On the day of your own party, can you really be coherent and composed, attentive to guests and mindful of the manners you surely possess but which seem to have taken an unexpected leave of absence?
The answer for me is a resounding no.
I was overwhelmed by the show of support for Wendy Call and me at the launch party for our books—Wendy’s non-fiction book No Word for Welcome and my novel When the de le Cruz Family Danced. About 100 people filled Vermillion’s gallery and bar last week on one of those rare occurrences in June—a sunny day and 77 degrees, hot by Seattle standards.
People I’ve known for years and those of more recent acquaintance came. My coworkers, in a show of King County Solid Waste Division solidarity, arrived in impressive numbers. My splendid writing group, friends from Seattle’s writing community, and friends outside of my writing life joined the festivities—a “madhouse” as Kathleen Alcalá described it—enlivened further by the Latin music of Mochima.
Though I felt befogged by the heat, the crowd, and the ill-considered omission of dinner that evening, I felt sentient enough to be grateful for the presence and good wishes of those around me. And I felt anchored by the ones who were part of my life well before I ever thought of being a writer.
Among them were my sisters who flew up from California to surprise me. Rose is my older sister. Back in National City, we shared a room when we were kids. We tried to outdo each other on bikes and skateboards, on the tennis court and at bat. Together we picked rock fights with kids who wandered into the ravine we considered our own. Then we grew up, and I moved to the Northwest. The number of years we spent together has been exceeded twice over by the intervening years. Yet those early years are what define our connection to one another.
When I was in seventh grade I learned how to sew and I made clothes—little shifts, sun suits, and shorts—for my sister Dina, a kindergartner at the time. It was like dressing a doll. When I left National City, Dina had not yet entered high school. To me she was always a kid, except that she’s fifty now to my fifty-eight, and I think how it must have been some wicked magic that dissolved those years between youth and menopause.
Pam, Rose’s best friend in high school, drove up from Centralia, WA where she had settled some years after an elopement of sorts prompted a precipitous exit from National City. In high school, Pam drove an old pick-up truck. I would sit in the middle of the cab whenever I ditched school with Rose and Pam. We’d ride out to Otay Lakes on what was once a two-lane road amid the chaparral-covered hills. The hills have since been stripped, bulldozed, and graded into sprawling subdivisions with golf courses, chain restaurants, strip malls and even a fake lake. If our old stomping grounds have been forever altered, Pam remains essentially the same—mordantly funny, impulsive with flashes of dazzling common sense, a sucker for tear-jerker movies, and generous-hearted.
Pat lives across the Puget Sound in Kistap County. We both grew up in National City. I have a faded Polaroid of us with three other friends from our high school and early college years. We were posed with a life-sized, wax figure of Frankenstein. Aside from the fact that I sported the same hairdo as Frankenstein, what stands out to me in that photo is how young we all were, how we were waiting for our lives to begin, how beginning our lives would involve going our separate ways.
My husband James, whom I married thirty-one years ago, did a great job videotaping the event and snapping photos. One of my favorite photos is of our friends Don and Piroska, each holding a copy of my book. My husband and Don were graduate students in the math department at the University Washington back in the late 70s. Don and Piroska raised two boys; James and I raised two girls. Now, with the exception of my husband whose follicles seem to have a bizarrely plentiful supply of melanin, we are gray or graying.
All of this is to say that these people were in my life when I didn’t have a clue about what or who I wanted to be. Now I’m a writer. Now I have a book, and I can’t end this post without a few words about the good folks at Elliott Bay Book Company.
Karen Maeda Allman tracked the shipment of my books whose delivery in time for the party was in question. Calm, encouraging, and supportive, she updated me by phone and email on the progress of the books and their ultimate arrival just hours before the party.
Quiet, unassuming David Hsieh was the bookseller at our event. I knew David was involved in theater. I didn’t know the extent of his work. I love this line from his impressive resume as a theater artist: In his life away from the theatre, David masquerades as a mild-mannered bookseller at a prominent independent bookstore.
Rick Simonson briefly left his event at A Contemporary Theater (where star poets Heather McHugh and Alberto Rios were performing) to drop in, say hello, and offer congratulations. I have a photo of me with Rick and my book. Unfortunately, it was one of those moments when the camera catches that transition between talking and holding a smile, and you end up looking like you’re storing a cactus in your cheek. Always, always take multiple shots.
So the party’s over. Our books, as they say, are launched, which implies lift-off, momentum upward. Or maybe, it’s just onward. I’m okay with that.