I was fourteen when I realized I wanted to be a writer–when I realized writing wasn’t just something I enjoyed, but something I did well. In fact, I was so good at writing, I was able to make my mother cry.
I suppose I should have felt guilty about it. Usually, when a teenaged girl makes her mother cry it’s over something serious, like sex or alcohol or getting caught smoking a cigarette behind the trailers at school. But, when Mom read my story with tears glistening behind her lashes, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of satisfaction about the whole situation. When she dabbed at the corners of her eyes, careful not to mess up her immaculately applied mascara, I waited on the side with my breath held deep in my chest. Excited. Anxious. But definitely not guilty.
“Wow!” She said it with a choked voice, and she smiled and dabbed at her eyes a bit more. “I’m going to need to go fix my make-up!” Then she gave me a really long, really firm hug and said, “You are really talented. I’m so proud of you.”
Six years later, she passed away.
Perhaps it’s a bit of dramatic irony. That original short story was about a young child who lost his mother.
From that moment on, I wrote. I wrote short stories all throughout high school. I got on the school newspaper staff. I submitted works to every single literary journal my school put out. For two years in a row–the only two years I competed–I won first place in the county-wide writing competition. Mom was there the entire time, cheering me on. Rooting for me.
She was my number-one fan.
When I went into college, I decided to get into teaching. I bought into the great lie that I couldn’t make it as a professional writer. So I endured an entire semester of work in education and hated every minute of it. Mom tried to talk me out of it over and over again. She didn’t want me to get trapped in the same kind of career she had.
Eventually, I listened to her. I changed my major from secondary education to creative writing. Most mothers would begroan that decision. Most mothers would prompt their children into more “profitable” paths. My mother didn’t. She was so proud of me. She told people I was going to be the “Next JK Rowling.”
For years, Mom was the biggest advocate of my writing. She bragged about my work to her friends and coworkers. She asked about it all the time, but she didn’t want me to tell her the story behind Martyrs because she wanted to read it for herself, when it was finished. When it was ready.
She died before she had the chance.
Mom survived for nine months after her diagnosis. Nine horrible, heartbreaking months, I watched her smile fade, her hope falter, and her fear set in. I watched her fight as hard as she could fucking fight, and I watched her slowly waste away. For nine months, I didn’t write a word.
And then she passed away.
And the first time I put my hand to my craft again was for her obituary. I watched my words in her honor print across my hometown. And the second time, I wrote the eulogy I read at her funeral. And then, I didn’t write again for a long time.
I’d remember my creative nonfiction class, and how wounded Mom had felt that I’d written about Dad and not her. I’d wish I had written about her, if only I’d known the years of inspiration I’d get from her would be cut so short. I’d remember some of our darker days, and some of the angrier pieces I’d written because of things she’d said to me and arguments we’d had.
And I’d remember that she wouldn’t get a chance to read anything I could ever possibly write to redeem it.
It took me almost an entire year to finally feel free to write again, and at first, I tried to write about her. I tried to write about that night in the hospital. I tried to write about the terror in her eyes, and in her voice, and the way she said “I Love You” to me in American Sign Language because the mask around her mouth made it too difficult to say out loud.
I couldn’t do it.
For another twelve months, I focused on other things, on other writing projects, on other careers and people and works of art because I couldn’t find the voice to write about her. I couldn’t find the voice to talk about the woman who inspired me to become a writer in the first place. Shameful.
It took this blog to do that.
It took an audience. A commitment.
And, most of all, it took time.
Today, Mom is fifty-one somewhere, and I’m sure she’s dabbing at her eyes as she reads this, and saying, “You are really talented. I’m so proud of you.” I can almost hear her voice.
Happy birthday, Mom.