Tuesday, August 19, 2014

12 years later: Boyhood and Sally


I recently went to the movies with my childhood friend Joanne to see Boyhood. Filmed over 12 years, director Richard Linklater caught on film the magic and misery of growing up. 

We meet the main character, Mason, as a six-year-old boy lying on the grass, staring up into the blue sky. And we watch as he morphs into a shaggy-haired 10-year-old on a dirt bike, a troubled 13-year-old hating his alcoholic stepfather, and later a thoughtful, if not a bit pompous, 18-year-old going off to college.

Played by the same actor, Ellar Coltrane, covering 12 years of his well, boyhood, this feat in modern filmmaking leaves us inexplicably attached to him. Not much happens in the movie, but we root for him. We want him to figure himself out. We want him to have a good life.  

Today, as I honor the 12-year anniversary of my mother's death, part of me wishes I could watch a film of my life over the past dozen years. Sounds narcissistic, I know. But I think it would help me realize how much I've grown. 

Sometimes it's hard to remember that. Like on Sunday night, when the anticipation of the anniversary coming and the pain of missing my mom squeezed my heart so tight I couldn't sleep. On that night I felt like a little girl—the 17-year-old who found out her mom had cancer, the 20-year-old whose mom died. 

But a part of me fought it. You're 32, I thought, you're too fucking old for this.

I'm tired of it hurting. 

I'm tired of it continuing to hurt. 

This year carries a particular weight. Although it feels amazing to have finished writing the memoir my mom and I began co-writing when she was sick, I feel heartsick for not being able to share it with her. I find myself telling her over and over again, while pedaling on the elliptical, while walking in the sunshine down the street, before I go to sleep at night: I finished it, Mom. I finished our book. I fucking finished it. (She didn't really mind cursing.) 

Friends, and friends' moms, and my mother-in-law, and my very sweet readers have been telling me that I should continue blogging. That people will find comfort in seeing how far I've come and that things get better. But on nights when I feel my heart pinch with pain, I doubt myself. What do I have to offer? How much has really changed?

After a fitful sleep on Sunday night, I woke up on Monday morning and headed to the gym. I pedaled as fast as I could on the elliptical and thought about my mom. I thought about how I want things to be different. That I want to be more accepting of her death. I know that is the final piece that is missing. 

Walking home from the gym, a Muse song I loved in college blasting on my headphones, I spotted a guy I knew from college who had recently moved to my neighborhood. He was even wearing a backpack. It was as if I was transported back to the Syracuse University quad. 

And yet. So much has changed. I live in Brooklyn. I'm a working writer. I'm married, about to celebrate my two-year anniversary. I have more gray hair than black. A few days earlier I'd spent the day at the beach with my college roommate—and her two-year-old daughter.

I feel 32. But in a good way. 

I am no longer that grieving girl, even if she rears her ugly head every once in a while. She will always be a part of me, the same way my mom will always be a part of me. We can't let go of who we are. But we can hold on with all our might to who we've become and the happiness we've found. And that's what I intend to do. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Holding my memoir for the first time


My really nice friends have been saying really nice things like, "Wow, I can't believe you finished writing the book!" and "What an accomplishment!" and "That must feel so good."

But there's something about a Word doc in your Google Drive that doesn't give you that warm and fuzzy feeling.

So today I put that PDF on a jump drive and beelined over to Kinkos (or I guess what is now officially FedEx Office Print & Ship Center--ugh, what a mouthful). I'd been putting off the task for months, intimidated by the finality of it, and I expected to hand over the file and pick it up after work.

So I was stunned to learn that I could print it myself, and that it'd be ready immediately. 276 pages. 13 cents a page. 5 minutes, if that. What was so hard to write was so easy to print. Something about it all made me want to cry. 

I watched, bewildered, as the photocopy machine purged my pages. It felt like witnessing the delivery of a child. Blinking back tears, I berated myself: Marisa, do not cry at Kinkos. Instead, I gazed up at the enormous vent, which snaked from the machine to the ceiling and looked like an oversized Slinky. 


Composing myself, I brought all 276 pages to the front desk and braced myself as I watched the young salesman punch holes in my pages and thread a wire binding through it. I critiqued his every move as if he were performing surgery. I wondered if he was looking at the title--"Sally's Circle"--or glimpsing a word here or there--"cancer," "two months to live"--and wondering what in the world this little girl was doing writing about such heavy things.

But nothing was heavier than walking out of the store, holding the enormity of what my mom and I had built over the last fourteen years. 

I took a walk to clear my head and stumbled upon, of all things, Marshall's--one of my mom's favorite stores where we'd always shop together. (I never even knew there was one on the Upper West Side.) I was debating going in when suddenly the sale sign outside began to move towards me. Seriously. Granted, it was on wheels, and it was a bit windy--but still. It was sort of eery, in a "Is that you, Sally?" kind of way. So I went in and flipped through dresses and pajamas and handbags. Nothing caught my eye, but the familiar ritual was soothing.

The truth is, I don't know what Mom would think of our book. She started it, but I finished it. How I wish it could have been a collaborative process the whole way through--and maybe it was, just in a metaphysical way. I do know that when I saw that book printed, a firm voice inside me said: Sally's name is on that page, and that's important. What you're holding matters. It matters.