Yesterday afternoon I learned the good news that my short-short story “Keepsake” won the Tin House Plotto Contest. I phoned my husband to tell him. Afterwards, I wanted to phone my mother and tell her too. I cannot remember ever before having this urge to tell my mother my writing news.
I can’t phone my mother anymore. She has suffered Alzheimer’s for twelve years and wasted away to seventy-something pounds in a nursing home just outside Dublin: helpless, speechless, sightless (retinitis pigmentosa), and vacant. The last time I remember speaking with my mother on the phone and sharing good news was when our oldest daughter was born thirteen years ago. By the time our second daughter was born, three years later, my mother’s mind had so unraveled she couldn’t grasp the good news.
I lost my mother long before the Alzheimer’s though, in my childhood to paranoid schizophrenia. Yesterday, sitting in my car, my cell phone in my hand, I imagined I phoned my mother. I told her about my Tin House win. I imagined her reaction. She felt happy for me, excited and proud–the kind of elated response and delight I have always craved from her.
Strange thing, our exchange felt real. I experienced my mother’s excitement and her love for me. I mean I really felt it. It was like connecting with her best heart and her best spirit and her best self. Like if she had been healthy, this was the mother she would have been. An imagined exchange, but it made me feel warm and giddy inside and so bitter-sweet happy.
I almost didn’t submit “Keepsake” to the Tin House Plotto Contest. I thought, here I go again, telling another story about the loss of a mother. Maybe I’m supposed to keep telling this story. For sure, it’s one of the most honest stories I can tell.