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All This: Reflections on Atlanta

I returned from my trip to Atlanta the other day and have been trying to catch up ever since. As I write this my suitcase sits in the dining room, yet to be unpacked, and I still have a million thank you emails to write to everyone who came out to my reading on Tuesday and made that evening so special.

We were only gone for five days but so much happened. Also, just being out in the world with my little Juliette, just the two of us, was its own little experience. It was nice to spend time alone together. I came home feeling more bonded to her than ever. I think it will be so interesting when these girls are grown up to see what they think of all these little trips I took them on, all the book signings I dragged them around on.

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We stayed at my half-brother’s house in Virginia Highlands and he forbid me to put up a photo of him, so all you get is this one of Jules on his couch. I hadn’t seen Mike in a few years and it was so nice to spend time together. He’s my oldest half sibling, twice my age, and reminds me of my dad so much.

On Sunday I got to have brunch with my friend Tonia. She drove all the way up from Florida so that we could catch up a bit. I met Tonia in fourth grade when we moved to Florida and she became my first real BEST FRIEND. As in we had those broken heart-shaped necklaces and wore the same outfits to school and wrote in our diaries together and had a million sleep-overs and I’ll never forget watching the very first episode of 90210 on her living room floor, and on and on. (If you’ve read my book she shows up in Chapter Two, the K-Mart stealing chapter.) She has two kids now and I’m so can’t even believe that she was able to steal away for a quick visit.

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I also caught up with two of my best friends from high school, Lucy and Laura. These girls are part of a small handful from high school whom I’ve remained close with all these years. I can’t even describe how lucky I feel to have friends like this in my life, people who have known me since the days of learners permits and seen me through the deaths of both of my parents and the births of both of my girls. We’ve shared proms and boyfriends and cross-country road trips and break ups and moves and drunken nights and weddings and divorces and I know we still have so much ahead of us.

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I spent a whole afternoon driving around my old neighborhood of Sandy Springs. Juliette was asleep in the carseat for most of it but that didn’t stop me from pulling over and pointing things out to her. A bakery my mom used to take me to, the Chinese restaurant that my father always ordered from when it was his night “to cook,” my elementary school, the house I grew up in. I had a lump in my throat for most of it, but in a good way.

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I capped off that nostalgic afternoon with dinner at one of my mom’s friend’s homes. My mom and Susan met one afternoon at Chick-Fil-A when I was only three of four years old. Susan’s daughter Eleanor and I recognized each other from Montessori, and that afternoon over chicken nuggets, our moms became fast friends. Years and years of playdates and trick-or-treating and sleepovers and vacations ensued, and even though my mom is gone now, Susan has never missed a birthday, graduation or really any special occasion of mine, and it has meant the world to me.

Eleanor just became a mama herself and our dinner altogether on Monday night was bittersweet, none of us able to quite fathom how my mom wasn’t there with us. We decided that in some way she just had to be, because there was no way that Susan was going to get to enjoy becoming a grandmother without her.

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Years ago I would have perhaps been too sad to get through this evening without my mom, but I don’t feel like that any longer. Instead I found myself profoundly grateful to be there at all, with my sweet beautiful baby, meeting Eleanor’s sweet, beautiful baby and enjoying time in a house that I had so many fond memories in.

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During all of these days I was thinking about the reading that was coming up on Tuesday night. I’ve done so many readings and events in the last year, but I knew that this one would be different than all the rest. This one was taking place in my hometown, where I was born and raised. I knew that friends of my parents’ would be there, people I’ve known since I was a baby, strangers, blog readers, high school teachers. Over and over for the days leading up I ran through the things in my head that I wanted to say to everyone, the gratitude I wanted to express.

At each reading I’ve done in the last year I’ve felt so fortunate to be able to acknowledge and express thanks to particular people. Atlanta was no different, and possibly would have more people than ever that I would want to thank. That’s the funny thing about writing a memoir, I guess. It’s different than a novel. My book is about my life and my life wouldn’t be what it is without the people in it.

