The nonfiction editors, Rappahannock Review: Your piece was very intimate and personal in its letter-like format. What influenced your choice of the form?
Holly Pelesky: I knew I had a lot to say about being a birth mother, but the thought of writing a memoir was daunting me, someone with always-shifting attention. I was speaking to my MFA mentor outside the clatter of the dining hall and she said, “we need to talk about form.” We discussed what it was I had to say and in doing so, recognized I stored my memories in objects or places—tangible places. From there, the idea of writing letters around those tangibles emerged. Although I didn’t think I could write an entire memoir, writing individual letters I could do. I have been writing letters my whole life so it was a natural choice.
RR: The parallels you made between a baby and Tucker were vivid and poignant. How would you want the reader to view this relationship?
HP: I think humans have a natural reaction to transfer the love we had for the person we lose to someone or something else. Not the same love, exactly, but the depth and intensity of it. That way our emotions amalgamate so we don’t feel grief as harshly. Before my child was born, I anticipated grief and knew I would need something or someone to soothe me. So I made plans for a dog to take away my grief, not knowing then that no person or animal could possibly do that.
RR: How has this experience changed your outlook on your future? Does this come through in the tone of the piece?
HP: I am thinking about that phrase, “outlook on the future” and what it means. I think it means the tone in which we choose to live. I am now, as I was in 2005, optimistic in a dismal way. What I mean by that is that I am hopeful, but also, very aware of absences. I grew up very sheltered and unaware of how different experiences shape people, how we turn out with such opposite values. I think now I am more empathetic and prone to listen and observe. I am fascinated by humans and our myriad of experiences. I believe at the end of the day, we share an inherent goodwill and desire to connect with one another. (2) I think this piece shows the despair I felt after leaving my child and moving halfway across the country. Also, in a smaller way, it hints at the hope I had for the future being better than the present, although I placed all of that hope in a dog that I ultimately didn’t keep.
RR: There is a lot of blue imagery throughout your piece. Did you pick the specific details about the color of the quilt, dog bowl, etc, to establish a certain effect in the story?
HP: Blue is the actual color of the items mentioned but also there were other colors everywhere that I didn’t mention. I used blue to create a tone. Blue to me is cold and sad and vast. Blue worked for me as the writer to explain the emptiness I felt right after I gave my daughter away.
RR: After going through the experience of “The Pet We Never Shared,” how would you want the society to react to someone following in your footsteps?
HP: I would love for society to react to all people with kindness, regardless of differences. World Peace! I know that’s a tall order but I think on individual levels if we can listen to people openly without judgements, we can become more empathetic and better love.
Holly Pelesky’s work in Issue 6.1: