This winter, I got my first rejection letter. It came in the form of an email. Riding on the coat-tails of a hundred digital chain letters and forwards, it came. I was sitting outside of my children’s school, early again, I just happened to check for messages. And there it was. Dear Jessica….
Now, as far as rejection letters go, it was the first one, yes, but also probably the nicest one I will ever receive.
The piece that I had submitted took place in late spring, and in real time it was just beginning to turn from autumn’s red shaking to the stillness of winter’s quiet chilling. “You are a great writer….please submit this piece again in spring…..hope you submit again….” It was the loveliest No that I have ever heard.
Upon reading it, my first thought was, whew, well, the first one is out of the way. Now, onto the next!
Except, I haven’t submitted anything for publication since. And I didn’t tell anyone about the trying or the failing, except for my husband and maybe one other person at the time. Within days, the carefree feeling that I wore about the letter, began to soak up all of the disappointment and shame that was in the air, until it became soggy, and almost unbearably heavy, on my unwanted shoulders.
I had tried. And failed.
Maybe my best wasn’t good enough. Maybe Mrs. Gilmore was right about me in fourth grade, maybe I would never amount to anything.
I found myself loading all my hopes and dreams into containable boxes, then stacking them haphazardly into an unsure U-haul, and unloading them, sweatily, at Maybe. Maybe, is one of the worst places. There is no amusement park there. There is no beach. No happy children running around, their laughter bouncing off the earth and causing things to grow in the soil now fertile with hope. There is only waiting. And wondering. And looking into distorted mirrors, your heart and head completely out of proportion with the things that you actually know. Everything is up in the air, and gravity does not apply, so it all might just stay there.
The air was turning colder, and so was I. Each day hung around my neck like this terrible necklace my brother use to wear. It was made of sharks teeth, and he thought it was so cool. But, it wasn’t, because teeth. But also because it would poke him if he moved the wrong way. It made him instantly less huggable (for others, I had departed that train years before) and, less believable. He had not, after all, killed a shark in our fair city, nor had he ripped the teeth from one’s mouth. He had not even strung those teeth himself. Hi, Mom.
So there I was, poky and not myself. But then, something happened. Aren’t but thens amazing? I kept writing, just because. Because my soul cannot bear to stop, because I love words more than even shoes, because I need to in order to be fully alive.
Something I wrote did not exactly resonate with several people that I love. I was strongly encouraged to be silent, to take back my words. And also, I was misjudged. And hurt, so, so, deeply. Because I wasn’t heard, and because the people I looked up to did not really see me for who I am, and because my own heart laid bare on my little blog, and it was rejected.
But that time, there was no letter, and no please submit this same piece again, only later.
Now, I am no stranger to rejection. I think if you will review the tapes of my life, you will find a period of years known as junior high and high school, where I wore my boy crazy heart on my polyester sleeve. I can remember with painful accuracy having many conversations with different boys in our youth group, that all went mostly the same way. Me: confessing my feelings, laying out my Seventeen Magazine approved desire to move our friendship to the next level. Standing there, in some poorly lit corner, making Gloria Steinham proud, being the pursuer, and roaring with my own impending womanhood. Then watching as their faces twisted in discomfort, like they had a secret gas bubble on a first date, that was begging to be set free. Only, this wasn’t a date. It was youth group, and they did like me, just, um, not the way they liked my skinny friend.
If there is an emoji for pity, it was probably developed in the basement of that youth center.
Rejection. I am probably as allergic to it as I am to bees. Its sting hurts no less, and it certainly has the power to take the breath from my lungs. It, also, makes the ground sway and weave, until what was flat is rolling like the sea, and you just want to sit down, but you can’t feel your hands or feet. And suddenly, you are sitting in the nurses station, surrounded by paramedics, needing intervention to be able to breathe.
That happened to me. When I was 20, and a counselor at a camp for low-income children. Before I lost consciousness, I was standing there, and my friend pulled down my pants and gave me a shot of epinephrine. In front of Everyone. But it saved me. It bought me time for the other help that I needed to get there.
And that’s kind of what happened last winter. I said my truth, which I still stand by, and the ground was ripped out from under me. I lost my footing a little bit, because suddenly everything was so shaky. And then, there I was, my pants around my ankles, for all to see.
But then, (See? But thens are good.) some people believed in me. And because I had chosen to walk in the light, and had not done what I was being accused of, I remembered to breathe.
I know now, that whether my exhales are ever published or not, I cannot let the shock of rejection stop me. Winter might be cold, and dreary, but it is always followed by another Spring.