An edited essay reposted from the archives.

“Monkey buttshine!” my son screams at his sister.

“Rat hag!” she yells back.

I drop the laundry basket and head downstairs. They know the m-b word is not allowed. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what a monkey butthshine is, but to my twins, it’s the worst thing they can call each other. In their odd twin language, rat hag is the second-worst. So the one who starts the fight, the one who says “monkey buttshine” first, always wins.

“Take it back!” As usual, they speak at the same time, in the same false tone, with the same heavy breathing. Faced off like two cage fighters, they circle each other.

My daughter has on the ugly face, my son’s fists are clenched.

And my mother’s heart breaks. “Why do you speak to each other like that?”

They both turn and look at me, two pairs of blue eyes wide, as if noticing me for the first time.

My son answers first. “Because she tricked me. She’s always tricking me.”

“Am not!” my daughter replies.

“Are too! It’s why you’re the oldest,” he pauses for affect. “Monkey buttshine!”

Good grief. Not this again. “Your sister was born first because she was lowest. There was no grand conspiracy to make you younger.”

“By eleven minutes,” my daughter adds with a wonderful teenage sneer. “But mom said it felt like eleven hours!”

Did I mention my twins are thirteen?

“Go finish your chores.” I pick up the laundry basket with a heavy sigh (I can add drama to any situation as well). “And I don’t want to hear those words again.”

“Why not?” my son asks as I leave the room. “I’ve heard you say worse things to yourself.”

Without responding, I stumble up the steps and make it to my bedroom. My heart races and everything blurs. I’ve heard you say worse things to yourself. Those words cut me as surely as if I’d taken the sharpest knife to the softest skin on my forearm. Not only because I’m horrified that they’ve heard me, but because they’ve spoken the truth. I drop the basket in front of the window, the morning light highlighting the folded white laundry, and I see all the variations in the white cotton, where the bleach never penetrated. Perfection is a self-defeating behavior, but self-destruction by words is far worse. Especially when one is a writer with an entire arsenal of rhetorical devises armed and ready.

I am, and always have been, harsher on myself than anyone else. Usually I keep the brutal self-talk inside, but I have a tendency to mutter when I’m upset. I just figured no one else was listening. But, apparently, I was wrong. As I reach down to start putting away the yellowed whites, my cell phone vibrates. A text from one of my CPs.

My book releases next week and I already have two-star reviews on Goodreads.

I take a deep breath. Those words carry so much emotion, and I remember her disappointment when she didn’t get that last contract. I remember her smiling on Facebook and cheering on her fellow writers who signed with other publishers with the grace and humor she’s known for. I also remember the horrible things she and many of my published/yet-to-be published friends confided to me about themselves and their own manuscripts while others celebrated online. And I don’t know how to respond. Yes, I’ve sold books traditionally and am also an indie author. I know the disappointment of rejection well and can still taste the tears, but I hesitate to type back. How can I encourage her when I treat myself with the same kind of contempt? With a kind of harshness I wouldn’t shower on my worst enemy?

As I put away laundry and struggle with what to say to my CP, I hear the kids downstairs negotiating whose turn it is for dog doo-doo duty. In the midst of back-and-forth promises and threats, my son says, “I’m sorry I called you a monkey buttshine. You’re prettier than a monkey’s butt.”

“I know.” My daughter quickly responds, “And I didn’t come out first on purpose. I was at the right place at the right time. But sometimes the best comes out last.”

My heart skips. Sometimes the best comes out last.

“At least we have each other,” my son says. “Can you imagine how hard this would all be if we had to do everything alone?”

And, again, I’ve learned from my children. My twins were born with a confidence I’ve always envied. Everything they’ve ever faced from speech therapy, entering middle school, to getting braces, they’ve had a sibling. A friend. A partner. I stand by the bedroom window and watch them outside. In yellow puddle boots and arms wrapped in plastic newspaper bags, they work together to clean the yard while the dog chases them. And I smile. They’ve shared everything. Haircuts at the scary cartoon place. Death of the beloved hamster. Whispers in the dark. Birthdays. They may argue, but they don’t fear because they are never truly alone.

Suicide by words is just plain old fear wrapped in vivid imagery and clever metaphors. 

And isn’t it my job as a CP, as a friend, as a colleague, to stamp out this fear in both myself and those I love? It’s my privilege to encourage in the face of trials and disappointments. To celebrate in times of joy. To sit by quietly, just holding her hand, as she struggles. And even though I’ve failed myself doesn’t mean I can’t do better, can’t try again. Maybe by helping her, by not letting her face her fears alone, I can help myself.

I reach for the phone, but I don’t text. Instead, I compose an email for her and all the other brave writers who have dared to scratch out words in the dark.

“Dear Friend, Let me take your hand and whisper softly. Regardless of what happens with your release next week or in two months or next year, I will not let you listen to the words of the serpent. Regardless if that editor reading your newest manuscript offers you a contract or rejects you, I will not let you hide. Regardless of the path your publishing career takes, you are still a writer. Your words still matter. Your words aren’t meant to draw blood. Your words are meant to change peoples’ hearts. And isn’t that the most important thing? Isn’t that why you became a writer?” Whether or not you hit a bestseller list on release day, please remember these words for they come from my heart. Sometimes the best things come out last. And the best is always worth waiting for. Just ask the teenagers. They know everything.

P.S. You are not a monkey buttshine (whatever that is) 


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