For six years, I’ve dreamed of signing with a literary agent, dreamed of taking that first real step toward publication. I’ve written five books—or is it six?—and I’ve been rejected hundreds of times by hundreds of literary agents. Rejection is all I knew. It wasn’t pleasant; it was, in fact, wildly discouraging. But it was my usual, my familiar. Until recently.
Recently, I got my yes.
Recently, I got the email I’d been dreaming about, the one I had imagined landing in my inbox with a puff of sparkle and glitter and light. The email I thought I’d receive and then shout about from the rooftops.
Instead, I received the email, shut my laptop, and proceeded to make my kids’ lunch, as if the one thing I had been dreaming about for years hadn’t just happened. Only later, when I did send out a few texts to close family and friends to tell them, and their enthusiastic excitement was palpable even over messaging, and I spent my words tamping down their excitement rather than squealing incoherently, did I realize my reaction was bizarre.
I’m not sure why my reaction was so muted. Maybe it’s because we’re living in the Great Pause right now and everything is muted—joy and celebration included.
Maybe because the moments you dream about for years never live up to the reality. The email unfortunately did not arrive with a puff of sparkle and glitter and light—to be fair, I haven’t seen an email do that yet.
Or maybe, and I suspect probably, my quiet response was tempered by my past, by my grief and young widowhood and by a harsh truth I was forced to learn two years ago: things that are too good can be ripped away too easily. A beautiful, happy, fulfilling, perfectly-imperfect marriage can be ripped away even when you fight like hell to save it. And when good things are ripped away, especially when they are ripped away while you’re still clinging to them with all your strength, the space left behind hurts.
I landed in my late husband’s orbit by accident. A few twists of fate had us standing across from each other on a dance floor one night not long after I’d graduated college. It wasn’t supposed to turn into anything—you don’t meet forever people in bars, certainly not in nightclubs wearing red-sequined tube tops. But I did. And we didn’t have a whirlwind romance, but we had a good life—the kind of life I never dared dream for myself growing up in a home with a father who disappeared as if love wasn’t reason enough to visit and a mother who was consumed by the effort to keep her three children clothed and housed and fed.
The life I lived with my husband was the real-life fairy tale I never expected to live. Of course we bickered and argued. Sometimes he was too stubborn for his own good, often I was worse. Sometimes we drove each other bonkers and sometimes we had nothing to say to each other. But mostly we laughed and talked and lived a life that was full of life. Mostly I felt as if I’d climbed my own personal mountain of dreams, surpassing even what I had believed was the summit. I was so high I could almost touch the stars. Maybe I did.
And then that life that was full of life was ripped away. And I fell. Down that mountain, down past where I should have stopped climbing and played it safe, down to a place where I couldn’t even see those stars I’d touched.
The truth I learned two years ago is: when you scale your wildest dreams, when you’re too close to the top, there’s so much more distance to fall; you land harder; the bruises last longer, maybe even forever.
The truth I learned two years ago is that there’s a safety in staying at the bottom of your personal mountain of dreams. You can’t fall and you can’t lose and you can’t get hurt.
Since that fall, I’ve clawed my way up from that very rock bottom. Sometimes I can see glimmers of starlight from where I am. But I’ve stayed well below even that height where I’d be playing it safe. Because everything feels so fragile, so impossibly delicate and breakable now.
I could almost believe that maybe it’s easier not to climb at all.
Every time I think of that email, of that yes, I’m filled with a joy and hope for a future that’s burning so bright I almost can’t breathe without hyperventilating. Despite my fear, I’m already scaling that mountain of dreams.
And I can’t help but think of the other lesson I learned two years ago, the one that isn’t as loud as my first lesson, but remains just as persistent and insistent.
Sometimes you don’t get a second chance to do the thing that scares you most. Sometimes it’s okay not to scale that dream mountain because you’re afraid, and you need to focus just on surviving, which is often hard enough. But other times, even most times, scaling that mountain lets you touch the starlight—even if just for a moment. And that moment is everything. That moment will be the reason when you fall, if you fall, you’ll get back up and have the strength to climb again.
The truth is, I’m terrified to celebrate this dream come true. Because that makes it real. That means I’ve climbed to a height that will hurt, if I fall. And I already have bruises and scars from that first awful fall. But the truth is also, if I fall, I know I’ll get back up. And that’s reason enough to celebrate.