I’ve never been too good at letting go, even with small things. Hell, I’m still hanging onto some size six clothes from the late 80’s (not sure if this is out of unfounded optimism, sheer folly, or a merely a strange affinity for shoulder pads). So letting go of important people and things is especially trying for someone like me. My reluctance to even send my 16-year old away for a simple two-week trip with her grandparents drove this realization home. But I find myself in what seems to be a season of letting go—of a parent, not of my choosing; of a child, off to new adventures as a newly-minted adult; and of long-held dreams that may well remain just that. These days it seems the only thing I’m not losing is weight (and with that class reunion looming, that’s a whole ‘nother issue).
The loss of my mother has been especially hard because technically she isn’t gone. But for all intents and purposes she is–now merely a sad, lonely prisoner of prescription drugs that have locked her into her own deadened universe, well beyond a point at which anyone can reach, let alone help her. The hardest part about losing her might well be that: she’s not officially gone. Except the mother that I once knew is. And the stranger in her stead is helpless and hopeless. While it feels like I’m quitting by giving up on her (and I’m not a quitter), I know I can no longer allow her to ensnare me in her addiction. It’s a loss that is perhaps most bitter, having seen the toll her abuse has taken on everyone whose lives she touches. Not to mention having to witness someone who lived a good life allowing it to wither away like an untended flower until it fades into nothingness. Maybe the logic of it makes it hardest: how can anyone waste a life like that?
With the “loss” of a child to the inevitable transitioning into adulthood, well, that’s not at all bitter. Bittersweet, perhaps, but it’s something that is ultimately the happy culmination of many years of love and caring. While I’ll miss my girl like mad when she’s gone off to college, I’ll revel in her ever-expanding world, enjoying as she seizes opportunities she can’t yet imagine are in front of her. I know despite her anxiety over the unknown, ultimately she’ll be happy, and that eases the sense of loss that inevitably accompanies a child moving away. Although I’d be lying if I said there won’t be plenty of tears shed over the next several weeks.
My third loss is even less tangible but saddening nonetheless. I’ve worked endlessly over the past several years to try to establish a successful career as a writer that would enable me to actually earn enough to enjoy a career as a writer. Unfortunately I picked a rotten time in the history of publishing to do so, with an industry in the grips of radical change, a public that doesn’t actually pay for books anymore, and an economy that doesn’t encourage it anyway.
And so I find myself at a crossroads, in which I can no longer afford to try to sustain the full-time job of writing, and need to find a full-time job to support my full-time job. I know that inevitably what this means is that my writing career will be relegated to the wee hours of the morning, and the incremental gains I’ve worked so hard for will creep back as I’m unable to continue the consuming work of finding readers and getting my name out there (not to mention the actual writing part). Probably what is most frustrating about this is that the likelihood of my having succeeded fiscally only a few short years ago was great. But timing is everything, and with a publishing world that is in dire straits, my family can no longer afford to support my tilting at windmills.
I remember years ago when I was first trying to become a published author I met a woman who asked me what I did. When I told her she said, “Oh, my mother tried to publish her books. She’s dead now.”
In a business fraught with rejections, there have been times along the way that I could pretty much relate to her mother’s current state—and I’ve been lucky enough to achieve Part A of that dream: I’ve succeeded as a published author–hard enough under the best of circumstances. But I’m sad that in today’s world a career in panhandling likely pays better than a career in writing.
My eyes well up as I write this—at the losses themselves, perhaps at the compounded nature of it. Losing a little here and there is hard enough but the onslaught of many at once is sometimes overwhelming. And I can’t help but mourn the loss of what could have been, just as I mourn the loss of what once was with my mother. But now is the time to turn my focus to what can be.
As my daughter faces the unknown with great apprehension, so do I. But also I know I’ll make lemonade from these lemons and will turn this into something of a gain. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even write about it some day.
And while I hang onto those shoulder-padded clothes that wouldn’t fit if my life depended upon it, I’ll continue to cling tightly to my dream, and hope that someday, now against even greater odds, Part B will indeed materialize. It’s a dream I choose not to abandon, circumstances be damned.