There comes a point when you know you're a writer. When all of the silly self doubts and uncertainties about your future get cleared away like a dirty table at a five star restaurant. How? you may ask. You'll just... know. Here's how I knew. This is the point when I knew I was a writer, and nothing else. When it was hammered into my brain that this is what I want to do. This is what I need to do. My dearly beloved tells me that writers are arrogant things, drunk on the belief that everyone in the world wants to hear what they have to say. That's not why I'm here. That's not why I write. Writing is the only true way I know how to express myself.
My aunt Olivia died recently. I'm 24 years old, and she is the only person close to me who has ever died. I consider myself lucky that I've gone this long without losing a family member, and I'm grateful that I'm old enough both to remember her and to cherish the memories of her that I've had since I started forming memories. She died of cancer on my grandmother's 91st birthday.
I knew I was a writer when I heard her shuffling down the hallway of the trailer she lived in with her husband. It's a trailer, so imagine the sound. Thump. Pause. Thump. Pause. I was sitting on a couch where I could hear, but not see, her approach. I was watching my father's eyes as he took her in, looking down the hallway where she was struggling to come to us, the last time she would ever see us all together. I was watching his eyes as he saw his dying sister. They were watching her. I was watching them. And there was nothing I wanted to do more at that point in time then to take my notebook out of my purse and start taking notes.
I felt like a monster. I felt inhuman, an emotionless being that had no right to intrude in on this scene of grief. But I still wanted it. More than anything, I wish I could have been left alone with her. For ten minutes. A half hour. I wanted to sit with her and ask her what she was feeling, what she was thinking, now that death was so close. Now that there was no escape. I wanted to sit and ask her the questions that were burning in my mind, that have always burned there. What is death like, for one so close to it? What does dying feel like?
I didn't get my ten minutes. Even if I had gotten the chance, I wouldn't have done it. She was a human being, deserving of the respect that I was reluctant to give, more enthralled with the story than the human element of it.
I loved her. I still love her. I only got to ask her one question. I was saying goodbye to her. We were holding each other's hands, and I was looking into her eyes, bright and a color of blue that I had never really paid attention to before, and we were crying. She told me that it was okay. And do you know my question?
Do you promise?
Like a child. Just like a child. And she told me yes.
This is the first time I've written this down. Do you know why I'm a writer? To deal with the world. To ask the questions that can never be answered. To heal my hurts, to soothe my pains. Writing is the struggle to hold my broken heart together. Writing is the release of every joy I have ever experienced. Writing is sorrow, frustration, elation; writing is my life.
When it happens to you, you'll know it, too.