It is 5:45 p.m as Alex and I pull up to Parnassus Books in Nashville. Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, is scheduled to start his book reading and signing at 6:30 p.m.
We walk in to an already crowded, small bookstore. Supporters of the nonprofit organization fill the chairs set out for the event. Alex and I walk to the front and sit in front of the first row of chairs. We talk and wait for Jamie to arrive. He will read several of the 44 stories from his book “If You Feel Too Much,” which was announced a New York Times bestseller the day before.
Less than 20 minutes before, Jamie walks in and right by where I sit. I turn to Alex, eyes wide and cannot contain my nervousness and excitement.
“Jamie literally JUST walked by me,” I tell her, trying not to cry. She makes a comment at how attractive he is. He walks behind this book wall that separates the podium and back of the store. Suddenly, I have to pee really badly.
I get up and walk to the back of the bookstore to pee. As I am walking back to my seat, Jamie, standing in the doorway of the backroom, stops me.
“I like your shirt,” he tells me almost in a hushed and excited whisper. I thank him and tell him I met him at Heavy and Light in Nashville two years ago.
“Here? That was a good day,” he replies. As I sit back down, Alex, in awe, asks me what just happened. I can’t help but just smile. It’s about time for Jamie to come out and read from his book.
Right before Jamie is introduced, a group of incredibly beautiful people file in from the back and sit in the corner, near the back room. One of them is Renee Yohe. Jamie started TWLOHA because of her. I turn to Alex with tears in my eyes. The whole reason tonight exists is because of Renee and her story.
When he walks out, he is met with cheers, screams and a room full of applause. Everyone is smiling. People eagerly crowd around the door, as the store is too full to fit everyone.
Jamie says tonight is the date of his book tour that he has looked forward to the most. It will be different than the rest, and some very special guests are here as surprises to us.Jamie starts by reading from the acknowledgements. There is a section specifically for Nashville.
He reads “Ring the Bells.” This story features a man and his song. It talks about his family, the song and their impact on Jamie. Steven McMorran is here to perform his song. Jamie finishes reading. Steven comes out with an acoustic guitar to play the song.
The hush falls over the room as he sings. There is power and raw emotion in his voice as he sings. I have never heard the song before, but I feel it in my soul.
He asks if we want to hear a heavy or funny story. The crowd shouts out their answers, and we joke that “Fun is good” will be the next TWLOHA shirt. We laugh. Jamie is so cute and awkward when he makes a joke. It makes his dimples shine even more. He is nervous to be up there reading. He wants us to respond to things he says. So, a lighter story is picked, and he reads “Meet Dree.”
But the most moving moment of the evening as Jamie read from his book and took our questions is when he was 100% vulnerable to us. He spoke about his friendship with Renee being a hard one.
“For years, we would not speak.” he says as he looks back on the last ten years. But without Renee, TWLOHA would not exist. As he speaks about their history and story, he starts to cry. His voice breaks, and my heart breaks. This is one of the most raw and real human moments I have felt like this. To be completely open with a room of friends and strangers alike, to share your feelings and pain and love….this is what community looks and feels like.This is what TWLOHA is about. He calls Renee up, and they hug. Jamie crying, hugs Renee, and shows us what love and vulnerability looks like. That was a turning point in the night.
Jamie ends his reading by reading “There Is Still Some Time.” Then by inviting his friend, Matt Wertz, up to play another song for us.
From this point, I know I will be officially meeting Jamie and getting my book signed. But I have to pee again. I am so nervous. I get up to go to the back of the store and pee again. But I am stopped by a flawless and beautiful blonde lady and a dark haired lady with red lips holding a baby. I do not know who they are yet.
The blonde says that she saw me sitting in the front and asks “are you wearing a giving key?” I tell her I am. She asks what it says,and I tell her strength. From this, she tells me that she’s Caitlin Crosby, the founder of The Giving Keys. THIS IS HER COMPANY. I AM MEETING HER. My brain races and does not know how to process this.
She asks for my story. Why do I have a giving key that says “strength?” So I tell her and the dark haired lady that my friend gave it to me for Christmas in 2012 after my relapse with self harm. I told them that I struggled my entire first semester of college and at that point, spent four years struggling with self harm. I tell them that I have worn the necklace everyday since I got it.
“Are you feeling better about things now?” They are asking me about my story….So I tell them that I’ve been clean for two and a half years. But I still struggle with an eating disorder. The dark haired lady, Danielle, wife of Steven McMorran, asks me if I see anyone for that. I told them no. Going to counseling scares me. Caitlin says she sees a marriage counselor. I need to get the help I deserve.
Danielle asks for my contact information. She wants to refer me to someone I can see for an eating disorder. Caitlin brings her husband over to come meet me. So I tell him and her my story about the giving key again. They ask for my Instagram info. Caitlin wants to follow me.
This whole encounter can be summed up by something else these two lovely ladies said to me:
“We want to check in and make sure you feel loved and know you have support.” Danielle got my number and now I have no reason to not contact her if needed.
I never got to pee. I walk back to Alex and its my turn to meet Jamie. I am kind of shoved at him. My eyes go wide with shock. I am not prepared. I tell him my name is Allison. I tell him how I was told about TWLOHA when I was 15 and first told some people at church that I struggled with self harm. I told him that I came to Heavy and Light in 2013 after moving back from Dallas and relapsing with self injury that fall semester at college. He listens. He is gracious. He is too nice and humble and real. We take a Polaroid.
I leave the event with Alex. The only thing I can say is: this is what community feels like.