“Don’t give me any gifts. Unless it’s something I can eat,” I tell my friends. “I’m trying to unload, let go, recycle, send to the Salvation Army. I’ve been hanging on to too much for too long.” Like all the stuff I collected when my father died and everything I clung to after my daughter died. And like the manuscript I’ve been writing for three years. The manuscript that says, “You don’t have to let go of the one you love and thought you lost.”
So I’m wondering, what do I let go of and what do I keep, and why?
There’s my father’s gray bathrobe. It’s too big and totally not my color. I hang onto it because when I wear it I feel closer to him. Okay, this stays. But I don’t have to keep the hot-pink fake boa his girlfriend gave me.
My daughter’s stuffed puppy that she slept with every night of her life is a keeper. Until the day I cremate Puppy on a beach in Australia. Some things, like Marika’s poems and songs, I will never give up; her words encourage me. I wear her old cowboy boots to remind myself to be bold. But my closet is full of her tank tops and soccer socks. Someone else is going to love these.
As for the manuscript, the truth is I’ve kept it to myself because I’m afraid it’s not good enough. I’m scared of it being critically reviewed and rejected.
Fear is not a good reason to keep something. But fear is what I have and like grief, it isn’t simply let go of or gotten over. Like with grief, I need to face it, dive into it now and then, and explore it from the inside out. Isn’t this why I kept Marika’s cowboy boots?
In my mother’s house in Massachusetts, the sun splashed over the dining room table as I copied my query letter and the first ten pages of my manuscript into an email addressed to a carefully chosen literary agent. I paused to remember my daughter, her friend Jake, my father, and all the family and friends who watched me fumble, fall at times, and sometimes fly while I wrote my story. Sitting rigidly at the edge of the chair, I pressed cold fingertips into my chin.
“Go for it, mom,” I heard inside my head. Then I hit SEND.