Congratulations to Stephanie Netzer! Her essay “Mary” won the Sandra Moran Writing Scholarship. I’ve had the pleasure of having Stephanie in class in person. I admire her willingness to go deeper with her stories and the courage she shows in being open to looking at her life. Her commitment to telling the truth will be richly rewarded as she continues her writing journey. She receives the online course Jump Start Your Memoir as a prize. (You can still join us! Class starts Sept. 3rd, it’s all online on your own schedule. In honor of Stephanie’s accomplishment, a FLASH sale on the course for today only, details here – hope you can join us as we move forward in telling out stories.)
Please take a moment to read her winning essay below…
It was Mary.
My cell phone buzzed gently against the table. I’d forgotten to turn off vibrate, just as I’d forgotten to call Mary back in June. It was now August.
Mary and I had a friendship with an understanding. We could share intimate details of life or choose to withhold them. We would still be close. We had shared years of friendship, starting with Kaleidoscope in 1978. Kaleidoscope was the record store in Springfield. The cool place that sold jewelry upstairs. That is where we shared our first philosophies, our perspective on life, our first real boyfriend-lovers. Until Jerry, a lanky, long, hippie who did hair, convinced us to become hairstylists. Hairdressers back then.
We shared nine very long months in the manila beige building that was Sally’s Beauty School. We chose Sally’s after checking out several cosmetology schools, all suspiciously lacking credentials or integrity. We graduated, collectively sharing a wealth of knowledge about one another that could only be accumulated through the hundreds of boring unfilled hours that beauty school afforded. As different as we could be, the ease of sisters too close in age is what we were gifted from that shared experience.
I knew about Mary’s strawberry allergy and that her father‘s death in Europe was with her still. The train had killed him and she now loved her dogs as much as she had loved him. I knew she and Dale, her boyfriend, and eventual husband, gave each other full body massages and that he didn’t mind both German Shepherd‘s sleeping in bed with them.
Mary knew anything she wanted to know about me because I wasn’t much at hiding, and she was very good at seeking.
Mary championed me in ways I was unfamiliar with.
She encouraged me to think I could get what I deserved and she encouraged me to date Jeff. She came to my tiny wedding in the 703 Delaware house and watched as Jeff and I sliced the cake I’d made, draped with fresh flowers and topped with a plastic bride and groom.
When I showed Mary my first Christmas present from Jeff, she immediately asked to borrow it. I loaned it to her the next October. A beautiful white wool skirt suit, Mary wore it to her wedding.
A move to California for Mary.
A move to Kansas City for me.
We shared the birth of our babies and the challenges of being mothers to two children 18 months apart.
We sometimes went for months without speaking but it did not change the way we spoke when we did.
It was always fresh.
It always felt immediate.
Mary‘s mother died.
My mother died.
I moved to Bloomington, to Cape Girardeau, and to Kansas again.
Mary moved back to Springfield.
Mary understood a part of me I didn’t. It didn’t always feel comfortable to me. Mary thought I was wise. I always thought Mary was in control. Her life was smoother than mine. Her patience was greater than mine.
The phone almost went to voicemail. But there was Mary‘s rhythmic voice, asking polite questions as she always did. It was her way of sharing. I sensed an awkwardness behind them, and I said, “What’s up with you?”
She shared a brief synopsis of her last family vacation in Northern California, a rare chance to spend a week with her two grown children.
She paused before saying, “I found out I have ovarian cancer.”
Oh. Mary. We have so much more to share.