I was at a convention I had no business attending, in a bathroom that wasn’t meant for me, when My Favorite Author exited one of the stalls and began washing her hands beside me.
The convention was BookExpo in New York City; the bathroom, I now realized, was VIP only. My Favorite Author and I had both just come from the author breakfast panel, where she’d been promoting her new book—the entire reason I’d taken a Thursday off from my job as a middle school English teacher to attend a publishing industry mega-event. Now, here she was, the number-one person I most wanted to meet, standing an arm’s length away from me—in a bathroom.
“She’s tall,” I thought dreamily.
I had wanted to meet this author since I was 15, when I read her first novel and deemed it absolutely perfect. My mom had heard that the book’s editor had only changed two words. We liked to wonder what those two words were.
I was an aspiring author myself, but I knew I was far from perfection. As the convention approached, I wondered, Am I good enough to meet her?
Up until that point, my encounters with celebrities had not been especially affirming. Once, a beloved senator stopped shaking hands just a few people ahead of me, and I could only reach out to touch the shoulder of her blazer. Another time, I shook an author’s hand with such enthusiasm that I felt his knuckles fold and crush together. In the days leading up to the expo, I couldn’t help wondering whether I was only gearing myself up for more anticlimax. What did I hope to accomplish?
Just to see her, my heart answered each time—to meet her.
Back in the bathroom, as My Favorite Author dried her hands, I agonized over my options. Would I be the crazed fan who cornered her by the sinks? Or would I walk right out and risk the possibility that when I later waited in line for her autograph, she might stop signing before I made it to the front? If that happened, there would be no shoulder touching or knuckle crushing; I would have come all this way and missed my chance.
My Favorite Author turned to leave.
I wouldn’t say that I decided to speak. Instead, some kind of balloon in my chest burst, forcing out a rush of air in which I said her name—urgently, as though to warn her of fire or falling sheetrock.
She turned around.
“Hi—oh gosh,” I said. Words don’t typically come to me even in the best of circumstances. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’m hoping to get your autograph later.”
She smiled and waited for me to say more—only, there wasn’t more. I couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t be hopelessly, paralyzingly weird to say in a bathroom.
Fortunately, we were interrupted by an “oh, dear”—another big name was struggling with the automated paper towel dispenser. My Favorite Author heroically came to her assistance. I could not get out of there fast enough.
Upstairs, on the mezzanine, I found a bench and sat doubled over, thrilled and mortified all at once. I had seen her, I had spoken to her—and I had been a complete idiot. Was this really it?
An hour later, at the appointed booth, My Favorite Author arrived to sign autographs. Now that I’d had a chance to clear my head, I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted to say, “I’ve read your books more times than I can count.” I wanted to say, “I’m the same age as your daughter.” I wanted to say, “What were the two words?”
That morning, at the breakfast panel, My Favorite Author had thanked all of us—booksellers, librarians, and readers—for making her work possible. “I think about you every day,” she said. I was flattered to think that the tiniest sliver of that remark was meant for me.
The line moved, and I stood before her.“Hi,” she said, already busy signing my book.
“Hi,” I replied. “I...”
Tears came to my eyes, and I couldn’t speak. This moment, exactly this, was all I had wanted. To see her. To be seen by her.
I’d broken her rhythm, and now she really looked at me.
“I don’t know what to say,” I finally managed. “I love your writing.”
My Favorite Author smiled at me. She then reached out and put her hand over mine.■
Karen Wilfrid is a freelance writer and seventh-grade English teacher. She lives in Newton, Mass.