When I was 17 I believed some lies. I believed that George Michael was straight. I believed that diet soft-drinks were good for me. I believed that spiral perms were necessary. I believed that boys would never like me. I believed that I wasn’t clever. I believed that I shouldn’t dream too big. And I believed that I nothing valuable to say.
It was also my last year at school. One day my English teacher asked my 3 best friends and me to talk with her at lunchtime. When we got there she complimented us on our high standard of writing. She told us that we were talented and our futures looked bright. And then she turned to me. “Except for you, Deborah”. Apparently my writing wasn’t exceptional at all. The meeting was meant for the other 3, she explained, and she’d only asked me along because she didn’t want me to feel left out.
Left out? Left out of a twisted rejection carnival?! Thank you!
Stubborn determination kicked in. I would prove her wrong. Writing was all I ever wanted to do. I had novels bursting in my head. I had crazy ambition. And nothing was going to stop me.
Except for a few stupid lies.
Those lies were time thieves. Greedy bastards. Instead of heading down the smooth highway, I took the bumpy scenic route.
A year later I started a Uni degree in journalism. Don’t know what I was expecting when I drifted in with my hippy skirt and bare feet, but writing from the heart wasn’t on the curriculum. I could barely stomach Technical Writing and Australian Politics. I was out of my depth. And off my centre. A career full of people telling me what to write? What kind of life would that be? After 3 miserable weeks my bare feet ran out of a lecture and never went back.
Those damn lies took me way off course. They sent me on a decade-long trek, picking up more lies to reinforce the others. There were glimpses of truth. I tucked them away not knowing what to do with them. But I never lost my unwavering desire to write. Even though it was big dream. Even though I wasn’t taken seriously. Even though everyone wondered when my real career choice would show up.
At the end of that decade, when I least expected it, I discovered that a boy actually did like me. One of those lies extinguished. Just like that. He also thought I had valuable things to say. When my words were misunderstood by lie-bearers, he stood up for me. When I scrambled around for strength, he bolstered me with his own. And when I walked down the aisle to marry him, he cried with happiness.
Only days after our wedding I was in a cancer ward. My veins pumped with chemo. My hair falling out. The truth couldn’t be clearer. Who cared if I wasn’t clever? Who cared if my dreams were too big? And who bloody cared about spiral perms?
In that hospital bed I found a warrior. Fighting lies and cancer cells. Armed with courage, power, compassion, and truth. It was time to get on with what I really wanted to do.
In the years that followed I put all my warrior might into healing my body and my mind. I was still raw. I threw together jumbled sentences. I tried to tell my story. I tried to speak up. But when I unleashed my words it was in the faces of fools and vultures.
I got on with having babies. Proving how healthy I was. Proving the doctors wrong. And it was afterwards that I remembered that there was still some proving left to do. Forget the English teacher. Forget the lie-bearers. I needed to prove something to myself. I knew I could do it.
So I sat down and began to write. It was so faint. It was so diluted with pain and frustration. It was stilted. It was rough. It was cliché. It was stuck.
I kept digging. I kept looking. I remembered the warrior. I called upon her again and again. Just keep digging, she said.
And there, somewhere in between not caring if I was clever and not caring if I was good enough, I found it. It was unglamorous, but it was powerful. It was flawed, but it was mine. I had to go the scenic route to find it, but it was there. It was with me all along.
Audible and clear and strong. My voice.
It doesn’t end here. That would be cliché, wouldn’t it? Maybe my voice is still growing. Maybe it will always give me the sense that it’s not fluent enough. Just out of reach. I hope so. I hope I never lose my search for something better.
But I know now that I don’t tremble.