Welcome to The Burning Hearth. Ah, summer has finally arrived. I hope you and your families continue to be safe and well. For the June/July pairing, I have teamed up with author Amanda Zieba to share our creative nonfictions on that moment when we first knew we wanted to write.
When I taught dance, I had many students profess their love of dance and their desires to become professionals. While I always took their passion for dance seriously, I would tell them to talk to me again when they were seniors in high school, and, if they still desired to become a professional, it might actually mean something. Out of the hundreds of students I taught over my 25-year career, four students went on to become professionals.
My story today is about the moment when I realized I wanted to write (and dance) for the rest of my life. Because it is what I do now, that moment meant something. Unlike the moments I professed I wanted to be an archeologist, an actor (but only on Star Trek), or a cosmologist.
One Hot Summer
The summer of 1979 was hot and humid, not unlike any other summer in the small southeastern Iowa town of my youth. I was 13 that year, and once the final school bell rang, freeing me from the confines of a desk and homework, I was ready to hit the pool with my best friend.
Everyday after lunch, for the previous two summers, I had jumped on my midnight-blue Kabuki and peddled the four miles to her house. She’d be waiting for me in her driveway, and together we’d bike the remaining two miles to the pool.
Seldom did these days end before dinnertime. And, on occasion, we enjoyed a cheeseburger from the treat shack and went right on swimming until the pool closed, racing home in the waning light of the day. I can still see myself rounding the corner into our drive, passing the maple tree, and parking my bike on our patio just as full darkness came on.
But something was different that summer of ’79. On the first day of freedom, while enjoying a lazy breakfast, my mother told me, “Get dressed. You’re coming to the office with me for the day.”
For the day! Surely, I had heard her wrong, but no, I had not. By 9:00 a.m. I was twiddling my thumbs in a small room with a desk and chair located in the corner of my mother’s downtown Manpower office. I did that for the entire day, and the next day, and the next, all the way through the first full week of summer.
With no explanation as to why I was being held captive, I began to grow angry knowing my friends were enjoying the pool while I sat, with absolutely nothing to do, in her office. I might have understood, if she had a task she needed my help with, but she didn’t.
Mad as I was after that first week, it was nothing compared to the following week. Midway through the second week of my forced confinement, I had a meltdown. Since I was in her office, I kept it all contained. Outwardly, I might have scowled from time to time, but inside, anger ricocheted off all the walls of my being. Frustrated, with no understanding of my situation and no outlet for my emotions, I took a sheet of paper and penned my ire into a poem. And then, another poem, and another.
As I moved into the third week (yes, third week) of my imprisonment, I wrote a short story. It had nothing to do with my feelings; but rather, it was about Old Lady Carlson, the eccentric woman who lived across the street from us.
I wrote, nonstop, for the entire week. Time evaporated as words left my pencil, forming stories of my creation on the paper in front of me. I realized that anything I could imagine, I could write. Next to dancing, I had never been so engaged. I fell in love.
At the end of the third week, with as little explanation coming out as going in, my mother set me free. On that first day, with the furnace-hot wind of an Iowa summer blowing against my face and tossing my hair, I raced down the Elm Street hill, hands off the handlebars (And, no helmet. Yes, I know now this was not very bright.), and said these words in my head, I’m going to dance until I’m 30, and pursue a writing career after that. While I danced 14 years longer than I expected, I have done, and do, both. Everyday that I write, I embody my younger self, hands off the handlebars, wind whipping my hair, free.
I hope you enjoy The Burning Hearth. If you do, please share it with the story lovers in your life. The most wonderful thing about a cyber hearth is that an unlimited number of people can gather together to share its warmth.