The snow tumbled inside my high healed shoe as my left foot swung out of the car door and into a plowed snowbank on the side of the street. Although I had lived through five Maine winters at this point, I still couldn’t grasp the concept that one would wear LL Bean Boots while, at the same time, wearing a fancy cocktail dress. I changed my mind about winter shoe fashion on that cold December night. But that was not the only thing that shifted for me that evening.
This incident happened about fifteen years ago, and it was at an annual holiday party among a group of my friends. This gathering had started as a yearly ritual to give my friends and I an excuse to wear the fancy clothing we purchased for weddings and other special occasions but rarely wore again. Plus, it was a way to lighten the dark cold winter months and have fun together.
Once inside the hosts’ warm West End Condo in Portland and after making my rounds of hugs, hellos and jovial small talk, I made a beeline to the bar in the dining room to make myself a festive vodka martini. Once I plopped the last of the three olives into the martini glass, I turned around only to have been captured by the iridescent sky-blue eyes of my friend, Darcy. She was donning a stylish black velvet dress and was sitting elegantly on a barstool across the room. Because walking was difficult for Darcy, her gaze invited me to walk towards her.
“I love your dress” I said as I approached her. She waited for me to draw nearer to speak. The noise of the crowded room only made it more difficult for Darcy to be heard. It had only been two years since her ALS diagnosis, but the disease was already robbing her ability to speak.
We didn’t waste much time on the usual party chatter because when one’s pending death is shrewdly looming in the corners, wasting time feels like a crime. Instead, we discussed one of the most important subjects that made us kindred spirits – writing. The reverence for words fed our souls and where we found a little life of grace.
Darcy’s book, “I Remember Running: The Year I Got Everything I Ever Wanted - and ALS”, was hot off the press and we discussed her upcoming book tours and the fact that the softcover was already being sold and translated into Japanese. It wasn’t long, however, until she shifted the focus of the conversation to me.
“How is your writing going?” Darcy asked. The truth was - it wasn’t. I pulled out every excuse imaginable to explain where I was in the writing process, or the lack thereof. She always believed in my ability to put pen to paper and this night, she saw the truth through my self-justifications.
“I want you to promise me something,” her smile turned serious and I leaned forward to make sure I heard what I was about to agree to. “I want you to promise me to write in my place when I can no longer do so.” I assured her that I would.
Exactly one year later, as I walked up those same West-End condo steps in my fancy cocktail dress and LL Bean Boots, the promise I had made the previous year became more of a reality. ALS had won the fight with Darcy earlier that morning.
The cocktail party was a somber event. We considered cancelling the get-together, but we knew Darcy would not appreciate it and would want us to party away. To have cancelled would have been to dishonor her. It was, however, our last holiday gathering.
Recently I realized I am not only keeping my promise to Darcy, but I am keeping a promise to myself. Since the age of 11, I wanted to be a full-time writer/author, but believed it wasn’t a smart career move. But much like the LL Bean boots and cocktail dress combo fashion, I have changed my mind.
I turn 55 in September and, although I may have another good 30 years of life ahead of me, there are no guarantees. It is time for me to step up my game and complete the book of essays, write the next great American novel, and to publish on a larger scale. It is for this reason I have chosen to step down as the Editor of The Windham Eagle Newspaper.
But this doesn’t mean you have totally gotten rid of me. I still plan to be a very active staff writer because – well – I profusely love capturing the many amazing stories of the Windham and Raymond communities and meeting the many giving, positive, joyful people who live here. And - I love my Eagle cohorts way too much to say goodbye.
Since I do enjoy eating and do need to pay the bills, I have accepted a part time job that is a bit more flexible and accommodating to a writer’s life. So, you may be seeing me in more than a writer’s capacity around town. I will, however, be continuing in my role as Editor until a replacement has been found and is ready to make it on their own. I’m committed to making the transition as smooth as possible and will be here as long as needed.
But finally - to give an answer to the many times I’ve been asked, if (or should I say when?), I make it to the New York Time’s Best Sellers list, I will be happy to give you my autograph.