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June 11th, 2014 DEBORAH KENNEDY | Books
 

Are you there Judy? It’s me, Debbie.

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On June 16, literati the world over re-enact the plot of James Joyce’s Ulysses with pub crawls, marathon readings and Irish breakfasts. On June 17, former teenagers of Portland will have a similar celebration in honor of novelist Judy Blume.

Part tongue-in-cheek send-up of Bloomsday, part serious-as-puberty tribute to one of America’s most beloved writers of young adult fiction, Blumesday, now in its seventh year, gives local artists a chance to express their gratitude to the author of more than 20 books for children, including Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, Deenie, Blubber and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Seven writers and musicians will be performing at the Secret Society at this year’s event, which in the past has featured musical numbers, a video-chat appearance by the writer herself and readings from some of Blume’s most popular and often-banned books. According to event organizer and co-creator Joanna Miller, die-hard fans all have a favorite Blume book that changed their lives. Miller’s is Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Blume’s most autobiographical novel about a young Jewish girl whose family moves to Miami shortly after World War II.

Mine is Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Allow me to explain.

It was 1987, I was 11 years old, and I was dying. What, beyond cancer of the something, could explain the waves of pain in my midsection and the blood that kept appearing in my underwear, day after day after day? For reasons that are hard to articulate now, I worked hard to hide what was happening to me. When the abdominal pain hit, I gritted my teeth and took a walk. As for my pink girl panties, bearing the prognostic brown smears of my certain demise? I rolled them up and stored them on the floor of my closet under my Barbie suitcase. My mother, ever vigilant, noticed I’d stopped eating much at dinner. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked.

“She finally figured out she’s fat,” my brother said.

I ignored him and shrugged. “I’m fine.”

Then I excused myself to the bathroom and pulled down my pants. More blood. There was always more blood. There would always be more blood. Of that I was sure. I would bleed and bleed and bleed until there was nothing left of me but blood and bones, buried under a mile-high pile of stained, ruffled cotton. And then wouldn’t my brother be sorry?

But, five days into my battle with cancer, the bleeding stopped. And when I went to my closet to gather up my underwear—I had vague plans to incinerate them in the backyard burn barrel—I found in their place a copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and a note from my mother: “Read this. I think it might help. Love, Mom.”

It did help. Immensely. Immediately. In the book, Margaret Simon and her family move from Manhattan to suburban New Jersey, where she attends a new school, makes and loses friends, ponders the role of religion in her life, pines for a lawn-mowing boy named Moose, and, most importantly, waits for her period to start.

So that explained the blood. It wasn’t cancer. It was womanhood.

I no longer felt alone. I was also sure that my plans to become a ballerina or princess or even president when I grew up were old news. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to create something that comforted others the way Margaret’s story comforted me.

It has been 26 years since I first read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and it still resonates. I revisit it every other year or so, careful not to flip by the inscription, which reads, “To my mother.” Someday, when I publish my first novel, the inscription will be the same. I became a writer because of Judy Blume and Margaret Simon and my mom. I became a writer because, when I was 11 years old, two wonderful women and one insecure but hopeful girl helped me realize I wasn’t dying after all. 


GO: Blumesday is at the Secret Society Ballroom, 116 NE Russell St., 493-3600, on Tuesday, June 17. 8 pm. $10 in advance, $12 at door. 21+. Visit blumesday.com for more information.

 
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