In May 2005, hugely pregnant and ugly crying, I waved goodbye to my husband and backed my car out of my driveway. If one were to see me at that moment, it would appear something was horribly wrong. And it was.
I was leaving my house and my husband to go to a reading conference in San Antonio. Not leaving permanently or anything, just simply leaving their presence. And it undid me. At the time, I was fighting terrible anxiety—panic attacks, generalized anxiety, near-agoraphobic. In short, I feared I was going crazy.
I pulled it together enough drive my fellow teacher and me three hours to the conference. For three days, I would learn about reading and teaching. I’d get to stay in a
swanky hotel and dine finely okay-ly while my school district signed the receipts. For my unborn baby’s sake, I tried to be cool, calm and collected. It was important that I was chill, dang it, and in spite of all the things that could go wrong.*
During the fourth general session of the conference, Dave Barry took the stage. He spoke a little and then made a joke at Ridley Pearson’s, his co-author, expense. Pearson soon joined him and they spoke about the book they’d written (Peter and the Star-catchers). The talk was interesting, and, I’m sure, funny, but I was too busy having my life saved to remember much of it.
In introducing Pearson, Barry made some comment about walking into Ridley Pearson’s house and finding sticking notes of various ways to commit crimes. My first thought was, “I can’t believe this guy is outing Pearson’s crazy like that.” Then, I realized with a slow-blooming awareness, that if it was okay that Ridley Pearson was crazy, then maybe it was okay that I was crazy too.
I didn’t feel so scared all of a sudden. Like my weirdo thoughts of things that could happen might not be the worst thing ever. In fact, maybe the barrage of what-if’s and fabricated motives and conspiracies could be productive. And maybe, just maybe, if Ridley Pearson was a writer, then I was a little bit of a writer too.
After the fateful conference, where, despite my fears, the only life-altering thing that occurred took place inside my own mind, I came home and pregnant-waddled into my house, kissed my husband, sat down with my laptop, and embraced my crazy.
My first book was bad. So, so very bad. BUT my brain felt like it finally sneezed after years of being tickled with a feather. My next book was a little better, but not ready. The one after that got me an agent, and the future is yet unknown for that one and the two that followed.
My unborn baby is now a wonderful, twerpy 9-year-old boy. He’s got a 7-year-old brother and a 5-year-old sister (and they all listened to Peter and the Star Catchers our on last road trip). I’ve stopped thinking I’m “crazy” and now understand I’m “creative.” I invite the thoughts that used to interrupt my day. I sift through those creative thoughts to determine if they’ll be strong enough to carry a reluctant hero through to the other side of a story.
But those particularly scary thoughts, the ones that keep me up at night, I have a trick for them: I grab a pen and a sticky note, and I write them down. Then I put the sticky note somewhere that my neighbors won’t see it. That was another thing I took away from the speech where Barry and Pearson saved my life.
* Things such as: ONCE UPON A TIME, when the convention center was being built, the construction worker in charge of mixing concrete stayed up all night gambling. After losing all his money, he lost yet another bet and was forced to streak across downtown San Antonio. About two blocks in, the cops saw him and chased him through the city as they yelled things in their walkie-talkies about a naked man running through the streets. (One of the cops got close enough to get him, but there really wasn’t any good way to grab a nude.) To the cops’ dismay, the man escaped. To the man’s dismay, his wild night meant that he did not get a single wink of sleep before he replaced his missing britches, donned his hard hat and went to work mixing concrete for the corner stone of the convention center. Because of this man’s lack of slumber, he used a 2:1 ratio instead of the necessary 2:1.37 ratio. All seemed fine until that fateful day years later, the day 3 of the reading convention, when the natural frequency of the wind, the ground shift due to fracking in a neighboring town and the incorrectly combined cement mixture caused the cornerstone to collapse, bringing the rest of the building with it.
And that was just one possibility.
Even if the effects from fracking hadn’t quite reached San Antonio, there were so many more things that could happen.
Like maybe… In a nearby prison, a just-found-Jesus convict had uncovered a plan for his untimely demise by his cellmates–he took the last yeast roll during grub the day before, so he knew it was coming. Actually, since he was now a religious man, he snatched the roll on purpose as his current choices consisted of spending the rest of his natural life scratching hash marks in a 8×8 cell or running headlong into the pearly gates. He intended to meet death on his own terms, and it would not be at the hands of the men that would never let him have the good seat on TV night! He escaped (Shawshank style) simply to feel the air outside of confinement one last time before he met Saint Peter and for a cigarette in case heaven had nary a smoking section . Knowing it was simply a matter of time before he was hunted down by The Man, he wandered through the streets of downtown San Antonio, steady and resolved and waiting to be recognized. He felt almost relieved when the cops finally saw him. He knew two things when he heard their shouts: 1. If they caught him alive, they’d just put him back and let his “friends” do the dirty work, and 2. He had to give them a reason to shoot. That’s why he ran into the convention center where some big meeting was going on. Tons of witnesses, tons of people the police felt they had to protect. As the bullets flew, he wondered why the people were all gathered. The large banners probably would have explained it, but alas, he had never learned to read, which sadly, gave him little other choice for his future other than this doomed life of crime.
But I don’t even know if there are prisons near San Antonio.
And that doesn’t even matter, because maybe on a crazy-winding day, the manager of the hotel that held the convention was feeling on a little on edge as she walked into work. She thought she’d moved on with her life, pushed her past into the deep, dark confines of her soul where it belonged. But that was before she got an email from her ex-husband professing his forgiveness for her transgression. She knew something was up. Her ex was not the forgiving type—and most certainly not for the fact that he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime his didn’t commit because of her. But it wasn’t her fault really. It was her family’s. She had such low self-esteem because she always felt judged by her family, never felt like they trusted her. Probably because of the time her big sister fell out of a tree and broke her leg and the said sister told everybody, including the doctor’s and nurses, that her little sister had pushed her. And they all believed her. Even though it was just a tiny push. It was probably her family’s lack of faith that made her always fall for the wrong men—including the guy she married and her (ex) lover. The latter, in fact, was the one that pushed her to find freedom with the framing. Too late she’d discovered his true nature. The second he’d managed to crack her bank account code, he’d come clean, saying he felt guilty because he didn’t really love her, he’d tricked her in order to steal her money and also something about a mistake he’d made due to sleep deprivation. He had a gambling problem, he confessed, and his construction job wasn’t enough to pay his bills. He swore the guilt was eating him alive between her and the improperly mixed concrete or something stupid and he intended to come clean. She’d barely listened as she made him pay.
But now, it was all okay, she told herself. She just needed to sit a minute, to relax and reset. She ducked into the large auditorium with hundreds of people shuffling around in various stages of seat finding, chatting and waiting for something to start. As manager, she should have known what it was, but didn’t really care. She chose a spot next to a particularly nervous looking woman. Settling into her chair, she reminded herself that her ex was tucked safely away in prison, and her (ex)lover was unable to—well, anything. Just as she was really calming down, a commotion started behind her. Turning to see if she was going to have to put on her manager-hat to address it, she gasped. Her past had come for her. How did her ex-husband find her? Why were the police with him? Were they coming for her? But her ex never looked her way as the cops aimed at him and pulled the trigger. She used her seat-neighbor as a human shield as the shots rang out. Thank goodness, she thought, she sat next to this hugely pregnant woman whose sheer girth would protect her.
When she felt the rubble hit her head, she looked up as a reflex. Even through the chaos simultaneously heard the wind outside howl as it hit the building and felt the ground shift beneath her feet. Right before the building fell onto them, the woman she ducked and covered behind sighed and said, “I knew something exactly like this would happen.”