I spent most of college desperately sad. I was aware that the feeling was neither normal or okay, but I didn’t know how to undo it. I was sick with an eating disorder and unsure of how to be a person in the world.
My mother sent me a New York Times article a few years back. About a woman who left poems in her daughter’s shoes. Unsure how to love a daughter in the throes of sadness, this mother folded small slips of Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry into the girl’s shoes. It was a way to say, Others before you have struggled, others before you have survived.
My mother flew to New York to stay with me twice the year before I graduated college. She stood with me under scaffolding and waited out rainstorms. Bought me fresh cherries from a cart just off of 66th street. Packed lunches in the morning and made dinner in the evening.
Her actions weren’t slips of paper, but I recognized them for what they were. Quiet, persistent, unfailing gestures of love.
There was no roadmap for how to get better. No roadmap for how to be a person or survive my twenties. And so I wrote my own. And the act of writing—the daily ritual of it—saved my life. Others before you have struggled, others before you have survived.
I wrote about it all. The scaffolding and the city blocks and the fruit carts on street corners. Morning coffees and hardwood floors and the way the late-afternoon light angled across the Hudson in early October. And slowly, quietly, I came back to myself.
The act of writing is clarifying. It's like rooting around in the dirt and coming up with two grubby fistfuls of quite a lot of truth. There are things in this life—emotions—bigger than language allows for. And yet, language gets us there. Words help untangle feelings and bring them out into the light. And for me, writing them down allowed me to say what was too hard to say out loud.
I’ve spent this last year in graduate school. I’ve written memos about microchips and the Iran Nuclear Deal, sugar taxes and housing vouchers. But for almost ten months, I’ve not written about my life. There is a part of me that fears I’m forgetting who I am. A part of me lonely for my own company. There’s only a week left of school and I’m struggling to believe I’ll get through it. I am tired and exhausted and struggling. But the struggle now is different than it was. It lighter, and I’m better. The thing is, when this week does finally end, the first thing I’ll do will be to pull out a pen and a slip of paper. I’ll sit with the feelings and I’ll wrestle with the words and I’ll remind myself of who I am—a girl, who did in fact survive.
Meg Fee’s first book, Places I Stopped On The Way Home is published in May by Icon Books