I grew up with cardboard in the bottom of my shoes, fighting with my twin sister, reading in trees, mainlining salmon and venison while not-so-secretly wishing for McDonalds. We were poor. I didn’t know it, not really, not until I realized my lunch tickets were a different color, strobing fluorescent pink indicating free lunch. In middle school, kids mocked me for being a dork (reading while walking down the hall, wearing a beret) but not for wearing Goodwill Bargains. Well deserved, my friends, well deserved. God, I hated middle school. But I kept reading and writing.
I used my voice to get through college, honored with a full ride scholarship as I competed for the speech team. Then I became editor of the college literary magazine Perceptions, which thankfully snagged me another scholarship. One of my proudest moments came when I was inducted into Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society. I earned first an AA in journalism, then a MAT in secondary education/language arts. Never in my life will I regret my time teaching literature and writing and speaking skills to teenagers. I loved every minute of my time on the stage in front of those kids. Well, ok, there was that one time, but that’s a story for a different time . . .
Now I’m mother to a charming, eight-year-old whirling dervish named Auggie. I’ve had to change my identity; I’m not a high school teacher anymore, thanks to some kid sneezing on an essay and handing me a page full of mononucleosis. To this day, I deal with wavering energy and my mental stamina. But . . . whatever. Since then, I turned 40, flew to Indonesia, walked my kindergartner to the bus on his first day of school, sobbed on my resignation letter, finished writing my first novel, found an agent, started my second novel and my own consulting business, and . . . ta da . . . now I’m ensconced in my dream job. I am a literary agent with MacGregor Literary Agency.
Auggie saved my life, in those first months of the illness, when I was dizzy and fuzzy and sitting down to shower. “Get up, Momma. Play with me, Momma.” So I did. I got up, waited with him in the dusky dawn on his first day of school. I waved as his bus lumbered down the road. I wanted to be in my own classroom, on my own little stage, staring down seniors, handing out copies of Beowulf and writing process flow charts.
I had taught language arts at Neah-Kah-Nie High School for fifteen years. My greatest love was teaching writing, and coaching the speech and debate team. I earned the Oregon Speech Educator of the Year in 2007, plus two national educator awards from the National Federation of High Schools (2007, 2008). My speech team won the OSAA State Speech Championship two times; I’ve coached six kids to nine individual State Champion trophies. I started my team from scratch, in a tiny rural area. It surprised me as much as anyone else when the team eventually grew to be larger than the football team. (Those weren’t our best years, actually, since I couldn’t keep track of so many speeches . . . or so many kids. Shhh. Don’t tell.) I was also behind the scenes of a number of speech tournaments, including the State Tournament. I took my role as a role-model for students and a leader among my peers seriously, working hard to deserve the responsibility.
It was on one of those impossible, stressful days that I received the phone call from my doctor. “You have mono. You’re infectious. And your spleen is about to explode. Go home.” Oh my God, I was so grateful to her. To hear that I had permission to go to bed, to relax, to give up the reigns for a while? Seriously, I laugh now when I think about how happy I was to be told to leave. Who knew it would be forever?
Obviously, I had no idea how bad my symptoms would get, that many of the symptoms seem to be permanent. I’ve learned how to pace myself, to parcel out my energy like it’s the last salt grains in the world – but, most importantly, how to be grateful to the Universe. If I hadn’t been forced to stop, look around and redefine myself, I would not be here, in the wonderful life I have now. I’m on my second novel! I have an agent! I work for a literary agency! I’m the envy of every English major in the U.S. Finally, every night, I’m home, Auggie’s little tow head tucked into my shoulder, cuddling as we work our way through every Star Wars book ever written.