Today’s column is my last. It seems an appropriate time to say goodbye. The end of the year. The end of my daughter’s childhood, which was the subject of so many columns. Most moms record their children’s upbringing on film. Celeste’s was on newsprint.
Saying goodbye isn’t easy. I fell in love with the newspaper the moment I laid eyes on her presses when I was a third grader, taking a tour. It was the only place I ever wanted to work. In 1987 I was hired as a secretary for the newspaper’s publisher and general manager and felt so instantly at home there I figured I’d stay until my last breath. (And after I died, wanted to be cremated and have my ashes mixed with the ink so I could rub off on reader’s hands. The newspaper was in my blood so long I thought I’d try it the other way around for a change.)
Since my job at the paper was to type, not to write, it was something of a fluke I ended up as a columnist. For the first ten years, I told no one about my love for writing. It wasn’t until the Gazette received a press release about a writing contest I’d won that my secret was out. The Lifestyles Editor, Rosalie Earle (now retired), asked if the person named in the release was me. I admitted it was. At the time, I’d just returned to work from maternity leave. Earle asked if I’d be game for writing a few columns about life as a new working parent, alternating weeks with reporter Greg Stone, who had several young kids of his own. Stone later left to take a job for the state and I just kept plugging away. Expecting someone, sooner or later, to say, “That’s enough.”
It took a lot longer than I expected.
There were times over the last 18 years I’ve been writing this column when I felt burned out and thought about quitting. It was tough coming up with fresh-feeling topics week after week, and occasionally strange living life in the public eye, even a fairly small public eye like the Gazette-Mail’s Lifestyles section. (For example, I was on the exam table in stirrups once when a nurse said, “Aren’t you that lady from the paper?” Not the best moment to be recognized.)
Prior to becoming a columnist, I seldom felt I belonged. I was forever on the outside, looking in. After I started writing, I began to regularly get emails from readers saying, “we must be related” or “my kid was poured from the same mold as yours” or “that’s how it is at our house.” I wasn’t so strange after all, or perhaps just as strange as most everyone else. Whatever it was, it was nice to no longer feel all alone.
And then it went even further. I hope this doesn’t sound too melodramatic, but readers saved me.
A few years after Celeste was born, I announced I was pregnant again. To be safe, I’d waited until well into my second trimester to share the news since few losses occur midway through. Just a few weeks after I made the announcement, though, a blood clot in the umbilical cord caused the baby’s heart to stop beating. I wrote about what happened, believing it would prevent me from having to tell the same awful story over and over again. I thought it would give me a short cut to the solitude I craved, where I could curl into a ball and grieve.
It didn’t happen that way.
After the column appeared, kind readers called and emailed and sent cards and flowers. It seemed everywhere I went, I was hugged and forced to talk about what happened, which helped far more than privately curling into a ball ever could.
Two more miscarriages followed before I finally managed to carry another pregnancy to term. The paper even held a little contest to select a middle name for the baby girl we’d already agreed we’d be naming Camille. (Gabriella narrowly won out over Grace.)
My entire world shifted then, this horrific downward slant with more and more bad stuff piling on. I can’t express how much the outpouring of caring from readers shored me up and made it possible for me to go on. That total strangers were grieving with me, encouraging me to talk about what happened, meant so much. People still mention Camille to me sometimes, which means she hasn’t been forgotten, hasn’t disappeared altogether. Maybe that’s a gift only grieving parents would understand, but it’s a gift I’m grateful to have.
I’m going to miss this weekly outlet of mine. It’s become a big part of my identity. It helped me feel connected to others, part of the community. I’ve changed so much over the 18 years I’ve been Smelling the Coffee. I’m nowhere near as shy as I was at the start. It you’d sat beside me in my pre-column days, I’d have most likely stayed silent. If you’d sat near me after, I’d quickly be mining you for story ideas. Every bit of small talk I exchanged, email I read, website I visited, restaurant conversation I overheard—it was all constantly examined for potential as column fodder.
Over the years, I also went from being embarrassed to tell anyone I liked to write to winning several national writing awards and teaching workshops on writing. Now, without a weekly deadline, I’m planning on focusing on my fiction and a few collections of columns I’ve been putting together.
I hope we can continue our conversations on Facebook (send a friend request to Karin Tauscher Fuller) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And please accept my most sincere thanks, from the bottom of my heart.
I’m going to miss you so much.