I first started working on my daughter Elena’s memoir in May, 2009. Five years is a long time to give to a writing project, especially one full of so much personal pain. Along the way, her memoir became two: a memoir for her and a memoir for me. Altogether, they amount to over two hundred and eighty thousand words.
There was a time when I wandered through those words like a lost soul in hell, unable to find a way out. I would write a couple of pages and then go lie down, crushed under the weight of those painful words. Each time I revised either one of the two manuscripts, I counted down the number of times I would have to reread them: the final revision of each, the line edit of each, the copyedits, then both sets of first pass pages. I would talk about that gauntlet of words to anyone who would listen: “Twice for the line edit, maybe just once for the copyedit if I’m lucky, but probably twice there too. Then there’s the first pass pages. Twice, for certain. Once out loud. That’s only six more times, and then I’ll be free!”
Friends and family were polite about these interminable countdowns. It was all I could seem to talk about. Eyes would blink vaguely, and heads would nod supportively, the way they do when invalids list out medical procedures. I saw this, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. I couldn’t stop counting down to freedom.
But a funny thing happened on the way to my freedom. That hell of words… became home.
Just last week, the advance reading copies of my two memoirs came out: Elena Vanishing and Hope and Other Luxuries. My daughter Elena flew out to San Francisco to give the very first talk about them. I know what that means. My words don’t belong to me anymore. After five years of constant heartache and worry, quite suddenly, they’re gone.
And now, I find that I don’t know what to do without them.
Reminders are everywhere. I’ll be making my coffee, and I’ll think, “This is in Hope. I put this in Hope.” I’ll pet my cat, and I’ll think, “She’s in Elena Vanishing.” It’s always hard to let go of a manuscript, but this time, it’s doubly hard. Echoes of these books are everywhere.
And I’m so proud of them–I can’t even tell you how proud I am of them! I hold these bundles of words close to my heart now and mist over as I think of them, and I want to grab strangers by the collar and make them look at them too, make them see how this one has my eyes, that one has my crooked grin…
I was in labor with these two books for a very long time.
Elena started this. Before these words were mine, they were hers as she struggled to tell me the devastating truth about her own hard existence. It’s fitting that she was the one who spoke out first, on the very first day our new books were between covers, the very first day those advance reading copies came out of the box. It’s Elena who showed me the path. She had the courage to lead. All I had to do was find the courage to follow.
I’m not following anymore. Now, for the first time in five years, I’m standing at the edge of something new. That’s not easy for me. These hard years have brought me pain and taught me to fear. It’s hard for me to face the unknown.
Even harder is facing my own hope.
But I can’t help it. I can’t help hoping. Something wonderful is coming! These books are going to soar. They’re on their way now. If I’m free, so are they. They’re tough and strong and beautiful, and unlike me, they’re not afraid. Nothing is going to slow them down.
So I live with the ache of their loss, and I find myself bursting into tears at odd times, and I wonder if this is how the cocoon feels after the butterfly has gone. But then again, I’ll wake up at night and realize I’m holding my breath because I’m listening for the sound of wingbeats, and the hope I feel in those moments hurts me so much, it’s sharper than any amount of ache or loss.
But I can’t help it. I can’t help hoping. Because it’s coming. I can feel it.
Something wonderful is coming.
To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page. Photo taken in October, 2013, in Rodenbach, Germany. Photos and text copyright 2014 by Clare B. Dunkle.