So I just got back from Starbucks with a steaming hot vanilla latte. Great way to start a lazy Sunday, right? I think so. Apparently a number of other people felt the same way because the drive through was packed. I could have gone inside, but because it’s a lazy Sunday I was in my pajamas, and so I wanted the anonymity of my car. So as I’m waiting for the four cars ahead of me, I looked back at the car behind me, and this is what I saw: a woman smoking a cigarette in the driver’s seat and a small pair of feet resting on the dashboard. My first instinct was a mother’s instinct; I thought about how that poor kid was getting exposed to cigarette smoke.
But then another perspective stepped in – that of the writer. I took note of the bags under her eyes, the fact that the cigarette and her nicely manicured hand hung out the window until she wanted to inhale, several times she laid her head back against the headrest as if exhausted. Then my writer brain went further, and I noticed the condition of her car – newer, but signs of wear around the wheelwells – and I listened to her order – a chai tea with soy milk.
And what do you know, a character and storyline began forming. I imagined a woman who was newly divorced. Her husband a successful guy who’d walked away for a younger woman and left her with four kids. I imagined that two of the kids were little – too little for school – and the other two were a challenge, maybe one of whom is autistic. I thought it would be interesting if she was unaccostomed to having to work hard, but she was fiercely devoted to her kids. The old her relied on nannies to help carry the burden, and the new her was exhausted from experiencing all of the work a family that size requires.
At first I thought the ex-husband being a jerk who left her for a younger woman would be good, but then I thought about how much more interesting it would be if he wasn’t a complete jerk. Maybe he initially left her because she didn’t make room in her life for him, focusing exclusively on the kids and her charity relating to autism. Only later did he bring in the younger woman, showing that he may have also had other reasons for leaving. This would undermine her confidence as she plowed forward with rebuilding her life and add tension to their co-parenting relationship. I like tension. 🙂
All of this character and story building took place in my head as I waited for my coffee, and I had to chuckle to myself. Just a few years ago, I would have just left my judgement at: why is that lady smoking with a kid in the car?