Thursday, October 13, 2011

If He Could See Me Now

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I give him grace when I think about it. He was young and sick. Too young to be as sick as he was. He had already been sick a long, long time. Life is unfair that way. Looking back, I can see that he spoke out of the frustration of his own broken-down, weary dreams. When I think of him now, I think of Sunday Ibok and Aibileen.

I think of the days when I will face a pivotal moment and have to weigh my words. Will I speak with grace and faith as did Sunday on the last day of his life? Will I speak as Aibileen did when she spoke words of courage and grace into Mae Mobley's heart? I remember the sting of his words and measure the difference in words harshly spoken vs words calculated to set the spirit free.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My family was fairly giddy. It was 2006. Jessica Kingsley Publishers had just released Voices From the Spectrum. The book contained a collection of essays written by individuals who had a family member with a diagnosis on the Autistic spectrum. It was the 1st time I had ever submitted anything for publication. I did so, at the behest of a friend, with little faith in myself. The adventure had begun in 2003. The book was out, and my chapter was #22.

I was excited to share the news with an extended family member. He was a writer as well. He had a full-time job as a journalist for a small town newspaper. The money wasn't great. The paper was small, and the staff took a lot of ribbing because of lots of missed line edits. But hey, he was a 'real writer' with a real, regular paycheck for writing.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I gave him the 411 of how the essay came to be, how long the process was from submission to print. I excitedly noted that it was an international 'byline' since the publishing house was printing it first in London, UK and then in Philadelphia in the USA. The house had offices in Sydney, Australia and Vancouver, Canada as well. Presumably, my book would travel to those countries at some future date. It was heady, heady stuff for a fraidy cat like me. Still is sometimes. I just checked. Amazon has it in stock. What a hoot.

He looked over the rim of his too thick glasses and said, “How much did ya get paid?”

I chuckled knowing what was coming even tho' this was my first time up at bat, so to speak. “Two copies of the book!” I replied. “Not a dime other than that.”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
He raised up to his full height, snorted, and said, “Huh. You aren't a real writer till you get paid....” The challenge trailed off into silence. We stood there awkwardly. It could have been so different. But, it wasn't.

I didn't know of Sunday or Aibileen either one way back then. I think, however, that they would have been proud of my presence of mind. My heart wanted to deliver one squarely to the root of his manhood in hopes that he would still be doubled over today. As it was, I smiled and took it like a fraidy cat in training. 'Perhaps,” I allowed, “you have a point.” Thus ended the conversation. We never really had much to say to each other from that day on.

I have to tell ya, I don't think of him that often anymore. Like so many of our family members who drifted away when we refused to live in silence about the monster in the shadows, he is gone as well. From time to time, I hear that he has grown ever sicker. Lately, I heard, he has spent some time in nursing homes. I'm surprised the end has not already come.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I've thought of him more this week as I face the fraidy cat in the mirror. I wonder if he knows I finally got paid for my work when a local magazine hired me to write a few articles a couple years back. It was a job made in Heaven before the economy took them under. Would that up my ante in his eyes? I sorely doubt it.

I consider what to do with myself as I continue this journey toward what I want to be when I grow up. Occasionally, I get to attend a writer's group. My obligations never allow that treat as often as I'd like. There was a day tho' when I shyly offered the group a couple chapters I had written. They followed along page to page as I read aloud. The room grew quiet. Small ripples of laughter broke the silence a few times.

When I was finished, I looked up with fear in my heart. One of the folks in attendance sighed, “If you think I'm going after THAT, you are crazy! Who can top that?”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The leader looked at me pensively. “Do you,” she asked, “know of a book named Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Anne Burns?” I nodded slowly because, at the time, no other work of fiction I had ever read came as close to perfection in my eyes as did that one. She continued, “I think you are holding the next Cold Sassy Tree in your hands.”

I rushed home with trembling heart, hands, and knees. “If only I knew what to do about the middle and the end,” I agonized. I looked in the mirror and saw his face. “Maybe he was right,” I thought, “I'm no writer. They were being kind to a newbie.”

Life got complicated again. I lost my good God. I almost lost my will to live. I completely lost my will to write. Somewhere in the cacophony of it all, I could still hear his voice echo as I became nothing and nobody with no purpose and no team for which to cheer.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Can you believe how much has changed in a year? Last year this time, I could barely get out of an emotional fetal position. Here I am writing my way back to God. It has dawned on me...I'm writing away from something too. I am distancing myself from the memory of a sad, angry, sick man who had probably given up on himself. With every click of the blog counter, his voice grows dimmer. My confidence grows stronger.You've had a lot to do with that, and I thank you. 

My confidence has grown strong enough that, in just a few days, I'll be leaving on a jet plane. That's miracle #2 in a month. In the span of a month, this fraidy cat mom has put Son #1 on a plane for the other side of the globe. Now, I'm gonna do what no fraidy cat has done post-9/11. I'm going through a metal detector at the airport – bionic leg and all. Wonder what I'll have to write about THEN? I'd laugh...but I'm too scared.

When I land, I'll be in the company of real writers. Some who get paid enough money to earn the admiration of the naysayer who could have empowered me but chose to belittle me. I've had my shots, so I guess if they bite, I'll survive. Before it is over, I hope I have begun to figure out what to do about the middle and the end. I'm not sure that poor sick fella will live to know it, but one of these days, someone is going to call me a real writer.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
When it happens, I'm going to remember him. I am going to remember the choice he had and the one he made. And, every time someone tells me about a small victory in their life journey, I'm gonna make the late Sunday Ibok as well as Miss Aibileen's creator proud. I'm gonna someone else feel the same way I felt when Sunday tweeted, “Faithful,” and when Aibileen said, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” That, my fraidy cat friend, is a promise I intend to keep. 

Courtesy B. Creasy
I am humbled beyond words that you have come back again and again. I had hoped to enjoy 50 visits a month when I started this venture way back in May. Then, I hoped to reach 10,000 visits by the time I leave for the writer's conference in a few days. I am amazed. Thanks to you, I may very well hit 12,000 visits before the conference begins. I guess....there are a lot of fraidy cats out there looking for a place to call home. Welcome home, fraidy cat. Welcome home. Love you long and strong. See you soon!


  1. Girlfriend, that poor old fella spoke in the bitter tone of . . . jealousy.

    You ARE some kind of writer. Believe it.

  2. I agree with anonymous! ((hugs))

  3. Thanks to both of you! Getting a little more nervous now, so all the kind words help!