How I write my story without knowing the beginning

Daisy Friedman, Editor in Chief

On the 4th floor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s pediatric ward, Daisy Friedman kept the nurses entertained. With her prominent Brooklyn accent, her failing liver and small intestine, and the confidence of a longtime Broadway veteran, she would strut into her room and throw her arms wide: “Ladies and gentlemen, the star of your show, Daisy Friedman!” As they wheeled her into transplant surgery, she belted out Tomorrow from the musical Annie. The surgeon, meanwhile, had her doubts as to whether there would be a tomorrow for Daisy. 

I learned the story of my life gradually, through dramatic oral tales, written accounts, and even nationally televised video clips. I watched myself sing and twirl in a pink tutu on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and I read about myself in my mother’s New York Times “Motherlode” essay, as if I was a cultural artifact or a character in someone else’s life. I knew all kinds of things about myself: that I’d had 40+ surgeries, lived in contact isolation for years at the hospital, and ultimately earned the nickname “the miracle child” amongst my doctors since at one point my chances of survival were minimal. The one thing I didn’t know was who I really was.  

I started to look for myself in small details. Each evening, I set my alarm for varying times—7:34 a.m., 7:37 a.m.—as if three minutes would make a difference in my day’s trajectory. I also started learning words in different languages to see if they called up some unknown part of myself, some old knowledge that existed prior to my childhood surgeries. I signed up for Jewish summer camp, practiced Israeli dancing, and learned how to make Shabbat chicken. And, while all these actions felt empowering because I did them in the spirit of self-discovery, I still felt my identity was elusive. 

It was on Shabbat mornings, in the Wisconsin summer heat, when I found patches of grass to be alone and write letters to my family and friends. It seemed insignificant at the time—a social obligation—but being with myself and telling my story as I wanted to tell it proved to be profound. Writing was a medium that captured all of me: my theatrical flare, my ability to pay close attention to the tiniest of moments, my desire to preserve thoughts and experiences so I could reflect on them later. I realized I had been searching for external ways to define myself, but it was making those initial pedestrian attempts to articulate my experiences—internal and external—that gave me the first sensation of self-knowledge.  

I continued to write. I published op-eds, reported pieces, wrote reviews and profiles for my school paper. Then I started to dig deeper, to get more personal. Since I had no desire to write about my childhood, which I did not remember, I drafted a poem for my organ donor. “Dear Organ Donor, I know you will never know me, but on the evening of July 20, 2006, you saved my life. We were only three years old.” These lines represent my first attempt to tell the story of my experience, feeling intimately and painfully bonded to a child who died to give me my life.  

Going forward, I hope to help others who too often have warped versions of their personal stories told by othersI too am working on the same things. Together, through the power of theatre and writing, I believe we can reclaim our voices and help each other write a new tomorrow.