Would you do it again… would you give Maya the letter?
Some who know about it have asked me, as if I could actually turn back time. Would I give her the letter, knowing it would push away the person who’d been my comfort through my dad’s alcoholism and parents’ divorce; knowing that it would destroy a friendship I’d worked years to build; knowing I’d have to endure lies and unkindness from someone I believed in more than any other…”
-And Then it Rained
“I like how you show how something like that doesn’t just go away… that there are certain situations where you may have to face someone you don’t want to again, whether you like it or not. I think how you handle it is a really important lesson.”
My best friend’s comment sent a wave of optimism washing over me. Her feedback as a “beta reader” for Girl Enlightened had unexpectedly validated one of my biggest questions about the story: Was including this theme of letting go (again) important?
Yes, yes it was.
If you’ve read my first book, I suspect you may be wondering if a certain character would show up again in the second. You may have read the summary of Girl Enlightened, which describes a journey of grief, fear, and, well, enlightenment, and questioned whether someone I’d worked hard to move on from in that first book, could have anything do with the second?
If you’d have asked me on the day I published that first book, I would’ve said probably not, as a few mere encounters would not have been enough for the story with Maya to have continued. But as life does, it throws you wrenches, and less than three weeks after I released And Then it Rained, life threw me something that made those chance encounters with her the past few year more significant. As I countdown to my upcoming February release date, I thought an explanation of that wrench: of how an old experience ended up contributing to a new story, seemed important to get out ahead of time. After all, this blog post has been sitting on the tip of my tongue for five years now… and this lesson about what I now understand is a journey of letting go?
Well, it is December 13th.
On November 10th, 2011, I published my book without any plan to ever share it with Maya, and I had good reason for that plan. Her best friend Paige and I had actually talked about this, because, as life and luck would have it at the time, Paige was my good friend too. Paige had supported me in my publishing (“you’re my friend too, Megan,” she’d told me), offering up a close friend as a “beta reader,” celebrating with me at my release party, and when I’d asked her advice as to whether I should talk to Maya about the book — to give her a sense of what was coming — Paige had counseled me: “I don’t think you need to, Megan. What’s done is done. Don’t open a can of worms.”
“Okay,” I replied, and I agreed. This book was something beyond my experience with Maya: A chance to pay it forward and concentrate on the impact the story could have in the future. What had happened in the past was over…
“Nothing left to relive, it’s water under the bridge, you said it, I get it, I guess it is what it is.
That was the title of the email. And on a Sunday night, the drop in my stomach signified what my brain already knew: Paige was not writing to talk about something work-related.
She began by simply telling me she’d run into Maya that weekend, but shortly got to the meat of the message: Maya had heard about the book, and she was interested in reading it. To say my heart was pounding as I read the two paragraphs is an understatement of gargantuan proportions.
Paige didn’t say a whole lot more, only she didn’t want to be in the middle of it. My first thought: Aren’t you already putting yourself in the middle of it by sending this message? But regardless, the next steps were clearly in my court. I did bring it up to her briefly at work the following day, mostly to ask for Maya’s phone number. The idea of sending yet another message to my former friend and idol, after the year of being ignored the last time I’d tried to reach her that way, made me sick to my stomach.
“Why don’t you just try a Facebook message, then maybe we can see after that.” she said. In other words, “No, I won’t give it to you.” Now I was in a lurch: Try to connect with Maya again through a message? Put myself out there for her to stomp down on again, either silently or forcefully — was I nuts?
Maybe… but I was also human.
Letting go is perhaps the most common lesson in anyone’s life education, and to that end, there is a chapter very late in And Then it Rained about just that. I won’t get into the full details of the events that made me think I’d learned it, but at a certain time in my life, a certain experience motivated me to concentrate on the things I could change, and to accept and move on from the things I couldn’t. For the most part, I did just that… and became a happier, more peaceful person as a result.
But here’s the thing: when you walk away on your own, without a fight, without one last conversation or acknowledgement or ANYTHING from what you’re walking away from, a little voice stays with you in the back of your head saying: “What if?” What if you could have that last conversation? What if you could find peace–not from something you had to do yourself, but from a mutual understanding? What if, like in my favorite musical, Wicked, you could have that last chance to say to the other person:
“Just to clear the air…I ask forgiveness, for the things you blame me for, but then I guess we know there’s blame to share, and none of that seems to matter anymore.”
