Writing. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was doing it for the attention. I suspect I didn’t get enough as a child. Don’t get me wrong my parents were great. Best ever, I’d be willing to wager, the kind you just want more of. But, just as it’s said to a woman having her third child -- take care when the new one arrives, as you will be out of lap room--by the time I came along, fourth in a family of six, five girls and the youngest, a boy, I guess I was left hanging onto my mother’s left leg. My younger sister must have been stuck with … an elbow, maybe. And baby brother? Well, for some reason he ended up with a spot on her lap just the same.
The first time this shortfall of attention hit me was during an evening meal when I was eight. We lived in a row house half way up the hill on Limit Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland. A wide sloping alley connected the back yards of everyone we knew and loved. From her kitchen window my mother could respond to, “Hey, Mom, watch this!” no matter whose yard we were in.
Our dining room looked the same every night of the week. Patty, our little green parakeet stood chirping in her cage in the corner. Dad sat at the end nearest the window next to Theresa - the middle child and his favorite. Mom and baby brother Jack, or “Jackie,” as we called him until he begged us not to, were at the end closest the kitchen so Mom could jump up and down a dozen times during meals. On either side an older sister sat next to a younger one - Kathy along side Donna and Eileen next to me. Everyone who needed it had someone to cut his or her meat.
Dinnertime, for the most part, was lively and warm. Everyone chimed in. I can’t recall everything we chattered on about, but I know it was competitive, each one trying to hold the floor a little longer than another, or even better, get a good laugh out of the rest. This included my father, who usually won.
This particular evening I had been trying my darndest to tell everyone something special about my second grade day but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. So I huffed and I puffed and I finally screamed: “No one ever pays any attention to me!” and slammed my fork into my pile of peas. I stood up with gusto, my chair would have tumbled to the floor behind me had there been room. I stomped off through the kitchen and as I rounded the bend at the big white fridge with my final, “I’m running away!” I turned to see necks craned and forks frozen in space.
I’m sure my parents glanced knowingly at one another - possibly amused, and, I’d like to think, a tiny bit guilty, before my mother calmly placed her napkin on the table and said, "Kathleen, keep an eye on your brother," then excused herself to come help me pack.
Forty-six years later, with a child of my own and a successful practice in family medicine, I’m no longer stomping off when people don’t listen to me. But, I've recently weathered a brief but serious bout of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, which included a run-in with an unsympathetic legal system. Soon after, I decided to take writing classes at Chatham University to help me to make a coherent narrative out the months of journal entries I had been keeping during that process. There, I found that I had a reasonable ability to write in prose form, including scene and dialogue (though I feel my real strength as a writer may be my ability to be honest).
Thus, I’ve decided to officially apply to the MFA program. I see Chatham as a place where I can not only backfill the educational deficits left from a career focused on science and medicine, but also further my writing with guidance (and deadlines) from the extraordinary faculty in the MFA Department. And by majoring in Creative Nonfiction I hope to learn how best to interest, and possibly educate, readers in the little understood concept of small-t-trauma, PtSD, if you will – as when a life that is humming along gets interrupted, rerouted to an entirely new landscape, by an experience that might otherwise be viewed as minor.
Am I doing this for the attention? So my voice can be heard, without interruption, until a complete thought is expressed? Perhaps. My family forgave my dramatic trip to the front step, which was as far as I ventured. I returned to be folded among them like a sheet still warm from the dryer. But maybe it’s time I let go, finally, of my mother’s left leg. To venture beyond my own back yard. To harvest from my own life the time and focus I need to tell the story of an imperfect life and follow through with my passion to write, and, if the stars line up just right, publish, my memoir...
(Hey, Mom, watch this!)