"My Distinguished Career" is the seventh in a series of exclusive, original essays by Marilyn Sachs, the author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Credited with helping launch the trend of realistic fiction for young readers with her first book, 1964's Amy Moves In, Marilyn is considered a literary treasure. Born in New York City in 1927, she grew up in an apartment on Jennings Street in the east Bronx, and her own childhood provides the framework for many of her stories. When she came to Red Room to let us know she was working on her memoirs, we jumped at the chance to work with her and publish them here first. These essays recall a time and place far removed from our own; however, the emotions Marilyn evokes are timeless.
Marilyn says, "I look forward to sharing some memories with my fellow writers and readers. Please let me hear from you even if you want to disagree. And thank you to the staff at Red Room for their encouragement, help and advice."
A fortune teller once inspected the palm of my left hand. Then she looked at my husband's left hand.
"You," she told me, "will have a distinguished career."
To my husband, she said, "You will have a happy, old age."
"But what about my old age?" I asked her. She refused to answer, continuing to comfort me by repeating the distinguished career.
Well, I wanted a distinguished career all right, but I also wanted the happy old age. And most of all, I did not want my husband to have a happy old age without me.
Maybe I was in my thirties when this happened, and my first book had just been published, I also had two young children, a part-time job in the library, and barely enough time to manage writing another book. There wasn't much time then to squeeze in happiness. That would be my reward in the future. But now there was a doubt about how much of a future I could count on.
By the time I hit forty, my children were growing up. I had written four books, but I began to feel frightened. My own mother had died at forty-one, and even though my career wasn't all that distinguished, it was a career. So forty was a mixed bag. On one hand, it became profitable. My books sold well. Those were the days when schools and libraries had money, and nobody ever heard of computers.
But then, at forty, I had a period that didn't end. I continued bleeding for one week, two weeks ... and refused my gynecologist's invitation to meet him in the hospital. After another week or so, I was persuaded to see my family doctor who was known for doing nothing, and letting the body heal itself. I had a lot of confidence in his advising me to go home and keep away from other doctors. But, for the first time, he immediately got on the phone, called the hospital, and said to me, "You're going in RIGHT NOW!
"Well," I figured, "this is it."
At the hospital my gynecologist gave me a lecture, said that he would perform a hysterectomy on me the next day, and that I would require a blood transfusion before he could operate because I had lost so much blood. "And if you don't shape up," he said accusingly, "we won't be able to do it, and it will be all your own fault."
"I brought it on myself," I thought. "But I should have had a more distinguished career."
They put me in a room with another patient - a woman who had broken her hip. Nobody could do anything for her until the following morning. By this time, it was fairly late at night. She smoked - you could smoke in hospitals then - and she complained - about doctors, nurses, her pain, and children. Not necessarily in that order, because as I remember, she complained mostly about children. She preferred cats to children, and when she stopped complaining, she described her cats to me - the four or five of them.
Meanwhile, they hooked me up for the transfusion. Everything moves in slow motion in hospitals. I kept myself calm by knitting. I knit quite a bit in those days - mostly sweaters, hats and gloves for my kids. But somehow, my knitting and the tubes going into my arm got tangled up, and a nurse disentangled me, and took away my knitting.
Finally, after midnight, the transfusion began. My roommate was still up, still smoking and complaining. She had been given pills for the pain, and also to help her sleep. But she didn't sleep, just kept right on smoking, complaining about the pain, and about all the nasty children who tormented her.
I began feeling uncomfortable. First I felt cold. Then I felt hot - very hot. ‘I think I have a fever," I told my roommate. "Suddenly, I feel like I'm on fire."
"Oh," she said calmly, "they've probably given you the wrong blood."
I knew what that meant. So I called my husband, woke him up about three in the morning, and wept, "They're giving me the wrong blood so I'm going to die. You've been a wonderful husband. Be good to the children. Bye."
Maybe I was delirious but I could still hear my roommate complaining about a boy who stole her mail, and a girl who showed her backside, not the best kind of background sounds for a dying woman. But then there were people all around me, removing tubes, adding others ...
"Too late," I whispered. "They've given me the wrong blood."
"No, no, Honey," a big nurse said cheerily. "It was your blood type, but there was something that made you allergic. Now sleep."
I slept, and when I awoke, my gynecologist was there, ready to accompany me to the operating room.
"Please, please! I whispered to him, "I don't want to be with that woman. Please put me in another room if I make it through."
"Of course you'll make it through," he said, shrugging. "Lots of women have hysterectomies. Just calm down."
"But I don't want to be with her. Please!"
"With who, dear?" he asked. Have you ever noticed how male doctors always call their female patients dear?
But she wasn't there any longer, and I never saw her again.
So I lived. And soon I turned fifty, then sixty, then seventy, and finally eighty. There have some heartbreaking happenings along the way, but I'm still here. My distinguished career is fading, but as I tell my husband who is five years older, ""If you do have a happy old age, you're going to have it with me."