I receive eight of them in the mail, stamped, signed and sealed by the University of Oregon – the invitations to my very first public reading. They’re cut lengthwise ten inches on slate blue cardstock and then folded in half. A bold black and white photo of rock cliffs on the Oregon coast is centered across the four-inch front of each card and the University logo is offset on the bottom right. The header reads: “You are invited to the EIGHTH ANNUAL NORTHWEST PERSPECTIVES ESSAY CONTEST READING.”
I flip it open:
Thursday, June 7, 7:30 p.m.
Alumni Lounge, Gerlinger Hall
1468 University Street
University of Oregon
Opening remarks by this year’s judge, Molly Gloss, the author of four novels, including The Jump Off Creek, which was a finalist for the PEN-Faulkner Award for American Fiction and winner of an Oregon Book Award for fiction. She has also written numerous short stories and essays. Gloss often teaches writing through workshops and college programs. A native Oregonian, she lives in Portland.
This is followed by a list of six names (3 winners in the open category and 3 in the student category) and the title of each essay. “Free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.”
I must have read it three times, flipped it over in my hands, opened and closed the lovely top flap and admired the photo. I decide to hang on to two invitations and mail the rest to friends, even though most people obviously can’t come. How often in life do we really get to bask in our accomplishments and totally dweeb out about a little slip of paper? No harm done in that! All I did was check the mail and I feel miles better than I did this morning (this morning – a.k.a. day 11 of no phone call from Cass).
I’ve printed out the essay I’m reading in 14 point font and put it in page protectors. I know to do this much – the page protectors prevent the sound of pages rustling into the microphone. Beyond that, I’m not sure how else to prepare besides practice reading out loud. Of course, there is the question of what to wear but that was decided weeks ago and without hesitation. Oh, my heart is still breaking but maybe grand distractions and a supportive community of writers awaits me on my west coast adventure.
Forget the empty airport gate arrival. I have to charge forth, not look back or even look ahead for her. The movie keeps playing in my mind – this one now of hope, where she surprises me at the airport and is all apologies and hearts and everything is back and safe again. Instead, I have to walk off that plane and refuse to stop moving until I’ve read the last word on the last page of that essay. I cannot flinch because she will not be there, even if sometimes I think I want her to be. I don’t know how else to direct my energy and so I must turn it towards perseverance. It’s a small reading. Small recognition. A pebble in a two-ton truck. But still, it’s something.