I set a goal in January: by June, I would have a solid crummy-first-draft of my book done. I even went to a workshop on how to create a daily writing practice; notes in my backpack, pressed daily up against my laptop, give me a roadmap and a way out of every excuse. I have the tools. I have the story.
It is August, and I do not have the solid crummy-first-draft.
I have forty-one crummy-first draft chapters, all leading up to a moment in the plot of my story when the drama comes to a full boil and holds there for six months. No matter how many times I sit down at my computer to write past it, I find myself doing other writing, working, checking Facebook, or editing previous chapters. Sometimes, I sit instead with the book proposal and churn through another chunk.
In my book, I have just, perhaps for the first time, been firm and angry with a doctor. I was biting and honest, and he deserved it. All these years later, I know he deserved it, but here I am, unable to write past it because a part of me still hangs on that precipice, heart pounding, wondering if I just ruined my daughter’s best chance at health. All the other parts of me are clear: it worked, she’s fine, he really did deserve it.
This is the moment in my life I can point to most easily when I read about the ways in which women are taught not to take up too much space — physically, of course, but mostly emotionally and intellectually. A 2015 New York Times article by Sloane Crosley includes this paragraph:
One commonly posited theory, which informs everything from shampoo commercials to doctoral dissertations, is that being perceived as rude is so abhorrent to women that we need to make ourselves less obtrusive before we speak up. According to a 2010 study in the journal Psychological Science, “women have a lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior,” so are more likely to see a need for an apology in everyday situations. We are even apt to shoehorn apologies into instances where being direct is vital…
When I told my daughter’s doctor — after he’d misdiagnosed her to the tune of a dozen endoscopies, all unnecessary — that I refused to take her to another sort of therapy he recommended if the issue she faced could only be resolved by surgery, I can’t be sure if that I didn’t use the words “I’m sorry.” It might have come out in a snide way, “I’m sorry, but I’m NOT going to take my daughter…” I think it’s possible that I apologized before defending my child against the person who I considered partially responsible for the worst thing to ever happen to her.
What-if-they-think-I’m-rude is a thought that goes through my head constantly. A visiting friend of mine who has known me longer than almost anyone in my life, gently pointed out to me this summer that I begin a large percentage of things I say to my own husband with “I’m sorry, honey…”
What the hell is wrong with me?
It’s as if, this summer as I stare down this next chapter of the book, I’m struck by how it can be true that my daughter is ok, after I dared to question the authority of her doctor.
And she is ok. She turned thirteen yesterday, all legs and messy hair, fresh from her first summer camp experience a solo-plane-ride away. She came home from camp and ate three huge pieces of pizza, five apricots, and a large bowl of M&Ms for her first meal home, a volume of food that would have been a week’s worth of dinners five years ago. The fact that she is ok is no longer something I need to repeat in my head on a daily basis. It’s me who is left not-ok from the journey, me who is left feeling wounded and battered, me who can write only to a certain point in the story with doubling back and re-reading, re-writing, staring at the summer blueberries on the counter and remembering the days when that was all she would eat.
What if my “rude” comment had made the hospital fearful of a lawsuit, and then what if they’d refused to let her surgeon treat her? What if we’d had to fly far away for treatment, left our older daughter with others, missed weeks of work and had Sammi feeling anxious so far from home? What if the surgeon treated her differently because of what I said? What if we’d been denied some services? What if they’d told us not to do anything just so we would stay away, and Sammi died from food impaction in her wrecked esophagus because I’d had to open my angry, bitter mouth?
This summer has been extraordinarily busy; it’s true. Precious visits with visiting overseas friends, more work than usual, lots of travel, logistics to manage for both kids — all of these making it hard to find time daily to write. Most of all, though, I think I am keeping myself from the next moment out of fear.
New goal: December 2018. Deep breath, not sorry, moving on.