It has been over a month since I began writing this damn thing and everything in me has warred against it. I have not been able to find words and the words that I have been able to find have terrified me. So I avoided this all together. I boarded a plane and traveled 900 miles north. Jumped in my car and drove 200 miles south. This has been a thing of heartache for me. But it isn’t the heartache that so often brings the words rushing to the surface of your skin; beating against each other, each longing to be the first to exit the lacerated flesh. It is the heartache that settles deep in your bones. Poisoning the blood that courses through your veins. Corrupting and killing everything it should nourish.
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It wasn’t until the early to mid-90’s that computers really started to invade our lives. They began popping up in every house on the block and everyone who could operate Microsoft Word decided to enter some sort of Information Technology field. Everyone was about to be the next Bill Gates. Except, not. Because the IT field was just starting to blow up it was easier for people to teach themselves what was already in practice but to also learn new things that were still being birthed.
At the time my mother had not re-entered the workforce after staying home with my sister and me for our “formative” years. I don’t remember the day we got that 35-pound computer, but I do remember we did and I do remember the multiple 7-pound books that came along with it. Those books were going to educate my mom on all the in’s and out’s of the business and propel her to this newfound moneymaker of a job. The computer was placed on an old antique desk in the “game room”. This game room was really just our garage that had been converted into a pretty cool room. There was a pool table, a large television, the computer, and tons of cool stuff all over the walls. This was where we, as a family, spent the majority of our time. I remember it being a place where we were just together. And being together was enough. For a while, at least. Until it wasn’t anymore.
It was a big day at school. I don’t remember what happened. But I do remember that I desperately wanted my mom to know about it. I desperately wanted her to laugh with me, celebrate me, and talk to me for the first time that day. I came crashing through the front door, threw my backpack on the couch and ran throughout the house searching for mom. I found her in the game room. Her usual spot. She was sitting in the swivel chair, parked right in front of the bright blue desk. The words starting flying out of my mouth before I was even ten feet from her. I had so much to tell her. So many words. So many things to talk about. I must have thought time was running out. I had probably been talking for several minutes before I realized that she had not once acknowledged my presence, let alone my words.
“Mom. Did you hear me?”
All of the rage that is possible to build up inside of a ten year old continued to grow and then finally, I burst. I grabbed the side of the chair and spun it around as forcefully as I possibly could, placed my hands on the sides of her face, and forced her to look me in the eye before I yelled all my angry ten-year-old words.
“YOU WEREN”T EVEN LISTENING TO ME!! YOU CARE MORE ABOUT THAT COMPUTER THAN YOU CARE ABOUT WHAT I HAVE TO SAY!!”
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I don’t remember when the final fracture occurred. I know that now I know a lot more about what happened than I did when it was actually happening. I do remember, though, that even as a ten year old I was able to make the connection between that damned computer and the death of my family as I knew it. I’ve since learned that on that brand new computer my mother began building friendships with like minded people, with people who also wanted to become IT specialists, or whatever they’re called. These harmless friendships soon transformed into something else. Like I said, I didn’t know any of this when it was happening, I just knew that mom had a bunch of new random friends. Looking back I can now see that emotional relationships were formed and inch by inch my mom continued to check out from life at our home. This was the beginning of the end of my parent’s marriage and of the life that I knew.
As the years went on, my disdain for computers and the Internet continued. I blamed it for all the shit that had gone down in my world and wanted nothing to do with it. I rarely used computers and hated every minute that I did. When I started college I didn’t immediately get Facebook; I had no interest in building or maintaining relationships through a website. “You do this, you get on here, you join this group…you will ruin everything!” is what I constantly heard over and over in my head. And, honestly, no one wants to be the ruiner of all things. No one.
Through all of the turmoil online “community” and online “relationships” sparked, I had only one place to turn. Words. I wrote furiously in my journals. Scribbled countless poems and jumbled messy words on napkins and calculus homework. They were my refuge, my release. I just wrote. Paying no attention to their importance or their weight. I had no clue that my words, the deepest parts of me, would lead me here.
After sharing some of my writing with a friend I was asked to join an online writing course. Honestly, I had no desire to join. I didn’t feel like I was cut out for it. Because, let’s be real, the one asking me to join had just published her book and I did a little stalking on some others in the group and was quickly convinced that I. Did. Not. Fit. Their words seemed to flow effortlessly from their fingers and geez, so eloquent. Not heady words (some were heady), but clearly communicated ones. Mine? My words just seemed to fall haphazardly to the floor and I would struggle to pick them up and arrange them in some sort of order that wasn’t complete nonsense. I didn’t want to join but I also couldn’t shake the feeling that this was what I had to do, what I needed to do. So, I told my friend to shut up and sign me up. Head first. I was in. Paid my dues and accepted the invite to the group. Even in the introductions I felt inadequate.
At first I was hesitant. I was pretty upfront and voiced my hesitations and was met with nothing but love and grace and open arms. “No rush. Whenever you’re ready, we’ll be here.” And when I was ready, they were. On the days I felt so brave they were cheering from the sidelines, putting courage in my heart. But also, on the days I wasn’t feeling so brave, they were there sitting with me in the quiet. This course was much more than “working on my writing skills”. It became something all together beautiful.
I flew to Michigan to hug the neck of one whose words breathed life into me on more than one occasion. I slept on her couch and met her family. She invited me into her life for a week and during that week loved me well. I stood outside in the rain on the shores of Lake Michigan explaining to yet another someone that her words literally saved my life. I was able to say thank you. I was able to affirm her words. I spent four days with 12 women at a lake house for a writer’s retreat. And I didn’t even write one word. We laughed and drank and danced…oh man, did we dance!
Almost every two weeks I drive 200 miles south to sit on her couch and watch The Walking Dead. I read bedtime stories to her kids and pour milk in their morning cereal. I drink her wine and we share our stories until the holiest hours of the morning. This is not just the overflow of an online writing community. It can’t be. It must be something different.
“Life: the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body”
That’s what this community has become. Over and over this community has been life giving to my weary heart. Time after time they have reminded me that I am alive and that I matter. They remind me that the world needs my story…and me.
My fear is that I will become my mother. My fear is that I will turn this thing into something that destroys everything and everyone I love. My fear is that this community is too good to be true. It is true that many of the choices we make each day have the opportunity to breathe life or death into our lives. I am not that different from my mother, after all. The same choice is on the table in front of me. But unlike her, I am determined to choose life. I am determined to fight for life. And I know these women are fighting with me and for me.