You weren’t going to write today. Because there are other things that need doing. Children who need and so greatly deserve to be cared for. A husband who needs and also greatly deserves to be cared for, to be messaged and reminded that he’s adored, in the midst of a challenging time at work. A dog and cat to be fed. Checks to be written. Calls to be made and returned. Uniforms to be washed. Schedules to be organized. Counters to be cleaned. Milk and bananas and paper towels and spinach and raspberries and mozzarella cheese — and those barbeque PopChips that your kids love to eat after school as a snack, in those little plastic bowls that you purchased from Ikea for them when they were small — all of these things need to be shopped for, and purchased, and bagged, and put away in their proper places in the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets. There are towels to fold, and you’d rather not think about the unruly mob of worn, dog-hair-encrusted black Gold Toe socks forming in the laundry room. They’re restless. They cry out for cleanliness, albeit softly, because they’re 100% cotton. They want justice. They seek their rightful place with their soul sock match in the small, upper left-hand drawer of my husband’s oak dresser.
These are things that need doing. Not frivolity, missy. Not dreaming. Not crafting. Not dabbling. Know your place. Your place is good. Seventy-four-thousand other women would kill — easily, swiftly, without any remorse — for your place in this world.
And then a message appears. Something from a friend, saying that there’s a memoir workshop about to happen in a very pretty place somewhere else in this world.
Everything stops for a minute. You stare at the screen and feel your throat clench, just one involuntary spasm of muscle. And the inner workings of that part of your brain — that which you swore to turn off today — that just clicks on all by itself, somehow, because, hand to God, you were nowhere near the controls, and the whirr of the thinking and the words begins, even though the machine sputters and groans under the heavy weight of guilt and fear.
You can’t keep doing this. Not today. You’re not a writer. You’re just a woman. A girl, really, if you’re honest with yourself. Just a girl in a place. That’s all. Nothing special.
So you go downstairs to the laundry room and wrestle with the Gold Toe mob, one by one, unfurling each sock that retains the tight, balled-up shape that your husband left it in when he pulled it off his tired, achy foot for lo, these many nights. Sometimes it was at 7 o’clock, sometimes at 9:30, after the kids were tucked into bed. Sometimes closer to midnight — when he finally got home, after the keynote speaker and the cocktail hour and the dinner and then the wall of traffic in the damn tunnel, and still managed to take his shoes and socks off, although he was almost sleepwalking through the exercise. He works too hard. Much too hard. You worry about this. A lot. The machine hiccups, hesitates — and damned if it doesn’t start up again. All on its own.
You break up the Gold Toe mob and go back upstairs to the kitchen. After you empty the dishwasher and clean the sink, and answer the emails about the Girl Scout mother/daughter dance tomorrow, you open the message with the link again, because this is what you do to yourself, and you click on the website that describes the workshop in pictures and words. For a minute, you imagine yourself nestled under the comforter that adorns the welcoming bed of each writer’s room. You imagine yourself there at rest. Asleep. Warm. Peaceful. Because you’d done some very good work while you were there.
You think of three other people to send the information to, immediately, because they should have the spot. This is meant for someone else. Not you. But you don’t send it. Not right away. Because you think that it might make them feel worse if you do. Like you’re feeling right now.
It’s too indulgent. Too much money. It’s abject abandonment of your family, really. Leaving these three people you love for a long weekend is — in your guilt-ridden motherly mind — akin to leaving your husband and sending the children off to live with a spinster aunt in Iowa, and boarding a bus to New York City to join Ziegfield’s chorus line. You know, like the flighty, weak-kneed flapper you really are, right there dead-center in the mushy, undisciplined core of your being. This isn’t something that you just have to do. It’s something you merely want to do. And not exactly sure that you’re good enough to do. You’re not, actually. You’re really not.
You don’t know how else to sift through what you’re feeling, except to sit down for a minute and write, in this freeform way that you always have since you were little. You write this, just what you’re reading now, because you have to expunge it. You have to extricate this very thought and see it before you, with your own aging eyes.
You think of the mother who volunteered at the library with you a few weeks ago — the one who stopped you while you were shelving books and said, “Hey, Kathleen, you’re a writer, I have a question –” And you didn’t hear the rest of what she was saying, because those words — “you’re a writer” — were right there in front of you, because someone else said them to you out loud as something they believed as absolute fact, and you almost teared up while you were putting away those damn books about American dog breeds, the ones that all the second and third graders love to read and that you find yourself forever reshelving. The ones that your own daughter insisted on checking out of the library for month after month. Enough with the Samoyeds already, kid. They’re big dogs. They slobber. We get it.
And that’s the thing of you, really, Kathleen. These moments of truth and clarity and beauty that you almost don’t allow yourself to feel. Because you think they’re meant for someone else. Not you. That’s the thing of all of us, really. We deny ourselves so many beautiful truths.