When I was a little girl, the humid, bitter cold of Lake Erie winters rattled in my lungs. Every year, I wheezed, gasped, and fevered my way through bouts of colds, flus, chicken pox, or some other childhood rite-of-passage illness. Once, flu and pneumonia compounded into a three-week hiatus from school. I was six years old. At its onset, I negated the cold outside with a fever so hot that I felt like I could toast bread by placing it on the skin above my ribs. Of course, I would have been unable to eat the toast. Nausea kept me from eating for weeks, and the ever-present thermometer hanging from my mouth obstructed the way.
When my mother came to read the lines where the mercury fell, I moaned, aching for comfort. “Why me,” I asked.
These simple words were loaded. I fought my willingness to tackle the predicament not by wishing it onto someone else, but by wondering what I had done to deserve it, hoping for its course to run faster, doubting my strength to persevere. These concepts and my six-year old vocabulary didn’t align. I was, as we all are in youth, muted by age.
Forty years later, I can look back on the event and see its beauty. In the space between thought and words, a world of unknowns transpired. How did my mother feel? Why did I choose to say these words? Was I really aching for comfort, or was there something else, bigger, less immediate, that I needed? And it begs the question: Why do I choose to write about it?
If you want to burrow inside my brain, these types of questions circulate on an incessant track, day and night. I am plagued by curiosities, motivations intrigue me, and I am no longer mute. To uncover the possibilities of why I do what I do, I must write.
This past year of writing has brought me closer to my goal of finishing my childhood memoir, although it is nowhere close to where I would like it to be. Each scene, each description, is like one tiny line on the thermometer. A book-length work is comprised of these dashes, settling into place only after the fever burns. For my truth to manifest, I must get comfortable being uncomfortable, enduring each moment with hope that my words will truly express me, not my intentions, but my humanity.
I am persevering by letting go of doubt, the judge, the critic, that sits on the balcony of our life-stage and haggles us with inane commentary. The way I see it, the world is our critic. My only job is to continue the show, which I plan on doing when I send my messy manuscript to an editor in January. I trust her to take its temperature, read between the tiny lines, tell me where it runs hot or cold.
In the meantime, I can look back on the year’s progress with a sense of accomplishment. I’ve made some dashes, increased the mercurial importance of my story, settled into its heat. Despite the vast world of unknowns, I wrote. It’s warm in there. I think I’ll stay.