Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Tribute to Britta... and a Lesson on Writing for the Soul

I am so glad that I decided to take Creative Writing over summer semester. I learned so much and it was by far my favorite liberal arts class that I have taken during my entire college experience. For the final project in this class, we were instructed to write a piece of creative non-fiction... a memoir. An earlier writing exercise had asked me to write about a person who has influenced my life. I decided to expand on this exercise for my final essay, and I wrote about my lovely friend Britta.

“If you start me up… if you start me up, I'll never stop!”
I sat cross-legged on the carpet in my bedroom and covered my mouth with a Trigonometry textbook, attempting to muffle my laughter as I watched my neighbor Britta belt the Rolling Stones classic into the karaoke microphone. She was so intensely focused on the lyrics flashing across the screen that she had not noticed my little sister join in as her back-up dancer or my little brother using a pair of pencils to drum along with the beat on the side of the bed.
She was a sight to see from head to toe. While the cancer was slowly and painfully invading her vital organs, Britta refused to let it take the life out of her. She was not the slightest bit embarrassed by the weight gain that her chemotherapy treatments had caused, and she saw the loss of her hair as an opportunity to buy some fabulous new headwear that she had been eyeing at the local thrift store where she volunteered. Where her hair had once been a perfect mess of silver spikes, she now donned a brightly flowered scarf tied pirate-style over her bald scalp.  She confidently displayed her bronzed, sixty-something year-old body in homemade denim cut-offs and a neon green bathing suit, which she accessorized with a bejeweled leather belt and her signature red cowboy boots.
When the lyrics became too confusing, Britta began to make up her own words, at which point I dropped my textbook, jumped up, and grabbed the other microphone. I danced alongside her as I sang along, “You make a grown man cryyyyyy! You make a grown man cryyyy!” My mom soon joined in, and the combination of her thick Peruvian accent with Britta’s strong Danish accent left my siblings and I with tears streaming down our suntanned cheeks as we laughed so hard that we couldn’t sing or dance or drum at all anymore.
The next six years skipped by as quickly as the karaoke lyrics had flashed across the screen that afternoon. My older sister returned home from college and got married, my parents divorced, my little sister started middle school, I left for college, my dad remarried, my brother entered high school, I got married, my older sister had a baby, and Britta was there through it all.
And suddenly I was wearing my best black dress and sitting at a circular table with my family, sipping lemon-flavored water out of a clear plastic cup. We listened as one-by-one a room full of people went up to the microphone and shared their fondest memories of Britta. Each of the stories was sweet, hilarious, shocking, and inspiring all at the same time- a perfect tribute to the angel who lived next door.
As my dear neighbor warmly smiled at me from the picture frame on the table, I thought back to the last day that I had spent with Britta. Just weeks before her body finally succumbed to the illness after battling it vehemently for almost a decade, I had fought back tears as I held her shrunken hand in mine. She had been too weak and too heavily medicated to speak, but as she looked intently at me with those piercing blue eyes, she used all of the energy she could muster to give me a wink and a smile. And in that moment I could hear her singing at the top of her lungs, “If you start me up… if you start me up, I'll never stop!”

Lesson Learned: Writing about past events is a great way to remember those experiences. If you really let your mind and heart return to what you were feeling at that time, the writing experience can almost transport you back to that moment, and the memory becomes so clear. While writing this essay, I could feel and hear Britta there with me. Writing this essay was an experience I will never forget.

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