ing, I saw one of the painting professors emerging from the path to the
woods. Embarrassed suddenly and hoping to remain anonymous—I’d
never taken a class with this professor, and though we’d passed in the
hallway, we’d never been introduced—I looked down at the last two
pieces of my sandwich, the cheese congealed to a shiny orange, the bread
damp and soggy, as the man came closer to where I waited. As if paralyzed, I didn’t move until he was near; then I looked up quickly, unable
to restrain myself. I imagined he’d pass by, perhaps not making eye contact, but to my surprise there were tears in his eyes. He nodded to me.
I nodded back. And then he stopped right beside me. “Thank you,” he
said softly, staring directly at me before he moved slowly away and began
climbing the stairs to the art library.
I watched him ascend, an older, dark-haired, slightly plump painter I
didn’t know, yet because of his astonishing words, I could move on too.
There’s someone in the bathroom at night who tries to stop me
from getting in.
Years pass. With time, my relationship with my father begins to mend,
though the patching is visible, jagged in places, smoothed over in others, like tiny broken capillaries sprinkled across fair, freckled skin. Each
time I go home, my father and I hug at the beginning and end of the
visit, but we remain wary, no loud sighing or noisy drama. By now, I’ve
moved both my location and my artistic desires. I’m at the Iowa Writers’
Workshop in Iowa City, studying fiction and living amid cornfields and
writers, men and women who’ve come here from every part of America,
their ambition charged and hungry, the competition visceral. I’d like
to say that at this stage of my life I’m grounded and confident, but I’ve
learned that to be a writer is more a collage of loose ends and knotted
threads, one’s steadiness dependent on the daily work of unraveling and
reconstructing a character’s destiny, one’s confidence a Rorschach of intent and uncertainty. Still, I hold fast to the shape of myself, happy to be
able to live this life.
The winter after I finish my MFA, I sit in a narrow upstairs room
writing a novel while outside my window, there’s a great white emptiness, the plowed cornfields covered in a fine drift of snow. Each day I put
on long underwear, jeans, sweater, boots, hat, gloves, scarf, and coat and
walk out onto the bumpy farm road that circles the house my husband
(whom I met in LA) and I share with a friend whose wife is teaching in