I had one goal last Friday: don’t cry in front of the strangers.
After months of focus on administrative deadlines, I was filled with last-minute stress over my first public reading of And Be Happy, A Memoir of Domestic Violence Beginning. I wanted to just stay excited and enjoy a sense of accomplishment about bringing my book to an audience. I did not write And Be Happy to have written a book. I never desired time dedicated each day to thinking about my life with my ex-husband. In fact, I wanted to find a way to never think about it again. I wrote And Be Happy to answer the call for a sense of community among survivors. I had completed the book, and the reading was its maiden voyage.
I had not anticipated feeling nervous, but grew increasingly emotional in the week leading up to the event. My reading was part of a larger event, an art walk, and there would be a few other local writers speaking as well. I had submitted my writing for critique and edits for years. I had already sold copies of the book. I had even recorded myself reading some chapters as a part of my editing process, but this would be the first time I read it out loud to people.
First, I worried about what scene to choose. I didn’t want to read any scenes of physical violence, though many of those who had read the book recommended various such scenes. I wanted to read one of the sweet stories of quiet time with Thoits, my dog, but those did not seem appropriately representative of the book. I didn’t want to read a scene of verbal abuse because I did not feel emotionally equipped to read the dialogue from my ex-husband’s side of that.
I went with a selection from chapter 14, And Run. In practice, I struggled to get through it without my voice breaking.
Once the art walk started, my nerves steadied a bit. Friends from almost every aspect of my life came through to show their support. Friends from community volunteer organizations I work with, people I initially met as customers of my since-closed food cart, a trivia teammate, and fellow writers came to show their support. Even my critique group-mate from Washington state drove all afternoon to be there for my first event.
I made it through my reading without the interruption of crying. Art walk visitors approached me afterward and thanked me, often sharing some of their stories as well. Some people signed up for my mailing list; some purchased copies of the book. Everyone gave heartfelt congratulations and encouragement.
I don’t know how my feelings about readings will evolve as I get more under my belt, but even if the lead-up doesn’t get any better, the execution is worth it. My first reading proved not only a chance for me to strengthen the community of survivors but also a chance for me to be supported.
Rebecca encourages survivors of domestic to speak about their experiences and to lean on each other for support.