Before I go, I have something to say

Dealing With Disappointment

I had a big disappointment last week. A journal that publishes poetry and fiction and memoir had sent an email to its subscribers. “We need more prose for the next issue! Send us your stories or memoirs by October 15!” I almost ignored it, since I mainly write poetry. But then I remembered a short story and two autobiographical pieces I’ve always wanted to see in print.

Only one was on a computer; the other two had been typewritten, back in the day. So I pounded out 5,000 words onto my laptop. My two best writing friends kindly read them over, ferreting out typos and making good suggestions for revision. All set to go, I waited until the weekend to give them one more close look before sending them off, a week before the due date.

But the journal sent another email: “We’ve been overwhelmed by your response! With over 500 pieces received, we are now closed to any more submissions. Thanks!”

I was crushed. All that work, not to mention all that hope, down the drain. I wrote to my friends, thanking them for their hard work, explaining it was all for naught. They wrote back, urging me not to despair, to send the pieces to other journals. I haven’t done that yet.

Disappointment is hard to deal with. We all endure dashed hopes, lost opportunities. Depending on our experience and our age (sometimes), we take a varying amount of time getting over it. Either life gets better, in ways large or small, or time tamps down the sting of the initial letdown. After awhile, the disappointment becomes a story we tell our children, our friends – ruefully, sometimes with a laugh. I blew it, we say. I won’t let it happen again.

I’ve had other disappointments, of course, some so huge I hardly think of them that way. Take my first marriage. Please. That was more tragedy than simple bad luck. That was a crime. But other things come to mind, some of them events that happened during that marriage which had nothing to do with domestic violence.

When our first child was born, my husband, an excellent photographer, took a whole roll of film of our daughter on the first day of her life. Days later, when he went to rewind the film in his Pentax, he discovered it had jammed. No pictures. We were sick at heart, even though we still had that baby, even though we could take more photos any time. We’d missed the boat, and had only the pictures in our mind of her first, brand-new days.

Later on, when we’d become a family of four, we tried to buy a house. Having lived in house trailers – excuse me, mobile homes – we had our hearts set on a real, site-built home. We found one, a modest ranch in the middle of town, and sat down with the Realtor making hopeful plans. We were counting on a first-time buyer deal; without it, we really could not afford the mortgage or the down payment. Imagine our shock when she told us she was sorry, but we didn’t qualify, because my husband had already purchased a first-time home. The fact that this home was an 8-foot wide trailer didn’t matter. He’d gotten a mortgage for it, so we were shut out.

It took a long time to get over that one. We told ourselves, it’s okay, we have each other, we have the kids. But we never did have a real house. A nice double-wide trailer in the country, yes. But not the little ranch house of our dreams.

Many disappointments center around money, not having enough of it. I could fill this paper with more stories like that, but I won’t. After all, I got out of the marriage intact, moved to Dubuque to a job that somehow paid the bills, moved on to better jobs, and now am very happy with what I do for a living. Not to mention the infinitely better marriage I found after 20 years of being single. (And oh, the stories of disenchantment I could tell about the men I dated!)

When life knocks us down, we’re handed all kinds of supposedly uplifting phrases. “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Yeah, sure. I much prefer the hard truth of John Mellencamp’s song “Longest Days,” when he says, “Sometimes you get sick and you don’t get better.” But that’s me, the realist.

I do have a story about overcoming disappointment. Not a huge thing, though it seemed so at the time. I was taking an essay test for a class, about ten years ago when I was working on my master’s in English. It was the final, so it was important. I have trouble writing by hand, so I got permission to use a computer down the hall. I typed my best answers for 45 minutes, and then my fingers slipped and I lost it all. (No, I hadn’t saved it.)

My first thought? Give up. Just. Give. Up. My second? I had 15 minutes to go, and I could dust my fingers off and start over. Which I did. And got an A on the test, and in the class.

The moral of the story? I’m really not one for morals. Of course you should pick yourself up and try again. Of course I’ll send those stories out someplace else. Because as Mellencamp says elsewhere on that clear-headed album, all I can do here is my best, and be thankful for what we’ve got.

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