Literature 10-27-2009

mnLIT presents: Kristin Swanson

This week's story, "In the Event that I Am Not Paranoid" by Kristin Swanson," was selected for the 2009 cycle of miniStories by novelist Leif Enger.


In the Event that I Am Not Paranoid

It’s quarter of one on Thursday night. This headache woke me up. Naturally, I am afraid I’m having a stroke.

My mom died of a stroke — May, 1977. She and my dad were at a wedding rehearsal. They were attending because they were the assigned hosts for the wedding reception the following day. She came home with a headache which, according to my dad (when you can coax the story out of him), became quite intense. She started vomiting and told Dad that she thought she was having a stroke. Appropriately, he thought she was drunk and advised her to come to bed. She kept vomiting. He drove her to the hospital, and she threw up in the car which, my dad says, really upset her.

I am sure she wasn’t exactly rational at that moment.

My dad says the last thing she said to him was “Take care of the kids.” Then, she arrested in the ER. Charlie Comstock, the doctor, did not know what was going on, so he revived her with those shock paddles.


Her heart started beating again, but she was gone.

This is my secret nightmare, the one that keeps me up at night sometimes. I haven’t worried about it for a long, long time. I passed the age she had the stroke (33), and then the age when my dad stopped intubating her, and she died (34). I don’t smoke. (My mom loved her Tarryington 100s). I exercise. (She did not exercise; she ate poorly and little, and sat in the sun, smoking cigarettes).

But tonight, I am sitting in my kitchen, convinced that this is the last train from Terrapin Station. My head hurts so much that my entire skull is throbbing. I am remembering earlier tonight, when I was sitting on my knees in the kitchen and got up and nearly passed out. I thought it was my husband’s bad cooking. Now, I am convinced it was a blood clot in my leg that has now passed to my brain. I am actually breaking out in a sweat from the pain.  

If I am dead in the morning, please tell my children that I lived for them. Tell them I loved them more than my life, and that it is they who I am obsessively thinking about right now. Please help them when they are sad and confused and depressed and taking their lives in their own hands, because they have lost themselves. Please hug them a lot, like they were your own children.

Please help my husband. He doesn’t know how to balance the checkbook. He will drink too much. He will sweat the small stuff. Remind him to be gentle with himself and with the kids, and then, also remind him, gently, to make the kids his top priority. Don’t let him get married until the children are in college, and tell him to stay away from insecure Catholic girls with no children, at all costs. His children will be healthier for it — please, trust me on this.

I love you, Bubs.


Juror comments: Novelist Leif Enger selected Swanson’s story for the 2009 cycle of mnLIT because, he says, “it’s heartfelt, humorous, refers to the Grateful Dead, and instructs the narrator’s survivors. What could be better?”

About the author: Kristin A. Swanson has a career as an average mother, with occasional insight. To pay the bills, she works as an abuse investigator for a very large county bureaucracy that hides their employees in its skirt. You can read her blog, “Chop Wood, Carry Water” here. She says, “In my paid employment I work with the flotsam and jetsam of the metropolitan area and often say to myself, ‘you can’t make this shit up.’ I see the marginalized, the selfish, the entitled; the isolated and abandoned. My clients are the people who live in garbage houses, who are insane, paranoid, and personality disordered. Often, there is no tangible resolution to the problems I am assigned to investigate, and I have to live with the knowledge that people are living in risk, filth, and harm every day, and that sometimes — oftentimes — I have no legal authority to do anything about it. Naturally, I write because it is a cheap alternative to psychotherapy. More important, it provides me with an introduction, a middle, and an end, and finite tasks are something I crave. (This is probably why I also enjoy hard manual labor, like installing docks, removing fencing, and tearing out bushes). Also, people say I am funny.” 

______________________________________________________ is a joint project of the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation

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