A fellow traveler, a novice flier bound for her brother’s college graduation ceremony, meant well when she asked about my travel plans.
My vague reply, after a moment’s hesitation: “I’m going to see family in South Carolina.”
She must have seen something in my expression, as she promptly changed the topic.
I was relieved.
Despite the number of these kinds of cross-country trips I’ve made in recent years, I’ve yet to perfect an elegant deflection. No one really wants to hear that I’m traveling to help care for my dad, whose numerous health problems are dissolving him, rendering him increasingly dependent.
Witnessing my dad’s illness has caused me to shift focus in my own life, to leave a demanding job to explore independent creative work. I can all too easily imagine a future in which I, too, am stalked by debility. I fear losing the ability to function, fear leaving important things undone.
In dealing with the present crisis – in helping to pack up my dad’s apartment and downsize his belongings to move him to an assisted living facility – I discovered a piece of my past that reinforces the path I’m charting to my future, to my true self.
My dad is a bit of a hoarder. He saves collections of paperwork and assorted electronics parts, just in case they may some day be needed. As a result of several hasty relocations and the ravages of disease on cognitive function, these collections became hopelessly jumbled.
In one folder, sandwiched between legal papers from a late-90s car accident and junk mail from the AARP, I found a yellowing booklet bound with white yarn, its cover illustrated with strawberries and rainbows. It was a project I had done in fourth grade – an assignment to write a series of essays about myself.
Amid boxes of my dad’s belongings sorted into “keep” and “store/sell” piles, I paused to reconnect with my self of thirty years ago. I laughed at childish descriptions of sibling rivalry in “About My Family” and smiled at awkward use of simile in “What I’m Like.”
The final essay in the booklet was entitled “What I’ve Always Wanted.”
My desires at the time included a bay horse and a room of my own. Career ambitions were included in this section, too, though I’m not sure whether that was through proclivity or prompting.
In 1984, I wanted to be: an Olympic medalist (sport unspecified), a wildlife photographer, an artist, and . . . an author.
I was struck by how much my current inner dialogue is reflected in the ambition and self-criticism of fourth-grade me:
Sometimes I sit and dream what fun it would be to be an author but when I sit down and write a story (like now) I think to myself “Yuck!”
Thirty years ago, I wanted to be a writer, but doubted I could write well enough to pull it off. Now, I’ve left a respectable job and taken a leap of faith that the words I put out there into the world will somehow have an impact and lead to new opportunities.
But I still struggle with that same self-doubt.
The difference now is that a fear of death drives me forward, over those speed bumps my inner critic keeps throwing up.
My dad’s illness ignited a spark, a nagging feeling that I need to chase that long-buried desire of my fourth-grade self, before it’s too late to become an author.
Me, then and now. We both want to be writers, we’re both plagued by self-doubt, but the Now Me knows how short her one and precious life can be.
Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw