Last summer, at residency, I met this woman. She came as an alum and shared her words and I laughed and laughed and cried and cried. She was a student in my program’s first class. She read from her application to the MFA program, which she had written 13 years prior. She called it a plea for life.
While she spoke, I scribbled down notes, my eyes blurring with tears. Here is my favorite part:
Eventually, to the surprise of many including the Groom and myself, I married—beginning that phase of life many women refer to as The Lost Years. As often happened to intelligent women of my generation I busied myself by robotically performing the duties expected of me whether they made sense or not. I said “yes”a lot; smiled, nodded in agreement, changed diapers, learned to cook,
learned to clean, WANTED to clean, learned to drive and transport kids and things and stuff, gained weight, hated suburbia, lost perspective.
I had no options. Write—or shrivel up and die.
After her speech, I went up to her. I am introvert who fears talking to strangers but this woman was so incredible, I had to know her. She told me she wished she had a magic wand to tap each student with while she said, “be honest.” I kept thinking of that last semester, while I wrote my letters to my daughter. This isn’t honest enough, I thought to myself, and I revised until snot poured from my nose and the honest things I didn’t say before found homes in words.
Last semester I got to know Tonie as we shared emails and FaceTimed about the website she made. She said, “Holly, I’m 76 years old. I never thought I’d make a website,” and yet she did it. She is the most amazing woman. When I started writing my thesis preface, I emailed her asking if I could quote her. Because when I went to write about what I’ve done these past two years, I realized I haven’t done that much on my own. It’s people who brought me this far. People like Tonie who helped me recognize my need to find my own voice.