In March, 2013, I met with my main faculty thesis/project reader at a coffee house in Newport, Kentucky. It was spring break, and the deadline for submitting my project and defending my thesis was a few weeks away. I’d been pounding out chapters and turning in revisions for several months, and my professor and I were reviewing a story in one of the chapters that recalled a time when I discovered my mother’s nursing home roommate had been stealing Mom’s toothpaste. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a man walking over toward our table. He carried a box and told us someone had asked him to distribute its contents to customers: toothbrushes in an assortment of colors, along with several tubes of toothpaste.
“Would you like some?” he asked.
“Now that’s what I call synchronicity,” my professor said after the man moved on to the next table.
“Or maybe it’s my mom signing off on my memoir,” I said. I’d often felt guilty for writing about certain experiences with and memories about Mom and wondered if she would be pissed off at me at me for doing so. As I put a toothbrush and some toothpaste in my purse, I took this moment as a sign of my mother’s blessing.
I hadn’t planned on finishing the memoir, having already gone over the requisite word count. A few weeks before the due date, however, I realized I would never have the opportunity to have it professionally critiqued and workshopped by three English faculty, all of whom had been published in their respective genres. So for ten straight days, I wrote. All day Saturday, Sunday, and during the week, I got up at 4:30 in the morning to write before I went to work, and I continued writing after work until late into the night. I also found journals I’d long forgotten about, and I read them, cover to cover. I’d written in them during the times of my greatest grief and turmoil after Mom’s stroke, and right before and after she died. I immersed myself in my feelings, allowing myself to return to the dark places I’d escaped years ago.
And I wept. And wrote. And sometimes I wept while I wrote the last three chapters.
By the time I turned in my project and prepared for my defense, the guilt I’d assumed would remain with me always had already evaporated. Poof.
The lesson? Just as I learned to accept my mother’s shortcomings, I learned to accept my own. And I know for certain my mother remains with me, looking over my shoulder, nodding her head in approval.