Hope springs eternal

My writer’s group met last Tuesday, and when we got to talking about editing I brought up a part from my published memoir, Long Time, No See as an example of the value of good editors.

It’s been a while since I read that book, so after the meeting I dug up the excerpt to read it again. When I read to the last line I thought, gee whiz, this same part could work as a (somewhat unlikely!) Valentine’s Day blog post, too!

But first, the editing part. Before University of Illinois Press published Long Time, No See they had a couple editors go over my manuscript. One checked the medical information, the other copyedited and suggested literary changes, and, surprise, surprise, I discovered I actually enjoy being edited. Those University of Illinois Press editors would ask me to choose the exact word to describe something, and that would force me to put myself back into a situation and really think hard about what it felt like at the time. Not always easy, but very therapeutic.

In my rough draft, I wrote a scene where the retina specialist examines my eyes after all the surgeries and breaks the news to us. The day was July 25, 1985, just three days short of our one-year wedding anniversary. The doctor tells us I’ll never see again, we listen, and then we walk out of the office and head to White Sox Park for a baseball game.

The editors read my version and absolutely insisted that I tell my readers what was going through my head when we found out my blindness was permanent. I didn’t exactly want to describe that time of my life in detail: doing so would force me to put myself back in that room, hearing that bad news again. I did it, though, and writing that scene turned out to be GREAT therapy. I had to think. When I was told I’d never see again, was I disappointed? Angry? Sad? Scared? The answer is here, in that excerpt from Long Time, No See (University of Illinois Press, 2003):

“I’m afraid there’s nothing else we can do,” he said in a tone I recognized from his final report on my left eye.

All I could think to ask was, “Can I lift my head up now?”He said I could. Thankful for at least that, I raised my head for the first time in over a month. I was struck by a sudden feeling of freedom and relief. No more lasers, no more operations, no more weekly visits to Chicago, no more worrying whether or not this all was going to work. We’d been at this for nearly a year; now it was finally over. I swiveled my head as if to look around. I saw nothing.

Mike talked to the doctor, asking sensible questions, I suppose. Turning toward their voices, I asked if this was really it, if we’d really exhausted the possibilities. “I’m a religious man,” the doctor answered, “and in the religion I follow we believe in miracles. I believe God has cured all sorts of ailments. This could happen with you, but there’s nothing else I can do for you medically.”

We stood up to leave. I reached out for the doctor’s hand. He clasped mine with both of his, and I thanked him for all he’d done. He was shaking. I felt sorry for him; I would’ve liked to tell him we were going to be all right.
The White Sox were in town that day. Going to a ballgame after learning I’d be blind for the rest of my life was probably a strange thing to do, but it beat heading home and sitting on our pitiful second-hand couch and wondering where to turn next.

The White Sox were having a rotten year. There were maybe 8,000 people in the stands; Floyd Banister pitched, the Sox lost. But it was strangely pleasant, sitting next to Mike with my head up, not giving a thought to eyes or surgery. We each had a bratwurst and a beer. Between bites and gulps and giving me play by play, Mike bantered with other fans, cursing the underachievers on the team. I laughed at Nancy Faust, the Sox organist—she’s famous for picking songs that play on player’s names. Mike marveled at the endurance of Carlton Fisk, and we both wondered out loud why every time we went to a game, that bum Banister was pitching.

Wedding day, July 28, 1984. We're headed for our 30th this year.

Wedding day, July 28, 1984. We’re headed for our 30th this year.

The three-hour ride home was quiet. Once there, we found ourselves sitting on our miserable couch, as we’d feared, holding hands, trying to imagine how we’d cope. Our only decision that night was to go to sleep. Our bed felt wonderful. I was home for good. Despite everything, a powerful relief came over me, a sense of security, such a change from how I’d felt during those months in my hospital bed. And I realized right away that sight isn’t needed under the covers.

 
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26 Responses to “Hope springs eternal”


  1. 1 Luis Garcia February 14, 2014 at 2:59 am

    Really hit a home run, I to have the knowledge that no matter what happens today tomorrow will have a beautiful sunrise in my eyes. VI since 2006.

  2. 3 patti brehler February 14, 2014 at 7:34 am

    What a beautifully written piece! Thank goodness for editors that pushed you to really tell your story. Thanks for sharing! And Happy Valentine’s Day!

