Saturday, June 22, 2013

Past/Present/Future by Patty Blount

Last year, I lost my mom to breast cancer. In one of her last lucid moments, she’d cried, “I thought I’d have more time!” She’d just turned seventy. She wanted more children. She wanted to go to college. She wanted to do something with art. She wanted to fall in love again (my parents split when I was nineteen). So many things she never got to do. So many regrets. I asked her why she never did these things and she said life got in the way.

I know exactly what she meant.

I recently attended my thirtieth high school reunion. Thirty. Years. *gulp* How have so many years piled up behind me so quickly? After graduation, I’d planned to go to nursing school and eventually marry my boyfriend. I also liked computers and writing, but my mother talked me out of pursuing either interest as a career track. She worried my math skills – or lack thereof – would prevent me from being good at computer programming and obsessed I’d starve as a writer. So I did the practical thing.

And hated it.

Oh, not school. I loved school. I hated people dying. School didn’t prepare me for that and as a result, I came home from my clinical classes entirely gutted. The day I decided to quit nursing school was the day two babies in the NICU struggled to live – one born full-term to a drug-addicted mother who abandoned her at the hospital and the other, a tiny preemie who fit in the palm of my hand, born to parents who wanted him so damn badly, they’d have donated their hearts if he’d needed them. I couldn’t do anything but stand over their Isolettes and cry.

I left school in my second year and drifted around aimlessly for years. I got married. I worked in a series of dead-end, low-paying jobs. I had a baby. I finally noticed that I was almost thirty years old and had nothing in my life that was truly mine. I eventually returned to college, finished first an AS degree and then a BS degree in computer science. It wasn’t easy completing degree requirements while working full time. I had to plan meticulously when I’d do homework, housework, and of course, day job work. I knew it was going to take me at least six years to complete the undergrad requirements and though that sounds daunting, I kept reminding myself that those six years were going to pass by no matter what – why can’t I hold a degree in my hands when they do?
Mom and me on the day I graduated with my A.S degree.


I stuck to my plan and when six years passed, I had a degree to hold. My newly-minted degree opened doors to me but my mom was right; I wasn’t a great computer programmer. I eventually managed to land a job that combined two of my favorite interests – computers and writing – and make good money doing it. I’ve worked as a technical writer since the late nineties and love it. Technical writing is miles off-target compared to nursing school, but I can’t help thinking that nursing school was never what I should have planned in the first place.

More years passed.

I started writing fiction as a way to unwind after a long day dealing with capricious software. I’d always dreamed of being a published author, but Mom insisted I’d never make any money at it. For a long time, I thought she was right because I could never seem to finish a novel. For years, I tried. When my son dared me to finish a novel, I finally decided just winging it wasn’t working. Maybe I could do it if I approached it like every other life goal – I broke it into small achievable chunks. How much time could I spend writing? How many words could I write in those blocks of time? I calculated I could finish the project by Christmas. I stuck to my plan and Penalty Killer made it into a gift-wrapped box in time to go under the tree that year. It was never published, but that’s okay. I’d finally finished a novel. That was my goal.

That goal, in turn, resurrected an older one  – become a published author. I studied my craft. I wrote more novels. I learned how to query and sign with an agent and last year, SEND was released. Seeing that book on a store shelf was as emotional as the day I held my first born child in my arms.

So even though it took longer than I’d planned to get here, this was my plan all along. At my age, I have a lot more years behind me than I do ahead of me. And that’s okay. I won’t die with regrets.

7 comments:

  1. I'm sorry you lost your mom and I'm sorry she died with regrets, but I hope the happier memories you shared with her are stronger than the sad ones from the end. I'm glad you're living so that you won't die with regrets.

    I'm doing the same thing. It's good.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, David. I do have many happy memories of my mom; despite her believing you can't make a decent living as a writer, she was always my biggest fan and a great beta reader :)

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  2. Thanks for sharing this story, Patty, and for reminding us that it is never too late to follow your dreams.

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    1. My sons told me they're proud of me for setting a goal and then making it happen.

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  3. I love that your son pushed you to finish a novel! What a great kid...

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    1. Holly, he'd gotten a Needs Improvement comment from his teacher and was advised to read more. When he complained there were no good books out there, I asked him what he'd like to read and he gave me a list. I wrote Penalty Killer to his specs :)

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  4. Good for you for doing what you want to do! And I'm sorry your mom spent a lot of years not doing what she wanted to.

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