Small talk in the conference room while waiting for the readings to begin.
“Are you a writer?”
“Are you reading?”
“How long have you been writing?”
“Are you published or working on projects for publication?”
I ask and I answer roughly the same questions over and over and I feel so out of place. One moment I am a writer, discussing her craft. The next I am a grieving mother, cloaking her grief in practiced words.
The small talk seems so out of place given what I am about to do. I’m having second thoughts. Third thoughts. I want to flee and soon have more reasons to leave than to stay.
It’s too soon.
Why did I ever think I could do this?
Or even should do this?
And these selections . . .
My name is called and I walk to the podium. I am no longer author or mother. I am an observer. I watch myself walk. I hear myself introduce what I am about to read. I listen to two paragraphs of For a moment I forget and from my vantage point, my voice sounds strong. But then John flips on the radio and I am back in the car on the highway in the middle of the night sinking under the weight of my son’s death.
My voice quivers and breaks as the tears begin to sting my eyes. I fight for control and find it at the start of the next selection. We are a happy family starts off rather impersonal. It is a simple recounting of a day. I am able to regain my distance from the text and with that my composure. But then there’s Tiggy, sitting in his car down by the garden. My voice is almost pleading as I sketch out a little picture of life with my little boy and I feel the tears begin to flow as the story returns to the seed catalogs, allowing me just enough distance to fight my way through.
I end with The amazing thing about love, though the words have blurred and I have to stop for them to clear. I am met with total silence as I collect my papers and return to my seat, avoiding eye contact. Applause starts as I find my row but it sounds so far away and it takes me most of the next person’s reading just to catch my breath.
I did it. I’m not sure what that means. If it was good, or silly or healthy or mad. But I did it.