Hayden's Ferry Review


Contributor Spotlight: B.J. Hollars

[ed. note: Check out more information about our 54th issue!]

When I began writing “The Year of the Great Forgetting,” I didn’t yet know the cause of my son’s ailment. We were still in the thick of it then, still held captive by the uncertainty of the mystery we could not solve. What, after all, was the cause of his continuous low-grade fever? Was it cancerous, infectious, or merely a misstep courtesy of a couple of overprotective parents?

Since there was no ending to the essay—since we hadn’t finished living it yet—there was no way for me to write the last line. In fact, there was no way for me to write the last scene, either, in which my son and I sit on the backyard deck and stare out at the trees. This scene would only come later; once the test results confirmed that we could nix cancer and infection from the list of possible diagnoses.

As it turned out (spoiler alert, though it feels odd writing this in regards to my son’s health), his low-grade fever was nothing more than a low-grade fever. All our worry was for naught. Nevertheless, the innocuousness of the diagnosis did little to protect my wife and me from the fear we’d felt along the way.

After all, the fear we’d felt was real, even if our worst-case scenarios were eventually—thankfully—proven wrong. Yes, my wife and I could now breathe easy, but those gray hairs weren’t going away. We’d earned them the hard way; now they were ours forever.

At the risk of breaking rule number one, dear reader, I’m going to tell you exactly how I hope the essay will make you feel: I want it to make you feel uncomfortable. I want you to feel helpless, too. Because the truth is, even when I was living it, I often felt uncomfortable and helpless myself. I often felt like a spectator rather than a participant, and the trouble of being a spectator, of course, is that a spectator’s powers are limited. Who among us would rather watch a car wreck rather than push our feet to the brakes? To put it another way: Who is satisfied merely by watching and waiting for the almost-tragedy to strike?

I admit, dear reader, that I’m grateful I finally found the end to the essay, not because I needed an end to the essay, but because I needed to no longer fear fear.


B.J. Hollars is the author of two books of nonfiction--Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America (the 2012 recipient of the Society of Midland Author’s Award) and Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Civil Rights in Tuscaloosa (the 2014 recipient of the Blei/Derleth Nonfiction Award)—as well as a collection of stories, Sightings. His hybrid text, Dispatches from the Drownings: Reporting the Fiction of Nonfiction will be published in the fall of 2014. His essay “The Year of the Great Forgetting” appears in HFR 54.