On a dreary fall day almost ten years ago, I drove through my neighborhood to pick my kids up at the corner where the school children flooded into the neighborhood to go home. Even though we lived only four blocks from that spot, I insisted on picking them up instead of letting them walk….just an extra layer of precaution that I caught a lot of flak for but didn’t care. Sure, I watched Dateline every Friday. No, that didn’t have an influence on my decision. I had enough sense not to implant a tracker in them, so I considered my actions measured.
Every day when I drove the kids back to the house, I kept an eye on the other kids walking our direction, and in particular one little girl who always seemed to struggle. Some days she had a bike. Some days she didn’t. Most days she was crying for one reason or another.
I’d often stop to see if she was okay. She’d fallen off her bike. Or her backpack was too heavy. Or it was drizzling and she was wet. This kid didn’t like to walk and she let the neighborhood know about it.
On this particular day, I passed her by and she wasn’t crying but look displeased. She’d thrown her bike down and was digging through her backpack for something, but she didn’t look hurt or too upset so I drove on.
As I was about to turn down our street, I glanced back one more time in my rearview mirror and saw something that caused me to pause, my turn signal still blinking.
An old-style Cadillac had stopped at the curb near her. A woman was loading the girl’s bike into the trunk. The girl was walking around to get into the car.
I sat frozen at that stop sign, a foreboding uneasiness working its way through my body. The girl disappeared into the car and the car drove away.
Something wasn’t right. I knew it. I’d never seen anyone pick this girl up a single day of school.
“Mom, what are you doing?” my son, eight at the time, asked.
With one fierce turn in my minivan, I swung a tight circle and headed after the car.
“Mom?” the kids were asking.
“It’s okay, just sit still,” I said.
I hit the gas, looking for the car on the road out of the neighborhood. But I couldn’t find it. My heart sank. Where had it gone? I was just a few second behind it.
I sat at a stop sign thinking through what to do when suddenly on the side street to my right, the Cadillac came into view and drove toward us. Apparently unfamiliar with the neighborhood, she had turned down a street that didn’t have an exit.
What happened next felt like an out-of-body experience. I made a sharp right turn, then turned the minivan sideways and blocked the car.
“Mom! What are you doing?” my daughter, five, cried.
“Stay in the car. Do you hear me?” I looked at them in the rearview mirror. Their eyes were huge but they both nodded.
I got out and started walking toward the car, staring straight through the windshield at this very surprised woman…a woman who looked like she’d seen her fair share of meth.
I went to the side where the girl sat. She recognized me and I said, “Do you know this woman?”
She paused, and then very slowly shook her head, “no.”
With drug-scarred skin and unwashed hair, the woman tried to explain herself. “I was just taking her home. I promise.”
I locked eyes with the girl. “I want you to get out, and go to the trunk and get your bike.”
To this day, I have no idea why I asked for the bike, but the woman popped the trunk and the girl got the bike.
I took a hard look at the woman. “I better never see you in this neighborhood again.”
The woman nodded. She looked as freaked out as I felt, but somehow I was managing to seem like the kind of mom who might be crazier than she was.
I walked the girl and her bike toward my van, glancing at my children, both of whom had gone slack-jawed as they watched the scene unfold. I opened the back to load the bike. I slid open the door and she crawled in. The kids scooted over to make room.
We drove silently back to her house. I walked her up to the door, praying someone would be home. Her dad answered, and all the fear and anxiety that I’d held in up to that point came pouring out of me and onto this man. “Your daughter was almost kidnapped! She got in the car of a stranger!” On and on it went. I told him to call the police. Then I drove away, shaking uncontrollably.
But that was not the bravest thing I ever did.
I consider the bravest thing I ever did to be the first time I let someone in the industry read my work. I remember feeling hope and dread as if they were one, singular emotion. As I waited for feedback, the inner dialogue I was having with myself read like a script written by a madman. “Stop looking desperate.” “God, please let him like it.” “Why are my pits so wet?” “Did I spell check this?” “Why did I ever think I could do this?” “Oh…was that a smile? Did I see a smile?”
Sure, I’d faced down a kidnapper but this…this was baring my soul to a total stranger.
So, let’s talk about you.
If you haven’t yet shown your work to someone in the industry, whether someone you hire or someone at a writer’s conference or retreat, you may feel terrified. That’s normal. But hear me on this–you gotta do it.
I’ll be honest with you. It may not go well. On another day, I’ll share with you what happened to me when I did it. I’ll give you a preview: the kidnapping story turned out better.
But the more you show your work, the better you’ll become. And the tougher, too. It’ll be a little less scary each time. And then something extraordinary will happen. You’ll…wait for it…look forward to it. Because you’ll understand the meaning of one of the most important words in our trade: refinement.
The refinement of your work, day by day, year by year, person by person, will take you to your ultimate goal.
So turn your metaphorical minivan around and go be brave. You never know…you might save a life one day.