One of the things I do when writing a new novel is look for people who would make good, interesting, heroic characters in my books. That’s one of the most fun things to do, and I take them from real life. Here’s an example:
We have an office manager in our clinic, Bonnie, who hates germs. When she drew up the plans for the construction of the clinic and oversaw the work, she didn’t realize she’d soon be working there. She hates goo, she has a very weak stomach. When the rest of the staff starts talking shop, Bonnie gags, loses her appetite, covers her ears and gets away. She’s also shy. She sits in the back row at church. She’ll sneak over to an elderly neighbor’s house and shovel snow when they’re not looking, and get away before anyone knows. How she ended up in her position is a long story, but it wasn’t where she started. She wouldn’t have chosen to work in a doctor’s office, but due to a job switch, and the fact that I knew what a good employee she was, I kind of dragged her into it.
One evening last week I got a call from Bonnie. Her voice was shaking, but she had to tell someone. That evening, I believe Bonnie showed the world–and to her, it felt like the whole world–what she was made of. She was driving the company car behind an elderly man who was riding his small motorcycle slowly with his groceries behind him. Cars raced past him, honking their horns, yelling at him and harassing him to the point he wrecked his bike, tumbling over right there in the middle of the road, scraping blacktop as his groceries went flying.
No one stopped except our shy, germophobe office manager. Bonnie got out and ran into the middle of the road to find out if he was okay, and helped him to the side of the road, despite his protests about his eighteen broken eggs. He had an oxygen mask, and his arm was bleeding. Instead of throwing up, which she expected would happen, she ran to the back of the car and pulled out the medical kit, wrapped his bleeding arm, comforted him by sitting beside him and rubbing his back so he’d stop shaking. (She also stopped him from lighting a cigarette when she saw gasoline leaking from his motorcycle). Then she talked to him while he calmed down. She discovered he was a war veteran. Shy Bonnie tried to flag someone else down to help them because she couldn’t get the motorcycle out of the middle of the road, but no one would stop and help. All her patient was worried about was his eighteen broken eggs, but she knew there could be a worse accident if she didn’t do something.
She finally called 911. In minutes, an ambulance, firetrucks, highway patrol (which had sped past them earlier without stopping) came screaming toward her and this injured old man. I’m sure it was quite a spectacle, and poor Bonnie was just sitting there in the middle of it all, the center of attention with no place to retreat. Then, of course, proving her devotion to us, she pulled out a card for our clinic, and wrote her phone number on it in case the patient needed anything.
When it was all over and the road was cleared and the professionals took over, Bonnie drove to the nearest parking lot and had a mini-panic attack. She was on her way home when she passed a police car sitting beside the road. The policeman flashed his lights at her. She thought it was because he thought she was speeding, but he didn’t pull out and stop her. I think he was giving her a salute for caring enough to help when no one else would stop for an old man on a motorcycle.
Funny, Bonnie has this weird idea that she’s unworthy of attention. She won’t listen when I disagree. But next time she tells me what a mess-up she is, I’ll remind her of this day, and someday soon, she’s going to see her likeness in one of my heroines. It takes more strength to do something that terrifies you and hold it together, than it does if that’s your everyday job, and you’re just plain good at it.
I’m proud of Bonnie. She’s earned herself a place in a novel one day.