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  • Jacque Stevens

The True Story behind Winter Falls (Or how I became a nurse when I wanted to be a writer) PART 1

I have always been a fairly obedient girl, one who lived in constant fear of “getting in trouble” or ticking someone off. I am the sixth of eight children, and had so many examples to follow and learn from, I rarely had to be directly disciplined at all. I liked being in the background. I never wanted to stand out for making the wrong or embarrassing choice, so I often opted for the path of least resistance.

So when it came to going to college, I knew the “right,” “smart” way to do it. I wasn’t going to sit around for Prince Charming, I wasn’t going to pick a “frivolous” degree or something with an unclear career path. I was going to college to train for a job, and with that in mind, I opened up the college catalogue my high school senior year and thought “maybe nursing would be all right.” It looked interesting; there was no question it was an honorable job. No uncomfortable ambiguity, you major in nursing, you become a nurse. The world needed nurses and nurses make money. Guess work done.

So I signed up for my freshman classes and started taking Anatomy and other pre-recs and a few other things started falling in place. I’ve heard some people say that college was a wakeup call, that they coasted in high school and had their legs kicked from under them in the first year of college. I pretty much had the opposite experience. I was used to taking advance classes, and when doing general classes in college, I shot to the top. Even though nursing is a fairly competitive major, I got in even without the same advance preparation a lot of people put into deciding to become a nurse.

But once I got into my actual nursing classes, the “real work” began. It was an accelerated program, and it was a lot of work. There is no question about that. Though it really wasn’t the academics or subject matter I struggled with, it was the social demands. I had instructors who actually told me after written tests and reports they were “surprised” to discover I actually knew my stuff because I was so quiet in the practical setting. I would stutter and fumble when I felt like everyone’s eyes were on me—as they often were in clinical scenarios and such.

Blood, no problem. Knocking on a stranger’s door and introducing myself to a new patient, terrifying.

But I was not a quitter. I had decided to become a nurse, so that was what I was going to do.

And I DID do it. I graduated. But just the act of “nursing” drained me socially and when I left college, I felt like I had barely experienced much outside of my chosen major. I went to my classes, forced myself though them, and came home and retreated into my real comfort zone—writing and more artistic pursuits, things I always knew I enjoyed on my own, but never wanted to “ruin” by inviting more critical eyes.

So that was what happened. I was so “smart” about my college choices that when I finished, I got exactly what I wanted. I was a nurse with no Prince Charming, and no “frivolous” experiences. And that reality hit me in the face when I graduated. I had known I had to be smart about my college choices, but I guess I secretly hoped that serendipity would intervene along the way, and I would get the “unsmart” things—marrying early and pursuing my art while chasing down toddlers.

That was what I really wanted, but since I never felt comfortable admitting to it, I got something entirely different. I hit the wall realizing that instead of accomplishing one hard thing, I signed myself up for one hard reality of actually being a nurse.

I came home and became the worst kind of statistic. I applied for jobs I didn’t want, barely getting any interviews as it seemed everyone was looking for “experience.” And I just didn’t want to fight anymore. The queen of passive aggressive behavior, I would agree with what my parents said I needed to do to find a job or continue schooling, but give a half-hearted effort hoping I WOULDN’T get them. I fought during nursing school, and without a real love for the profession needed to clear the obstacles, I became exactly what I most feared, directionless and lost.

This is where I usually start to tell people about my writing experience, that I finished college with a novel I finished in a closet, and when the reality of becoming a nurse arrived, I tried to retreat to my writing again. But I was now living at home with a different kind of mother, one whose full nest was emptying. Instead of being a “mostly good” girl lost in the crowd of my siblings, I became her number one focus. She zeroed in on my struggles/desires and decided that if I really liked writing, I should take my first novel and show it to someone who really could help.

She showed it to a published author in our church ward.

And that author (and her critique group) really wanted to be helpful. They were so helpful, I watched my poor book baby get ripped to pieces and with it, my life seemed to crumble. My last coping mechanism and hiding spot had been snatched from under me.

I didn’t want to be a nurse, I didn’t have a Prince Charming, and I was a terrible writer.


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