This story is by Beth Ramsey and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“I couldn’t move. I had been standing, frozen, in the corner of the room for twenty minutes. I’d curl up in fetal position on the floor, if movement were possible.’’
I am drawn back to the present as I hear Brandy saying:
“Today, we have with us a newly published author. Please welcome, Ms. Bernadette Chambers, as she reads a passage from her new memoir, Exhumed Yet, Again.”
Seated at the table, where I hoped to sign newly purchased copies of my book, I thanked the owner of Brandy’s Bookshelf, and began.
“Exhumed, Yet Again. Introduction:
‘August 20, 2008
I couldn’t move. I had been standing, frozen, in the corner of the room for twenty minutes. I’d curl up in fetal position on the floor, if movement were possible.
I look around, terrified. No one else looks as if they feel any more comfortable than I do. Even the ones with the glassy eyes. Regardless of how it was spinned, none of us were here by our own choice. A girl with a shaved head is talking to herself. A man walks by holding his pants up because we aren’t allowed to have belts in here. A young woman in tears holds a stuffed teddy bear. I wish I had one, too.’
I am careful, these days, to keep all of my journals well organized. I had wasted too much time misplacing, finding, and then misplacing again the tattered keepers of my thoughts. Now, having begun my book, I frequently refer to my journals. I was glad I had scripted my story in such detail.
The notebook I held was dated June 2008–May 2009. It was depressing. Tough to read. But no one has a story filled with only good fortune. I flipped through its pages to remind myself of its contents. I hadn’t looked at it for ages and had been tempted to torch it more than once. Now, I was glad I hadn’t.
I found there were not only entries that were painful to read but also those that I had absolutely no memory of writing. I have always had a good memory, that had not changed. My state of mind, when I wrote them, was the cause of unrecognition. As I read, I saw the obvious common denominator of most, if not all, of my stories.
Its role changed, notebook to notebook. In some, it appeared as recreational fun and good times. In others, it ranged from being the savior that kept me sane to the villain that triggered the worst decisions of my life.
‘August 18, 2008
‘I called to say goodbye. I just took a handful of sleeping pills.’
Did I dream that? Oh, if only. God, I feel sick. Next thing I remember I’m fuzzy in the ER. I need to pee. Sitting on the commode they brought in for me, I hear the doctor request the drug test now that they had my piss. Then I was out again, I guess. I can’t remember anything else except someone standing over me. It was Diane saying:
‘Bernie, you’d better get help. My drinking had gotten bad and I drove myself to rehab. Now I take . . .” I fade out again as she lists the antidepressants.
I don’t give a shit what they found in the u.a. I knew there would be pot, pills, and alcohol. I’d forgotten about the cough syrup.”
It’s hard to read of my suicide attempt, and the list of substances I had taken to abusing. But, no real surprises here.
The rude awakening would come with the reality that the same addictions would still be the root cause, a few years later, of poor choices and stupid actions (as if addictions ever create good choices and wise actions).
The entries in my journal were not in chronological order but they were there. They told a tale of self-destruction. The story could be read no other way. There would be seven more years of journals that reflected hopelessness, not much more.
But the end of the story had not been written.
This book is not the account of the pathway downward. It is the story of the upward journey. Pain and self-destruction are certainly elements of backstory, but they are not what this book is about. Yes, I will touch on what I found as I reread my journals, but that is not the primary narrative of the following pages.
The story told here is one of decisive moments, of choices, and actions that follow these moments. It tells of persistence, and downright tenacity, without which any lasting movement toward redemption of a life, once lost on a painful pathway, would not have been possible.”
Applause. I hadn’t looked up at the audience since I started reading. The reading simply went more smoothly if I didn’t look up.
I was taken aback as I took a deep breath and lifted my eyes to my listeners. How did I not realize that the room had filled? I had been concentrating on the chosen passage. Now, some in reflection, some with their nose in the book, even a few looking as if they would have liked to hear more, there were faces all around me. I asked Brandy to please refill my water glass as I prepared to answer questions.
“I am pleased, and humbled, to see all of you,” I began. “I honestly did not hear everyone come in. This is wonderful. Um, looks like we have time for a few questions.”
Either my audience was deep in thought or they were shy. Only one hand raised. A tall, handsome, middle-aged man on the edge of the group looked sincere as he caught my eye.
“Ok, let’s see, how about the one person in the room ready with a question? You, sir, what is your question?”
“Thank you, Ms. Chambers. My name is Doug. I came into the store to pick up a book I ordered and, to be honest, I didn’t realize there was a book signing today.”
A chuckle through the group.
“Totally understandable, Doug. What is your question?”
“Well, to be honest again, I haven’t read your book.” Again, the crowd laughed. “So the answer to my question is probably something everyone else knows. But I do not. The title, Exhumed, Yet Again, why did you choose it and what does it mean?” He smiled.
“Good question. I like to share the reason why I chose it.”
“My full name is Bernadette Ione Chambers. I was named after my maternal grandmother, who I never knew, Bernadette Lancaster. Ione was my grandma Chambers’s name. My name is unusual, to say the least.”
“Because of my name,” I continued, “I have always been intrigued with the Catholic saint, St. Bernadette. In my youth, fascinated by the saints, I read a lot about them. This is quite a story itself, but St. Bernadette was exhumed three times during the canonization process. In one article, I came across the phrase “exhumed, yet again” and loved it. And, since my book is a Phoenix tale, I thought it was the perfect title. I would like to give the author of the article credit for the phrase but I was unable to find who had written it.”
“I like the title,” Doug nodded. “Thank you.”
A few more questions and a blur of faces and names as I autographed at least 15 books. As Brandy moved about, activities wound down, and the last customer was headed away from me, I realized how exhausted I was. This had been my first book reading and signing event. It was, after all, my first book.
Thank yous all around, belongings gathered, I moved toward Brandy just as she finished helping one of the last customers. We planned a time to get together the next day to discuss the day’s events and I pulled my phone out of my bag to order an Uber to take me back to my hotel. Again, nose down, concentration deep, I was ready to hit “confirm” when Doug cleared his throat. The sound took me by surprise and I jumped a bit.
“Oh, Doug, I’m so glad you stumbled onto the book signing today. I appreciate your participation so much. Thank you. Oh! You bought the book! Would you like me to sign it? I would be glad to.” I looked around for a spot to set my stuff so that my hands would be free to sign.
Seeing that I was flustered, Doug calmly touched my elbow.
“I’m ready for a glass of wine. Would you like to join me? Or, er, maybe a bite to eat if you’d rather?”
“Thank you. That’s thoughtful. I would like that.”
“Great,” he said. “You can sign the book once we are settled in and comfortable. You can tell me what it’s like to be a published Phoenix.”
I liked the way that sounded. “A Published Phoenix.” What a good name for a book!