After I took my first memoir writing course in 2004, in St. Louis, Missouri, I began taking the thoughts from my journal and creating finished pieces. Those first few attempts at writing about my life landed me my first freelance position for Rochester Women Magazine back in 2011—yep, it took seven years to finally get published.
I decided to dig into the vault and share some of these stories with you. Before I give you a peek into my first few pieces (note: the last name has not been changed to my married name because I wrote it before I was married), I wanted to share words of wisdom from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. The following quote is actually by Flannery O’Connor, but it’s taken from Lamott’s book (one of my favorites) Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life.
“Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.”
Embarking on Independence
By Nicole L. Heidbreder
I rolled over and peered through the morning haze plastered across my eyes. The glaring red light of my cheap digital alarm clock read 7:28 a.m. I laid there watching its numbers change a full two minutes until it read 7:30 a.m. I forced myself out of bed knowing I had a long day ahead of me. A new chapter was about to begin. I was scared senseless, but somehow had manifested enough faith in myself to move my life to Denver, Colorado.
My bedroom door stuck to the frame and then flew open when I tugged harder. The faint smell of blueberry muffins drifted throughout my childhood home. In her cheeriest voice my mother sang out, “Rise and shine, sleepy head!” as if I were still her little girl tucked safely in my warm, cozy bed. Her loving and familiar voice produced a golf ball sized knot in my throat. I knew this would be the last time my mother would sing those words to the person I was leaving behind.
I entered the kitchen holding a pillow by one corner. My parents’ bright faces made the lump in my throat expand. My father had a flashlight, a blanket, and a gallon of water laid out on the kitchen table for my upcoming road trip. I set my pillow next to the items. I guessed that was what fathers were supposed to do under these circumstances…equip their child with the necessities for entering the big, bad world.
My mom asked arbitrary questions about my trip; questions we both knew had been answered. Her words sliced through me like a steak knife. “Do you have enough gas in the car? Do you have gas money? Are your friends ready for you to arrive tonight? Do you have their phone numbers? Do you have the number for Uncle Bob and Aunt Pam in Topeka,” she queried. I grew more aloof with each question. I wanted her to stop talking. Her voice tugged the tears out of my eyes. Unwelcome tears, tears that I worried might make her or my dad feel I was incapable of handling this life changing event.
I poured coffee into my gigantic NYC mug and felt the tears trickle down my cheeks. I wiped them away and thought to myself, why is she asking me all of these questions when we covered it last night? And then, I realized she felt as miserable and conflicted as I did; excited for the new chapter in my life, but devastated that her best friend was leaving and moving hundreds of miles away from Missouri.
I choked down a blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee. Then, I grabbed my thermos, my pillow, and lugged my suitcase to the car. Popps loaded up my trunk with his emergency provisions and my mother and I embraced and cried. I looked up and saw my father watching. He was shaking his head. Then, with Jell-O legs, I wobbled into my overstuffed blue Nissan Sentra and turned the key. Her engine purred confidently. I backed the car onto the quiet street, pausing to wave goodbye to my parents, and the chapter in life I would never get back.
Looking back on this memoir, moving from Missouri to Colorado was a life changing event. I remember and honor that time in my life. So many lessons learned.
As a writer, how did you get your first break?