Monday, November 28, 2011


I began writing my book more than ten years ago. I had just survived a very difficult and serious second liver transplant. It seemed like the appropriate time to seek closure from years of illness. The process of writing a book took much longer than I had anticipated. I had heard this cliche before and was sure it wouldn't apply to me. Yeah right...

I sat at the old graphics design table in the quietest room of our house one night, and began to write. Before connecting pen and paper, I asked myself, how am I going to do this when I've never written anything before, especially never in English? I spoke well enough, but did that mean I could write an entire book? Maybe I should write it in German.

I decided to write in English. The majority of my hospital stays had still been in Germany up to that point, but the transplants had taken place in the U.S., and therefore medical expressions and terminology were at the tip of my tongue. The first outline was done within a few days.

The words flowed out of my mind onto the keys of my computer and lit up its screen. A month after the outline, I had typed over 800 pages. For someone like me who is not particularly known for my memory, I was amazed that every detail was in my mind as if things had happened yesterday. It seems that traumatizing events stay with you. Once this first draft was finished, I put it away for several months. Although I had written a lot, I didn't have a conclusion to my story.

I picked up my manuscript much later and read it again. I couldn't believe what I had written. The story was fine, after all it was pretty much carved in cement since it was a faithful account of my life. But rather because I never realized how poorly I spoke English. The grammar was fine. My mother had seen to this growing up. However, expressions and wording of sentences, all of it was 'off'.

I began listening much more closely to the radio and television. Whenever a particular expression suited what I was writing about I used it. Little by little, the second and third drafts came together. Even though, I still didn't have a conclusion.

While my English was improving, my story wasn't. Not until I gave it to my husband to read did he point out the immense flaw. The solution might be simple, the execution of it, not so simple. I put the manuscript away for several more months still unsure how to fix it.

In my manuscript I had cast myself as a superhero defeating death. My story lacked honesty; honesty, first and foremost, towards myself. I had become so adept at burying my feelings in order to deal with my health issues, that I couldn't bring them to the surface anymore. I hadn't included them in my writing. The act of putting events on paper forced me to confront emotions I had never dared face before. Draft by draft I began removing layer after layer of thick skin. Like an onion, I peeled off a barrier at a time to get to the real story. I imagine this is the type of work therapists do.

By the time I reached draft number XXL, I felt as if I had spent years in therapy. The more I delved into my state of mind during my illness, the deeper the sense of relief. My manuscript was taking shape, but I still didn't have a conclusion.

Ten years flew by in a flash, but illness didn't let go of me. I wound up having a third liver transplant and a new kidney. This last physical trauma had to become my conclusion, the final chapter after twenty-eight years of roller-coaster health.

Finally, I felt confident enough to relinquish my finished manuscript to my most genuine critic. My husband's talent to take a story and find its heart proved invaluable. Once again I ended up under the knife...well, my manuscript did. He and I slashed the repetitive moments, carved out my sometimes harsh words, surgically removed all boring lengths and stitched my story together by keeping the best moments. Hopefully we succeeded.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


She sat on an enormous teddy bear gazing into the room. Not a hint of a smile on her beautiful little face. In her three short years on earth, she had seen more than any man should.

She was barely two years old, when she stood on a balcony chilled to the bones in the icy Russian winter. She was half naked, barefoot, frostbitten, alone. The woman who had given birth to her was much too busy running after her next fix. The neighbors found her just in the nick of time.

She spent a month in the hospital fighting for her life. Pneumonia. Frostbite. When she finally recovered, she was brought to the orphanage. And now she sat on the enormous, white teddy bear, waiting for...her mom.

And then she came, her mom, the woman who had loved her before ever meeting her. The mom who had gone to great lengths to find her. Their eyes locked, hesitant, concerned. Mom gave her a stuffed rabbit, a doll and other gifts. The little girl looked on, serious, poker faced. It's cold.

Then mom blew into one of those party favors that make noise.
The little girl's eyes lit up. There it was. Finally a smile! A party favor had warmed her leery soul. Now they could spend all of three days together before mom would have to leave back to England.

The Russian bureaucracy demanded more paperwork. More forms had to be filled, more 'i's' dotted, more hoops jumped through. Mom had no intentions of giving up. Her daughter was far away, but she was determined to bring her home.

Three months later, mom returned to the Russian orphanage where her daughter was. This time she brought her two sons and her mother. At first the little girl was silent, but soon got swept up in the frenzy around her. Her visitors disarmed her. The boys hugged her and played with her, and held her attention. She was wanted and loved like never before.

The orphanage staff, a group of older ladies couldn't help but smile. If all went well, this little girl would leave them soon for a wonderful family. When the visit was over, the little girl went back to her desolate room where her cot stood among others. Once again, mom had hoped to take her home, but the Russian authorities...

What must the little girl think? Her mom wondered She had come for her twice, and still the little girl was alone. How does her young mind process these visits followed by the stark reality of life in the orphanage? What must she think? Her mom wondered.

Another three month delay. More paperwork for mom and, an appearance in front of a Russian judge. Mom was self-confidence and persuasive. Then came the final verdict.

The little girl looked at her mom. Not a smile to be found. But mom is smiling from ear to ear. She brought the staff parting gifts and they were all smiles as well. The little girl hesitated. She changed into the new clothes her mom had brought. The orphanage couldn't spare the precious few dresses in which they showed off the little girls. Mom slipped boots onto her daughter's feet, her tiny feet that were frostbitten a year earlier. Mom only had eyes for her little girl as she combed her hair and threw a warm coat over her shoulders. The winter ice thawed...just a little.

She took her daughter by the hand. Before they left this place for good, the ladies on the staff cried out, "she can clean and fold clothes for you! She's very neat and will wash the dishes too!" They meant well with those parting words, but mom wasn't listening. Her little girl was just that...a little girl.

And off they went, mother and daughter, leaving behind memories of their struggle. A little girl beamed as she kissed her mom. A mother lovingly protected her daughter. All is well that ends well for this little girl. Her new family is blessed to have her, and she is blessed to have them. Life is full of twists and turns, and sometimes it makes right, what started out so wrong.