Standing Strong and Moving On

The 46 writers represented in the new collection She’s Got This!, and the work they share in its pages, make clear that profound social change comes when women’s lives are made public. The true-life stories and individual manifestos they share with readers urge readers to move forward by embracing our former selves with tenderness. 

Dorothy O’Donnell takes on the challenge of competing in a grueling triathlon in her essay. When she signs up to tackle a one-mile ocean swim, the experience of it knocks her literally on her ass—and echoes the deeper upheaval that her previous years of drinking caused. After she completes the swim, she feels the power and gratitude of survival for both journeys.

Lucinda Cummings describes coming to terms with her son’s death in “What’s Left Behind,” and what it’s like to sort through his belongings years later. “So many of the things our loved ones leave behind,” she profoundly declares, “have voices and give off light.”

It’s the learning to live with the new normal that shines in this essay—which connects to another by Beth Touchette. She writes about the experience of losing family photographs in a fire, and realizes that she can’t hang onto “a child, object or even a moment.” Mementos are symbolic; keeping them, holding tight, can sometimes be the signal that we have to let go.

Joanne Hartman writes about wanting to be like all the other suburban non-Jewish kids in her neighborhood—and how it collides with her mother’s habit of sharing Holocaust experiences with her friends. “I’m The Girl With The Holocaust Mother,” she writes. “Something I’ve been trying to escape from all my life.”

Hartman’s younger self can’t take in her mother’s stories. These aren’t the stories her friends’ mother tells. “I wanted a mother like the others in our cul-de-sac,” she explains, “who packed their children sandwiches made with Jif peanut butter—the smooth kind—and Welch’s grape jelly on squishy white Wonder Bread. Not liverwurst on challah.” It is only after her mother dies that Hartman is able to let down her guard. She takes in her mother’s experiences then as she reads her mother’s memoir, words she left for her daughter and the world, and when she does, the walls fall away. 

Mary Claire Hill describes the early days of her teen son’s disabilities—insatiable appetite, cognitive impairment, violent tantrums—but also hers and her son’s gradual, hard-earned journey toward healing.

“How lucky I was to be sitting there, with just him, with no siblings eye-rolling or trying to fill in the gaps in his stuttered speech or interrupting when he repeated a thought,” Hill writes, remembering the period after her son, now a teenager, excitedly describes his day at school. “No audible sighs when his face contorted with the effort of producing the right word. Just me and Oscar and a story to tell.”

Looking back, Hill wishes she could have told her younger self that one day her son would be okay and that he would find his way in the world. It is a sentiment we’ve all felt—a reminder of the importance of holding ourselves with compassion regardless of where we are in our lives.

About

Leslie Absher is a journalist and personal essay writer. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Salon, Ms., Independent, Greek Reporter, and San Francisco Magazine. She was awarded an honorable mention for non-fiction by Bellevue Literary Review and lives in Oakland, California with her artist/comic book writer wife. Visit her at leslieabsher.com.