    • 4 bethfinke February 15, 2014 at 7:31 am

      Yes! Three cheers for editors, and I should add that my husband Mike Knezovich was one of them. He did the initial HUGE edit/rewrite when U of I Press said they liked my manuscript but wanted it changed from chronological to thematic…

      _____

  3. 7 Mary Rayis February 14, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Hi Beth! I love this scene and read it recently as I make my way through your intriguing and moving memoir. I thought I knew you in high school, but I feel like I’m getting to know you so much more intimately. Thanks for sharing your life with your readers. Happy Valentine’s Day!

    • 8 bethfinke February 15, 2014 at 7:34 am

      Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too, Mary. Funny, was just talking with an old friend (she went to I.C., not York, so don’t think you’d know her) and we were reminiscing, wondering if we are still the same girls we were back in our teens. I decided that in many ways, we are. Wonder what you think…?

      _____

  4. 9 Sara Latta February 14, 2014 at 10:24 am

    That’s a lovely and perfect for Valentine’s Day. Thanks for sharing!

    • 10 Chris, Larry & Harper February 14, 2014 at 8:59 pm

      I totally agree – absolutely perfect for Valentines Day.

    • 12 bethfinke February 15, 2014 at 7:36 am

      Thanks Sara. That is high praise coming from a fine writer like you. Hey, and what a year to move to NYC, huh? I bet you thought you’d left snowstorms behind in Champaign-Urbana. Hope the move went as smoothly as possible. Oh, and my NYC trip in March got postponed, so don’t worry about unpacking that red carpet of yours. Not yet, anyway…

      _____

  5. 13 Lois Baron February 14, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Beth, you are a lucky woman! Happy Valentine’s Day. Lois

  6. 15 glivingston February 14, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Beautifully written Beth. A very happy Valentine’s Day to you and Mike.

  7. 17 Hava February 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I had forgotten too – how well written your Long Time No See is. I’m going to take it down from the shelf, blow off the dust and reread it.

    • 18 bethfinke February 15, 2014 at 7:41 am

      You know, it was a pleasant surprise –and a huge relief — to see how well-written this particular part was. Must say, I haven’t reread the whole thing, so can’t vouch for the rest or guarantee it’s worth doing the dusting. Will let you decide….

      _____

  8. 19 Carl February 15, 2014 at 7:47 am

    As for the answer the editors wanted, the excerpt had it loud and clear. Love the last line.

  9. 20 Laura Gale February 15, 2014 at 10:50 am

    What a wonderful idea to publish this part of your story. I, too, will take my copy of the book out and re-read it. It has been too long since I have done so. And 30 years – congratulations! I still recall dancing the polka at your wedding with fond memories. I don’t know if the people Ed hit with his knee kicks will remember the dancing so fondly though!

    • 21 bethfinke February 15, 2014 at 10:55 am

      I’ll tell you this: at age 97, Flo definitely still remembers dancing with Ed. “What a good dancer!” , and she never once mentioned getting kicked! Thanks for the sweet comment, Laura.

      _____

  10. 22 Catherine Rategan February 15, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Beautiful, Beth. Thanks. I can really understand the sense of relief you describe so clearly.

    Catherine Rategan

  11. 23 Don Horvath February 15, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Excellent post. You and Mike truly are fortunate to have each other. I think it was a great choice to go to a Sox game by the way, even if Floyd the Barber was pitching. There was a guy who could break your heart so many different ways.

    Have a great weekend. Give Whitney a scratch on the head.

    By the way, your fame follows us wherever we go. I think Juli might have mentioned that we know Mark Miller, who knows you too. Today Juli and I were in the park with Wilson and we came across some people with an eight year old lab. I mentioned that I knew you and that you just celebrated Hani’s 14th birthday. She and her husband spend half their time in Urbana (I did not get her name), and she also knows you. It is a very small world when you know Beth Finke.

    Don

  12. 25 Karen Baasch Bagge February 15, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Beth – I agree with you that we are in many ways the same girls were were back in our teens. Maybe just a bit wiser and quicker to offer grace! :)

    • 26 bethfinke February 16, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      Oooo, Karen, I just love hearing from you — reminds me of our Girl Scout days. Your phrase, about being quicker to offer grace makes me think hey, you should be a writer.

      _____


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