When Tuesday night finally arrived I was very nervous, but tried to stay calm. It’s not easy to walk into an auditorium full of people and take the stage. I’ve never had any training in it and I’ve just had to kind of learn how to do it this last year. While the crowd assembled I hid out in a back room of the library trying to get Juliette to fall asleep.

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On top of all of it, the date, January 8th, would have been my friend Julie’s 35th birthday, and there were so many people in attendance who knew and loved her. I was glad that Juliette, her namesake, was there for it.

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Just before the reading started the person I had anticipated the most arrived, my high school English teacher, Pearl McHaney. I hadn’t seen her in over a decade and couldn’t take my eyes off her once she entered the room. It was amazing to see her after all these years with my daughter.

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Pearl agreed to introduce me and I sat in the front row of the auditorium with tears in my eyes as she talked about meeting me in tenth grade and her experience of seeing my writing talent bloom, and then more about my book and my writing and the woman I’ve become. I recorded the whole thing on my phone and am so glad I did because it all happened so fast and was like a dream, one of those weird things that you can barely imagine happening in your life.

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And then I stood and took the stage with shaky legs. I stood at the microphone and had to pause for just a minute. I wanted to take just a second to really be there in that room. My whole life I dreamed of being an author, of writing books and giving talks and of one day getting to thank all the people in my life who supported that dream, and here it was happening and I didn’t want to miss a moment of it.

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After that moment though it really all did rush by. Such a blur of hugs and tears and so many people I hadn’t seen in so long and whom I wanted to talk with all night. And over and over, so much gratitude for all of it.

 

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It went by too fast and before I knew it the next morning had arrived, bright and cold, and I was on a plane back to Los Angeles and my little life. Juliette slept for a long time on that flight and I just stared out the window, replaying the night before, the whole trip and thinking, really? All this? I get to have all this?

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Thank you.

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. So so lovely Claire! I have such a super strong connection to place — and that place in particular — that I guess that’s why that even though we didn’t know one another in Atlanta, the thought of this little journey of yours brings tears to my eyes. And of course you get to have all this!

    Comment by Lisa Lilienthal on January 11, 2013 at 12:35 pm

  2. Claire, now I had big tears running down my face. What a beautiful tribute to your friends and family in Atlanta. Of course your mother was there; just look into little Juliette’s eyes. There she is, smiling back. That is one of the great things about having kids as they are physical souvenirs of our loved ones.

    Blowing my nose and re-doing my make-up. You are the best!

    Comment by Karen Swerling on January 11, 2013 at 2:12 pm

  3. I’ve enjoyed your writing for years via TheNervousBreakdown.com, and it was such a pleasure to meet you — you’re only the second TNBer I’ve met, the other being R.Kent in Paris (remember him?).

    I felt as though I was attending a homecoming, and I feel so fortunate to have been there. Your “grief memoir” is the most amazing book I’ve read in quite a while, pitch perfect and so alive — I’m on page 200 and don’t want it to end.

    After the reading I rode the elevator up to the parking deck with a regal-looking woman in her 70s, very stylish and elegant. She was clutching a hardcover copy of the book and I asked her what she thought about it. She closed her eyes and said she loved it, said she knew you from the time you were a baby. She went on her way before I could ask her who she was — maybe she was one of your mother’s friends. Thanks again for coming back to Atlanta.

    Comment by Jim Simpson on January 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm

  4. Just reading your words it is clear how much love was in that room. What a gift to come full circle. Congratulations! All this, indeed!!

    Comment by kwqrs on January 11, 2013 at 9:59 pm

  5. Claire

    So beautiful! Your postings always bring back powerful memories of years gone by. What a joy it has been to have known your family and to have witnessed the accomplished and confident woman you have become!

    Ellen

    Comment by ellen picard on January 11, 2013 at 10:28 pm

  6. How wonderful! And what a gorgeous baby that Juliette is. Best of luck with the paperback, Claire!

    Comment by Suzanne Morrison on January 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm

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