My love for words began when I learned how to read. It’s funny…those random moments we remember. I remember the first time I read aloud, astounding myself. I was absolutely thrilled knowing somehow that my world changed at that very moment. And being able to read my own name in a school book was an added bonus! Dick, Jane, Tom, Sally, Puff and Spot. Sally even looked a little like me. How cool is that?! I can close my eyes and am transported back to second (or was it third) grade standing at the chalkboard adding a column of two digit numbers. I was the fastest in the class.
I don’t really remember when I started writing. I think it was when I got my first diary at the age of eleven. It was red and I would write in it while waiting for the timer to go off on my Easy Bake Oven. But there are significant writing moments that come to mind as sharp as though it were 45 years ago. We had just moved for the second time to Columbia, a historic small town in the foothills that came out of the Gold Rush era. I set up a card table in the living room. I was going through a rough patch my parents having divorced, moving away from friends and family. It was just after noon and the room was filled with sunlight. I was writing about my feelings, wishing I would just vanish from the face of the earth. I drew a train running over a stick figure. The room darkened when a cloud passed before the sun. It was around one o’clock in the afternoon. I later found out that my mother’s boyfriend died at that moment. I never wished for death again. (Well, until the following year when I got my first migraine and later when endometriosis gripped me in excruciating pain one day a month.)
Life was betterat fourteen. We’ve moved into a house with a swimming pool. It’s around nine o’clock at night. I’m sitting in the carport with my trusty card table as I lack a space of my own. It’s my mother’s birthday and a beautiful night in May. I have the card table pulled as far as my extension cord will allow so I can sit under the stars. A large moth circles my desk lamp which is bent as close to the binder paper as possible so I can enjoy the dark. I write my first adult poem, “The Game.” As I read what I have written I am amazed by the words that have been written by my own hand.
I grew up writing to my father. He was devastated by the loss of daily contact with my brother, sister, and me. He returned to the place of comfort he came to know during World War II, the sea and the Merchant Marines. The Viet Nam war was raging and his ship was supplying our forces. Writing letters to my father really honed my writing skills. Dad and I had a great relationship. I wrote to him about everything that was going on in my life and he wrote back with words of fatherly observations and guidance. He regretted his physical distance in my life until his death.
The Department of Corrections (my employer) asked me to write articles spotlighting various people in the agency. I wrote for the Women’s Council so I focused these vinettes on women’s issues in a men’s system. I was excited when the first newsletter came out but I was ecstatic when one of my articles was published in the departmental newspaper. The accompanying photograph was of a female transportation officer who I met years later and spent many a lunch hour. I sent copies to all my family and realized that I was now a published author. I was paid to write.
It was the most important letter of my life and I knew it would be the last letter my father would ever read. I wrote and mailed it hoping that my physical presence would soon follow. (Actually, I beat the letter there.) The past few years had been rough for everyone. Dad had felt his time growing short and had information he wanted to convey. He was like John Travolta in “Phenomena” and was having epiffanies. It was important to him that I know how the breathing cycle worked. I breathed and that was good enough for me. My heart was talking to him and his head was talking to me. It made communicating difficult. But in my letter I said everything I hadn’t already said to him and reinforced what was important. His physical absence in my life had turned me into a writer, formed my character, and affected who I was as a person. I told him that I loved who I was and hoped he did, too. I remember thinking as I took ink to paper that I had to use the perfect words in this…the last letter to my father. I wanted him to feel loved beyond pain, happiness beyond fear, and cherished beyond doubt. I was there when the mail came and my letter delivered. I gave it to the hospice nurse to read on his last day of being fully present. I couldn’t read it myself. I didn’t want to cry and possibly disappoint him. We had many discussions about death and he didn’t want us to be sad. Dad was excited about crossing over for he was going to know ALL the answers to ALL his questions. No, I could not read aloud my last written words to my father. I think I was hoping they would mean more hearing them from a stranger.
I know not where random written thoughts will take me but I see where words have taken me thus far. I have bonded with people around the world who I may never meet in person but include in my circle of friends. I have woven scenes from my travels to share with those who aren’t able to venture far from home. And I have realized the power of words, written or spoken. I forced myself to face my fear of public speaking and joined a lunch hour Toastmasters group. I embraced the assignments and found comfort in knowing we were all there for the same reason and combatted that same fears. It became a bit of a game to me as I brought my peers to tears then left them laughing in the same speech. I personally witnessed the power of MY OWN words.