At a Crossroad
by Nikki Di Virgilio
At 19, I became pregnant. I wasn’t married. I had just started college. When I found out, it should have been a crossroad moment, but it wasn’t. I wanted a baby. I wasn’t afraid to commit, even when counselors told me being a young, unwed mother was the surest way to poverty. Even when my boyfriend told me he was going to play video games while I told my parents the news.
Twenty years later, holding the embryo of a writer in my womb, I sit at a crossroad, staring. I understand what writing might require of me. I’m scared. Will I commit or won’t I? This time, I have doubt. Motherhood has been my life path. I know how to walk that road with confidence. But I don’t trust I know how to walk the road of a writer, although I’ve been paving that road for many years already.
It began with a love for reading. I devoured every Judy Blume book and reveled in every Shel Silverstein poem. Then at 13, an English teacher said: “Throughout 7th grade you are going to keep a journal.” A journal? He didn’t tell us what to write about, only to write. English class was before swimming, which meant my journal became an instant friend who held the horror of my chubby body being seen in the black, unflattering suit. It held my terror of water: at the age of 3, I fell in the deep end of a pool, and never wanted to return.
Seventh grade passed, but Mr. Ziegler’s instructions to keep a journal never did. I allowed it to continue to hold my fears. Then, in 1994, after the break-up with my daughter’s father, I found a new friend. Her name was Melody Beattie, an author who wrote the book Codependent No More. This book held me in my pain and assured me I was not alone and I would persevere. I wanted to do for others what she had done for me. I wanted to be an author.
When my daughter began kindergarten, I cried as I left her classroom. I got in my car, still teary, but hopeful. This is when I will write. I have all day to write now. No more excuses. I couldn’t tell you what I did with those hours, but I didn’t write. The fear and doubt inside said I was too young. No one would take me seriously. Then, later, I got married. I was a homemaker. Folding the sheets, organizing drawers and files, stocking my pantry full of food, and shopping and eating lunch with my mom were all satisfying achievements—until they weren’t. I wanted something more. I still wanted to write.
This past August, I moved from my hometown of Minnesota to Los Angeles to support my daughter’s dream of becoming an actor. Before we moved, I asked to be given another opportunity to write.
As my daughter finishes her education at an acting academy and I live in the opportunity to write every day, I notice our lives moving in similar ways. We are both here at this crossroad. Had I not been pregnant with her, I would have faced what she faces now: Can I take the next step? I’ve always thought I was fortunate to have my life figured out for me at that age. Being pregnant made life obvious to me, and my steps for the next 18 years were clear. Now, at 39, I am faced with it: Can I take this next step?
We both fear and anticipate our capacities. Are we ready to let go of our old identity – her identity as a student, and mine as mother of a dependent child – and embrace a new one? Will I rise to the role of a writer as I did a mother? Since moving to California, I have learned that there is no going back. I look behind and see the divot in the road, created with my nos and my fears of walking the writer’s path, and realize perhaps I just wasn’t ready to stand where I am now at the crossroad. Often this crossroad feels like quicksand where I sink into the layers of my procrastinating past, my years of excuses, and my lethargy. They bring me to a place that is familiar, as if they have a life of their own and want to keep me stuck. There are times they succeed, but I notice that if I keep showing up, the quicksand disappears into a stream of water, and I use my strength not for fighting the flow, but for surrendering to it. I realize the demons of the past arise not to take me down, but to depart in response to me showing up and allowing the flow. The crossroad then is a neutral place, where a new path is being formed.
At 19, I rose to meet the responsibilities of my child. I wanted to be seen by my daughter and myself as a good mother, so she could sparkle and shine. It was my highest intention, and she is on her way. When I come to the page and fear and doubt arise, I ask myself, “What is my highest intention?” I want to honor what is within me. I want to give myself another chance for something new. In this space of clear intention, the fear lets go and the blank page remains. Open, ready, and present, I notice its loyalty to me. The page has been here the whole time. And seeing this, I begin to acknowledge my loyalty to it. I want to see what we can do together. There is no need to doubt. I am on my way.
Nikki Di Virgilio writes for her blog, The Soul Reporter, and recently, to help encourage and share the writing process, she began The Constipated Writer, She also works on a memoir and a spiritual guidebook. Her daughter, Alyssa is now 18, and she has another daughter, Lilli who is 10. Nikki is married to the father who played video games.