Most writers have the memory of the first time they held the first copy of their first (hopefully not their last) book. And I am no different. Here's my memory. My novel Her Daughter's Eyes was published April 2001, and in November of 2000, I stood in the kitchen of my then Orinda house, holding a package of advanced reading copies sent to me by my editor. Outside, the weather was turning, clouds filling the sky, wind pushing through the oak trees that surrounded the house. But inside, the world was a truly happy place. A magical, Disney-infused place, one where there is always a happily-ever-after. The light was golden, luminous, pulsing all around me as I was the star of the day. Maybe the week. Possibly the month. I had finally written and published a novel, my life-long dream.
I ripped open the package, and there they were, these lovely, lovely things that I had created. Me! All alone. Well, I and my initial readers, an agent, editor, copyeditor, as well as the art, printing, publicity, marketing, and business departments. But it was my novel. I was so, well, important. I was amazed at myself. I smoothed the soft, slightly powdery covers with my palm, stared for what seemed like way too long at my name in the fancy cursive script. This is where I needed a sound track, music swelling with the import that filled me.
Tra-la, tra-la. Boom, boom, boom.
The heroine of the story has arrived.
Looking around the kitchen and realizing I was alone, I knew I had to call someone. Maybe my mother, but most likely the San Francisco Chronicle so the entertainment editors and writers and even the publisher could know about my amazing feat, something no one had ever done before.
For a second, I couldn't get over myself. I was beside, in, near, over, under, around myself. How could I keep this glorious news to myself any longer? It wasn't fair to the rest of the world. And then I heard a car pull up out front. At last! Thank god! Someone who will rejoice with me over the news.
Clutching my book, I walked to the window and saw my fifteen-year-old son Zachary get out of the car, nod to the scraggly, unfamiliar dude behind the wheel, and start up toward the house. As I watched him, I could almost see the smoke in the truck cab, smell the resin on the pipe or bong.
The golden glow of the room faded to gray. My heart slowed down, began to slowly shrink to its proper size. The book in my hands felt light as air and much less meaningful. Just by looking at him, I knew he was high. He was smiling, walking slowly, his gait odd. Nothing about his appearance home now was right. The timing was off. He shouldn't be here at this time of day, 2 pm. He was supposed to be at water polo practice doing what water polo players do. For a brief little second, I thought, Well, this is nice. I can show him my book. My lovely book. Won't he be proud of dear old mom!
And then I knew that he would probably not even really understand what I was showing him. I heard his steps outside and I waited.
Here's what I can't remember, though. I can't remember what happened from the second I realized that he was high. In my memory, I am in the kitchen, holding my book, watching my son walk up toward the stairs of the house, high. I am sure that I asked, hands on my hips, "Are you high?"
I must have made him breathe on me, so I could get the true whiff of the pot in my nose. I likely threatened to call his father right away, yanking him out of the fifth grade class he taught so he could help me deal with this. Maybe I screamed and shouted or cried. This, sadly, would be a scene played out a few more times before we found the way into and through this problem.
But in my memory are not the specifics of that sad afternoon but the knowledge of all that came later for him and for us: Lots of denial, more drugs, hospital visits, rehab, and then the rest of his life, which has gone on without a lot of drugs, a very nice college degree, and an anarchist career. Yes, he's an anarchist now, but I'm not going to blame that on marijuana.
What I can't feel any more is that golden high of satisfaction over my book because nothing in this world compares to my children. I actually did create them in many ways (slowing them down and speeding them up most likely in all the wrong ways), even though I do not believe they are "mine." They are little pieces of my heart walking around the planet, and with him, at that moment, I had failed and my heart needed help, resuscitation, and likely transplant.
I could write a novel-big deal--but I couldn't even raise a child. My child was high. My child has some issues.
When he was two, Zachary wanted one of the pillows that were on my bed. I said, "No, that pillow is for our bed."
He pointed to his room, his crib, saying, "Go see my bed," and then raced onto mine, grabbing the pillow and running down the hallway.
He's never stopped faking me out until he wanted to get caught.
As he seemingly did on that first day of my first novel. Or maybe his behavior was based on something else. Zachary has always listened to his own drummer. In fact, his drummer has his own air conditioned bus as well as musical accompanists who follow him around, ready for any festive occasion. Zachary will always do the thing that others don't want him to and then walk up to the very person who told him not to in the first place, carrying the placard that proclaims his deed. When he was five, we had a visit from the landlord of the house we were renting, and Zachary walked around the house showing her all the things I'd told him to ignore (the blue Cookie Monster stamp on the fireplace, the chalk drawings on the driveway, the paint stain on his bedroom rug). He told her so fast, I had no time to stop him. This is what he's good at. Showing the world what he can do.
This summer, he hitchhiked to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. He slept out under the stars or thunderclouds at night, hoping for that perfect, 500 mile ride by day. Once he arrived, he worked with anarchist organizers to plan the rebellion and was briefly arrested for failure to disperse, the eighty dollar ticket the true sign that he did his job.
What I've learned as his mother—after the drugs and the rehab and the anarchism—is that I have to set his life aside and watch it from a distance. Yes, I have my sleepless nights, the worry that opens me up to the very beginning, to that moment when he was born, lay on my chest, and looked at me with wide eyes, as if to say, "Finally. I've been waiting for this."
I have nightmares about his health. I have nightmares that he dies. When I wake up and stop crying, I worry about what he is eating and who he is sleeping with and how he is going to make a living when there is no longer any one around to help him.
But I can't keep the worry going and still live my life. What I have had to do as Zachary's mother is help and then learn to step aside, knowing, finally, that I can't change anything. I could lose him in so many ways, and yet I will always want to help him, when he needs me, when he wants to get caught.
Maybe this will prove to be a good way of living for him. All of these experiences will lead him to something happy. Zachary is a writer, too, and his story could be the story that people want to read. My first novel wasn't a huge hit, a giant success, made into a movie, mini-series, or Lifetime television drama. I hit a few lists, was nominated for a couple of awards, but it didn't redefine life as we know it. I did not discover Pi or advance the study of quantum physics. It in no way compared to that boy trudging up the front stairs of the house, high as a kite, ready for change.
Maybe I will get to a place where I can reframe my non-book moment. Maybe later, I will look back at that same moment in my kitchen and think, that was the first time Zachary came to the place he was fighting against in protest. This was where all the good things started.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org