What if you could do that?
Maya was interested in reading the book. Sure, there were things I knew would probably make her unhappy; yet, overall, it was still one last chance to help her understand my motives, my actions, and the outcome of our experience. It had even been professionally edited!
“Lessons in life will be repeated until they are learned.”
The “What if’s?” abounded: What if we could finally just talk about everything that had happened to end our friendship? Not to be friends again, not to be acquaintances even, but what if her reading the whole story could bring about a conversation that allowed us both a better understanding of one another? What if she could finally see I wasn’t as crazy as she’d thought I was; that I was only trying to help her?
My mom tried to dissuade me: “Meg, this probably won’t work out the way you want it to.”
“Oh, I know,” I said. And I did know. I’d have been the most naïve, stupid person in the entire world if I’d been optimistic about the outcome. But the fact that Maya initiated this series of events gave me the little hope I needed. I had mom read the message to make sure it wasn’t too over the top; just a brief note saying that Paige had told me she was interested in the book, and I could get her a copy. If she’d be willing, I could even talk about it a little
On that Monday night, feeling 80% hopeful, I hit the send button.
I checked before going to bed that night. No response yet. Tuesday, my hopefulness down to about 40%, I checked a few more times–still nothing. Wednesday morning, I left for a trip to Chapel Hill with my dad and sisters, and for the next 48 hours I focused on my campus and the basketball game we’d gone to see. It was an amazing time, just like I’d planned it to be. Just like I’d needed it to be…
Thursday morning? Nothing. Friday? By the time the weekend rolled around, I officially threw in the towel. More accurately, I pummeled it against a wall.
“And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said.”
-I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
I HATED myself for sending that message. In the middle of a holiday season that’s about peace and hope and believing in the best of people, I found myself doing the opposite. And this time, I really didn’t know what to do about it. I had a memoir full of great lessons, proof of how far I’d come, and yet again I felt… Defeated.
When talking about Maya’s actions after the letter — lying to me, avoiding me– Mom had always reminded me: “Megan, she was only 20, you were both very young.” Okay… fair. So what about now? A decade later and the same thing? Why couldn’t she just respond – a simple yes, no, I don’t want to talk, ANYTHING! All this time and I still wasn’t even worth that? And what about Paige? Why did she need to insert herself; Why not let Maya reach out if she indeed wanted to read the book that bad. It would’ve been SO much better to never know about their conversation, then… well, this.
My manager started our meeting our first day back from the holidays with a question about the book “Hey, I loved the book, but I just have to ask, has Maya read it at all?”
“Well…I’m not sure…”
“Why?” She asked.
The story of the last two months made her jaw drop. “Again?”
I sighed. “Yeah…. Oh well. I guess it is what it is.”
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
As Girl Enlightened describes, it was this very experience that led to an “unpacking” of sorts, and began the journey of letting go I truly needed. I hope in reading about that entire journey, you’ll see why and how I came to the conclusion that including Maya in a book who’s theme is about finding a new and even better perspective on life, wasn’t just a choice, but rather a necessity.
In the meantime, this particular experience offers a lesson besides that of letting go:
It’s okay to be human.
Everyone wants to be strong and say “I’m over it;” “I’ve moved on,” but in some life-changing instances, it’s impossible to say those words. Like a quote from “The Circle of Life,” states (I happen to love Disney song quotes), “Some have to live with the scars.” And those scars… sometimes they break open.
It’s not as easy as just forgetting what’s happened, wiping your hands with it all or sweeping the bad stuff under a rug. You’ve been hurt or gone through something tough, and it’s going to stay with you. Once in a while it’s going to creep up, in small ways, or maybe even in a big way, and you’re going to ask yourself: “What if? Can I still make it better? Can I get that closure I’m longing for?”
Go ahead… ask yourself that question… and go ahead and even try to find the answer. I certainly can’t promise you’ll get what you’re looking for, but as you’ll read in Girl Enlightened, you can still get something else.
Maya may have never given me the answer I wanted about my experience with her, but the process helped me find a more important series of answers…