’t find her until January 29. Even though it never comes up in the book I have written (or so far in the sequel I am working on), I can tell you that Skye was able to walk and talk early. Her parents had been afraid that she would have some kind of delay, since Skye’s birth mom’s dying words had been a warning about how she would be different. The warning that no matter what, Skye needed to be outside as much as possible, needed to interact with nature and to touch and explore the landscape.
Her parents had been warned that Skye would not be like other children, but they were looking for difficulties and deficits and when she didn’t present them with any, they decided she was fine. They decided that trying to keep her outside for hours everyday was too much work, especially in Winnipeg. This is why, when Skye was two, they allowed themselves to fall more and more into what would be considered a ‘normal’ daily routine. The morning walks faded away and after daycare there just didn’t seem to be enough time to get outside before bed. Not to mention it was cold. They assured themselves that it was ok, Skye was fine.
At least for a few days.
It was the first time she had ever been sick and they just didn’t make the connection between their change in schedule and her sudden ever worsening chest cold. Skye’s mom had wanted to take her to the hospital. If she had, then this story would never have come to be. Fortunately, Skye’s dad insisted that they take her to the forest instead.
Her parents never admitted to themselves or anyone else that their change in routine was what had made Skye so incredibly sick, but still, they never let it happen again. They developed interests in bird watching and astronomy, having watched the thick, hard, grey skin break off their toddler, having watched her go from unresponsive and barely breathing to laughing running and playing (with the only ‘medicine’ being time spent in the woods), they were determined to not make the same mistake twice.
Of course, Skye’s parents could give you the details of her life. They are very loving and involved, they have been there for every soccer game and bike race. I’m sure they could tell you that her first word was tree (pronounced tee), that she took her first steps when she was only nine months old and that she had an imaginary friend named Eli until she was four.
They could tell you these things, but they can only tell you if I write it first. Skye’s timeline is my responsibility and I do not take it lightly.
Pin Jun’s early life could not have been more different than Skye’s, and honestly, even if her parents did not exist only in my head, I would not trust them to tell her story. They would get it wrong. They are too interested in how they think Pin Jun should be, to see exactly who she is. They would tell you what her timeline should have been instead of what it was.
Pin Jun was born on October 28, 2002, the first person who held her was her nainai. Nainai was a very doting and involved grandmother which helped to make up for her mother’s complete lack of interest in her as a baby. Her mother was suffering from postpartum depression, but this was never acknowledged or treated. Pin Jun was born into the Warrior clan (a group dedicated to protecting the Spoon and the allowance it gives to humans to continue to develop and evolve.) Her first home was in Xi’an and as the granddaughter of the next True Keeper, Pin Jun was treated like a royal princess (by all except her parents).
Pin Jun didn’t walk until after she was two years old, but that was likely because her feet never touched the ground. Her first words were also delayed, but for entirely different reasons. Pin Jun was not interested in speaking an occasional word here or there, having just the right mix of perfectionism and rebelliousness she was determined not to speak until she could do it properly. Her first words came just after her third birthday when she asked, “Can we go to the park?” in perfect Mandarin.
At four years old, Pin Jun’s life changed completely and irrevocably. Two events, mixed with her mother’s jealousy of her, and fear for her caused her parents to flee the life they had known in Xi’an and establish a new life in Shanghai. The first event was her mother discovering that Pin Jun had powers to create and maintain illusions (in truth it wouldn’t have mattered what the powers had been, all that mattered was that they were outside the norm). The second event was Nainai stepping up to take her place as the True Keeper (it is possible that Nainai had also spoken to Pin Jun’s mother about her feeling that Pin Jun would in turn be the True Keeper). Pin Jun’s father loved his daughter, but he was not very good at showing it. He had had no experience with children and prefered to focus on his work, where he was confident and successful.
In March of 2007, Pin Jun’s mother told her that Nainai had died and moved her away from everything she had ever known. Pin Jun’s father had always thought the Warriors were a bit crazy and was perfectly happy to leave them behind and have more freedom to grow and nurture his business. Pin Jun’s mother discovered she was even more sad and lonely after moving to Shanghai, but also realized that she was just as good at business as her husband and threw herself into the world of work.
Pin Jun, a child who had been loved, coddled, nurtured and spoiled was now left utterly alone. Her parents hired Ayi Chen to take care of the home and the basic needs of their child. Fortunately, Shanghai was the home of her father’s family including her cousin Ying Yue. Pin Jun and Ying Yue were like sisters from the very beginning and with time her early life in Xi’an became a distant blurry memory and Shanghai became home.
I do not need to know my own timeline, because it is not my story that I am interested in telling you. It is not my story that bubbles in my brain desperately waiting for a chance to leak out onto the page. As Pin Jun and Skye allow me to see more and more of who they are, I am able to deliver them to you my dear reader, as the friend you never knew you were missing, but now can’t wait to get to know.