BY MIA FRIEDERKelly J. Beard celebrated her 60th birthday by closing her law practice. For over two decades, Ms. Beard had been a successful employment discrimination lawyer in Atlanta. She had been recognized as a Super Lawyer, a Star of Atlanta and as one of the nation’s Preeminent Female Lawyers.
“The entire time I practiced law, I longed to quit,” says Ms. Beard, “I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer.”
Ms. Beard decided to return to college to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in the Creative Writing program of Vermont College of Fine Arts. For the two years it took her to complete her degree, she continued to practice part time, and although she dreamed of stopping, she “kept her shingle hanging” even after obtaining her degree in July of 2016. Ms. Beard had been working on her manuscript, An Imperfect Rapture, for seven years, in which she details the neglect, poverty and even violence she experienced as a child raised by Christian Fundamentalists.
As Ms. Beard approached 60, she felt she needed to concentrate on her writing: “Maybe it took that milestone to loosen my grip on the small life I’d been clinging to. I closed my practice with a prayer of gratitude and the dream of stepping into a life that’s more closely aligned with my soul’s purpose.” Ms. Beard says.
Ten days later, she learned that her manuscript had won the 2017 Creative Nonfiction Book Award from Austin Peay State University’s press, Zone 3 Press. This past September, An Imperfect Rapture was pre-launched at the Decatur Book Festival to a standing room only crowd. Praise for the book has been universal, and it has been described as “transcendent,” “evocative” and “courageous.” In addition to An Imperfect Rapture, Ms. Beard has also authored essays which appear in Creative Nonfiction, Santa Ana River Review, Five Points and Bacopa Literary Review.
Imperfect Rapture can be ordered at Amazon and Zone 3 press.
An excerpt from An Imperfect Rapture:
That’s when I saw her.
She didn’t look like the angels in my Illustrated Children’s Bible, the blondes of indiscriminate gender with billowy gowns and huge white wings folded behind their shoulders. She was my size. And dark. She leaked light from every pore—mouth, eyes, and fingertips. Her voice was wind ruffling a strand of leafy trees. I’d seen adults fall at the altar, seen them bury their faces into gritty carpet and weep, but until that moment I’d never known why. Prism colors encircled her. She leaned her face close enough for me to see through the gauzy veil. When she looked into my eyes, tears and laughter burst out of me—not from how my blood turned effervescent or the shock of lightning sizzling through my veins—but from the deep calm that swaddled me, my heart. Pure gratitude.
I wanted more than anything to give her something. Something precious. I climbed through my parents’ bedroom window and took the bottle of perfume my mother kept on her dresser. It was in a milk glass bottle topped with a round pink cap. She only used it on Sundays. After dabbing tiny spots of flowery scent onto her neck and wrists, she’d rub it between her breasts and on the tops of her thighs before lifting the bottle to the light, measuring the number of indulgences left. When she sailed past Dad in her scented cloud, he stopped whatever he was doing. His dimple deepened on his left cheek.
I slid back out the window. My small angel smiled as I stepped into her light and knelt before her. But as I poured the amber liquid onto her feet she disappeared. With a tricked thief’s despair, I watched my mother’s best perfume spill through thin air.
When I slinked back inside, Mom was ironing in the living room. Smells of spray starch and singed cotton. The slash of stringed dissonance accompanying Perry Mason’s closing credits. Dad’s work shirts hung by wire hangers off the side of the ironing board. I stood in front of her, one hand holding her perfume bottle upside down, the other clutching its pink cap.
Her range of responses to my childhood infractions was more varied than Dad’s. I could count on his methodical manner and cold discipline. But with her, it could be a fast slap in the face, a yank of hair, the belt, a lecture, or an afternoon in my room. I braced for every direction except the one she took: when I told her my story, she opened her arms and gathered me to her. I hadn’t guessed that a woman who saw demons might find comfort in a daughter who saw angels. ●
About the Author
Mia Frieder is a founding partner of the law firm Hilley & Frieder out of Atlanta where her practice focuses primarily on personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death. Mia is currently serving as the GTLA Executive Committee as the Chair of the Verdict Editorial Board. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.