It was the last book signing of the summer. I was driving home from Fargo in the early morning hours, to get back for the kids’ open house at school. Even though I’ve been out of school for a while now, fall always means a new start. It also means conversing with everyone you see to ask or answer that one question: How was your summer?
As I felt the “Summer of the Book,” coming to a close, I also saw the new year ahead.
And I had about three hours to reflect. To look back on what my memoir has given me.
I wanted to document it. Save it all. To in some way be able to write a manifesto of how the launch of Unwillable into the warm North Dakota days profoundly changed my life overnight. And to move forward into what lies ahead, with the knowledge of everything I learned still fresh in my mind.
But I can’t remember it all. There is no way to save everything. Every piece of someone that they shared with me.
I could only live it all in real time.
The nurse who cried. Another who had just lost a son. The friend who shared with me one of her life’s secrets through her tears. The one who thought she had AE when she was hospitalized. The doctor who knew my mom, and I was divorce counsel for his friend. My elementary teachers who met my children. The lines I backed up. The hands I held. The AE survivor I met. The one whom I could tell has buried her experience and story, hoping to never revisit it. The elderly man who told me he was 104, but I think he was fibbing. Classmates, sobs, stories. The fireman who lost his dream, too. Staff from the law school and old farmers who knew my grandpa. The lady who heard me on the radio and stopped by before her night shift began. The judge who smiled and basically said, You’re pretty brave to put a lot of embarrassing stuff out there. The photographs, balloons, little mints, dinners, and Starbucks.
The black Sharpie pens and my attempt at wit when people anxiously stood behind, while I tried to match names to faces, and remember if their name ends with “i” or “y.” The people who told me they aren’t readers, but they wanted to do it for this one. The ones who said their children fended for themselves for just a day, so they could plow through it. The ones who told me they stayed up late, but couldn’t stop. The ones who wanted to know how I did it – and how to land a publisher. Those who couldn’t repeat enough, Oh my God, I had no idea or I love this book, but I hate this book.
The lady at the store who tells me about her health, family, fears, and more. The one who told me she saved her money just to buy it.
The interviewers who asked, Will you go back? What did it feel like? Holy shit!
The “Summer of the Book,” was a season. Like one school year comes to a close and another begins, I’ve entered another season. And I don’t know what it will bring.
But I can say that I enjoyed every ounce of the unknown territory I stepped into on June 1, when the launch was official.
As I drove on towards Bismarck, I shed a few tears, but only for a moment. I thought of myself only last summer, stuck in Fargo, when I stopped the shame and asked for help. I thought of just how far I’ve come in the story I’ve written and the story I’m writing. And how much love I’ve felt along the way.
If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say: Unwillable has given me a profound connection to others.
If I had to use figurative language, I’d say: Unwillable was the therapy I needed after AE to learn how to walk again, talk again, and write again.
If I had to humble brag, I would share that when I returned home on June 1, after the launch party, my daughter showed me her drawing of my cover. Or when my son saw a picture of my entire dental office holding a copy of the book and said, “Mom, you’re sure lucky that so many people want your book.” And the baby, whose ear I whisper into, “You’re the end of momma’s book.”
Three cheers to the opening season of the book. You helped me believe again.
You taught me how to fly.
But mostly, you surrounded me with humanity in all its perfect imperfections. I can never top a gift like that.
Thanks y’all. Love you!
“And I will pray to a big god
As I kneel in the big church
“(Big Time) I’m on my way, I’m making it (Big time) (Big time) I’ve got to make it show, yeah (Big time) (Big time) So much larger than life (Big time) I’m going to watch it growing (Big time)” Big Time by Peter Gabriel