Aug 8, 2013

Day 3

Left to right: Me, Meaghan, and Kathy Tyers.

The next morning, I cry for no reason.

"Okay, what's the matter, kiddo?" Kaitlyn asks. Even this early after a 1 AM bedtime, she's jaunty as ever.

I could say it's my nausea or my nerves or my lack of sleep or my fried brain. But it's not. "No reason," I whimper. "I'm serious. There's really no reason. I just felt like I needed to cry."

I skip breakfast, wondering if it will help. It doesn't. By the time we pull out of the parking lot on the way to the conference center, I think I've composed myself enough to get through the day, but the sight of a gray Honda van puts me over the edge. I sit in the backseat and snuffle, half-hoping they will notice me and half-hoping they'll leave me alone. Because it really is ridiculous that a van that looks like ours would make me bawl.

Inevitably, Kaitlyn wants to know what's wrong.

"There was a van -- l-like ours in the parking lot." I swipe at the tears gathering in the dark circles under my eyes. "I'm sorry. This is stupid."

Kaitlyn takes a deep breath and snaps into tirade mode. Or maybe it's a pep talk. I'm not sure at this point. Perfectly reasonable is the running theme. Because it's perfectly reasonable that I should be a tear-stained mess this morning. I happen to disagree, but the glimpses of Kaitlyn's dramatically black-outlined eyes in the rearview mirror hearten me a little.

"But it shouldn't have to make my face look so awful," I manage. I hope it won't still look awful for my mentoring appointment with Kathy Tyers this afternoon.

"Oh, honey, you should see when I cry."

Funny. I'm usually the one calling people pet names. And this is the part of the conference I was dreading, and it really isn't that bad. I think I can make it.

Then I go into the conference hall. Almost everyone is there. I walk by Kat Heckenbach and poke her in the arm. She whirls around and the first thing she wants is a picture.

I hold up my hands. "No, not now," I protest, trying to laugh. "I look awful - I've been crying. Homesick."

"Aw, I'm sorry," Kat says, her eyebrows furrowing and her lips drawing together into something that is part grimace and part smile. "Later?"

"Yes! Definitely, I want a picture later. Just not now."

Kaitlyn makes me sit in the front row. I hold my head in my hands while Bryan Davis prepares his slideshow and think about how ridiculous it is that I can cry on command just now. If Meaghan told me to start sobbing, I would. For no reason.

I've never been this exhausted.

But as Mr. Davis starts talking, my pencil scribbles draw my attention. At the end of a particularly fascinating class about the hero's journey and some sudden insight about my main character that I hope I can thank him for later, I realize that I'm fine. Though the morning's escapades seem no less pathetic.

I sit through the next few classes with Meaghan on one side and Ness Treskillard on the other. We're all wearing plaid and we tell Kaitlyn she missed the memo. Kat gets the picture she wanted at lunch. She seems so approachable and I sit at her table through the rest of the meal, surprising myself with my boldness. Yesterday it was Bryan Davis and Jeff Gerke, today it's Kat and Grace Bridges and Robynn Tolbert.

Grace says she didn't expect me to look so young. "Really?" I ask, longing to imitate her accent - a round, slippery kind of sound like a greased rubber ball, sliding out of my mouth as easily as it slides in - but not sure if mimicking your international acquaintances' accents over lunch is something that will gain you friends or lose them. "So is the food much different here than in New Zealand?"

"Yes," Grace says, going back to her broccoli.

Beside her, Robynn bursts into laughter. "Now, see, I'll show you. You can't ask open-ended questions; you have to say something like, 'Now Grace, tell me about the different food in New Zealand!'"

"Ahh." I grin. Grace doesn't look offended, just smirks at her plate, then looks up and tells me about the fish and chips shops. She sounds a little more like me than I expected.

I get jittery when we leave lunch to return to the conference center. At 2:45 I have my appointment with Kathy Tyers, and it's one thing I've been looking forward to, not dreading. Back in class, I watch the clock and doodle flames at the top of my schedule page. I'm almost falling asleep - by no fault of the teacher, because even though I don't write comic books, Matt Yocum is fascinating - but because exhaustion always seems to catch up with me about 1:30 PM. I finally understand the cliche about eyelids being too heavy to keep open.

When I take another look at my schedule, trying to remember how long the class runs, I jump. Meaghan looks over at me, baffled. "My appointment," I whisper-hiss, since we're still in the front row. "I missed it. I had one at 2:45 with Kat yesterday - the one for today was 2:15, not 2:45, and I missed it!"

Once the comics class is over, I pace the hallway, regretfully missing the presentation on Splashdown Books, occasionally looking into the room at the end of the hall where Kathy is now busy with another girl. I find Becky in the bookstore and ask if Kathy has any more slots open today. Becky says she does, but the mentors work on their own schedule so she might have filled them up again already. Pace, pace. I read everything on the bulletin board twice and sit for two-minute chunks on the sofa in the sun at the other end, so I won't look too anxious.

Finally, I look back into the room and she's talking to Bryan Davis. "Mrs. Tyers?" I venture. I can almost feel the enormous weight of the Firebird trilogy in my arms. She turns. "I, um, missed my appointment because I mixed it up with the one yesterday, because I had one at 2:45 and today's was at 2:15 -" I really am babbling. I shut up.

"You want to come in now?" she asks, looking up at me from behind the rims of her round glasses.

"Oh - yes! Just let me get my notes." I race back down the hallway at the fastest allowable pace, hearing my mom's voice in my head about not running in the house. Meaghan, sitting on the sofa in my place, raises her eyebrows.

"YES!" I scoop up my notebook and pencil. "She's open for an appointment now!" Without waiting for a response, I dart back to the room and slide into a chair opposite one of my favorite authors.

I had a list of questions, but somehow they get buried and we just chat. She talks about her book. I talk about mine. Kathy is intense but funny, seeming interested in everything I have to say, and very flattered when I drop a hint about how much I love her books. She strikes me as someone who really loves her work. Not only as a writer will love it, but as a mother will love a child. There's a sense almost of detached pride when she beams and thanks me for telling her.

At the corner of my mind I see that Jeff Gerke is sitting across from us. When his client gets up to leave, I glance over and find him looking at me. Very slowly, as if it's the most normal thing in the world, he makes a face at me.

I burst out laughing mid-sentence.

The rest of the day somehow seems perfect. Even after I miss supper, lock myself out of my room, and aim a good-natured barb at L. B. Graham, which gets uproariously laughed at. The book signing downstairs has a slightly sad air to it - it's the last time we'll be together for at least a year. No one knows. I lug my copy of Firebird around until Kathy is free, then introduce her to my mom and plunk the huge trilogy down on her table for her to sign.

She signs it To E.


Sandra said...

Wonderful! It sounds like you had a Great time. Glad you got that appointment with Kathy Tyers.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I am so glad you had a good time at the conference!

And oddly, that you were crying "for no reason"--partly because that means nothing bad happened, and partly because it's nice knowing I'm not the only person who does that...

And of course, I am glad I finally got that picture :D.

Leah K. Oxendine said...

Wow, it sounds like you've had an amazing time! I love how you worded this whole thing, too.

Oh and about the crying for no reason? Don't feel alone. Pretty sure I do that at least once a day/every other day....and I have no control over it whatsoever. xP

Great post!

E. Kaiser Writes said...

Thanks for "bringing us along" with you on this wonderful conference experience, Elizabeth! I've enjoyed the trip... and now I want to go to one!
We'll have to see... there's always next year, right? ;-)