Tag Archives: divorce

Nuggets of Time

After publishing five books, no one asks, “When do you find time to write?” Instead, I am asked, “When is the next book coming out?”

No one wonders about the process, just the end product. No one assumes I work a day job, raise a family, or have other responsibilities. After all, most successful authors devote their working hours to writing and promoting their books.

But my story is a little different.

When a family is divided, the responsibilities multiply. I went from supporting one household to supporting two households. I went from caring for two children to five children. Everything in my life seemed to increase instead of decrease, except for time.

I’m learning to sacrifice things I have never sacrificed before so I have nuggets of time to write.

And still, the muse is not satisfied.

But I cannot quit my job, abandon my families, and run away to a writer’s retreat for 12 weeks to pound out a first draft. I must stick to these small wedges of time—five minutes here, two minutes there—to develop my next story even if it takes months to get the job done.

My Apology

I’m sorry for disappearing.

I should have told you the truth sooner. Maybe you would have understood. I wasn’t trying to avoid you. I was just unable to write.

For over the last year, I’ve been embroiled in the process of ending 23 years of marriage to my biggest fan.

I pushed through the first six months, propelled by the sales and marketing campaign for my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, and the resulting nationwide book tour. But when I returned to California last November, I stopped writing. I would pick up a pen, but I could not find the words to express what was going on or what I felt or needed to say. I could not tell a story, write a poem, or compose a letter. I thought my writing days were over, that I had done what I needed to do, and that my career was finished.

But once my ex-husband signed the final marital settlement agreement, I felt my spirit lighter and my attitude brighter. The first half of my adult life was over. I was free to start again.

Instantly, the words returned.

The first thing I wrote was an apology to you, my fans, my community of readers, my extended family.

I want to thank my ex-husband for the gifts he gave me. For 25 years he protected me, cared for me, guided me, and partnered with me. He helped me grow up and into the woman I am today. He read every story I handed to him, encouraged me to continue on the writing journey despite rejection letters and other setbacks. He never said, “Quit. Get a real job.” I will always cherish those memories of unconditional love and support.

I admit I failed him. I broke his trust and his heart. I didn’t give in and I eventually gave up.

It’s always been difficult for me to write a good ending. That was my ex-husband’s specialty. Getting those last few words right. He isn’t here to do that anymore. It’s one of the many skills I am going to have to learn going forward.

And that’s alright because you’re here with me. We’ll help each other, one word at a time.

Short Story Treat!

Traditional Style Living Room

Here’s a short story I wrote recently called, “Room by Room”:

Our Realtor, Mandy, wants a tour of the house she will be listing for sale. You aren’t here. You left three weeks ago to be with that older woman you work with, the one the children and I call Sue-Sue instead of Susan because it sounds more appropriate, both juvenile and irresponsible, the way we like to imagine her.

I reluctantly guide Mandy through the foyer where your shoes once lay stacked like a fortress against the wall instead of hung neatly on the shoe rack I bought for the garage. Mandy takes pictures that will eventually end up on the Internet for the whole world to see. I cringe when I think of the mess of my life exposed for any voyeur to critique and comment, all those strangers who don’t know what hell I’ve been through to get here.

In the living room, Mandy bends to examine the hearth. “What’s that?” she asks. I look closer and notice the safe you placed inside so robbers would never guess where our valuables hid. It conspicuously sits like a steel box where a stack of logs should be. “I’ll remove it,” I say, knowing I will have to text you after the appointment so that you can use your key to come in and remove it while I’m at work.

“Would you like something to drink?” I ask.

“Just water.”

I flush with embarrassment when I pull open the refrigerator and see my collection of Lenox dolls on the top shelf. You aren’t here to criticize me for keeping them, but I hear your voice nonetheless. They’re porcelain. They won’t break in the heat. But still I kept them refrigerated like they had an expiration date. I grab a bottle of water and shut the door. I’ll have to pack them up or sell them on eBay. I can’t leave them with whoever will buy the home. They aren’t garden gnomes, after all.

I find Mandy in the master bathroom taking a photograph of the double sinks underneath the skylights that make the house look like a model home. Only she must have opened the cabinets to spy what was inside because the room smells like your Eternity cologne, the one I bought for you when I thought I would be spending eternity with you.

My eyes smart with tears. As soon as Mandy takes the bottle of water, I leave the room. I thought you had been erased once you left, but the reminders linger everywhere. Even in your absence, you take up more room than me.

Outside, in the backyard, I slump down into a chaise lounge and try to read a book I picked up from the library. It’s called, It’s Not Me, It’s You. The title seemed appropriate, a little bit like the fuck you diet my coworkers suggested I go on so that you might give me a second look when you see me again. But I can’t focus. I just read the same line over and over again.

My yoga teacher says, “Life is simple. We make it complicated.” She says it’s a quote from Confucius. I don’t care who said it. It’s not true.

I didn’t make my life complicated. You did. When you told me you were leaving me for an older woman, a woman who had just received her AARP card, I felt like you had punched me in the gut. I couldn’t breathe. How many nights had I spent bent over the mirror plucking every single gray strand of hair from my scalp because I was too lazy to dye it? I should have let my black locks grow gray and wiry like steel wool. Would you have loved me enough then?

Mandy pushes the slider back and steps outside. She surveys the garden oasis our gardener has meticulously landscaped. I am sitting beside the koi pond beneath the willow tree. Mandy asks me to move. “I want to photograph this Zen-like scene,” she says. “It will help the house sell quicker. It feels like a little piece of paradise.”

My chest hurts. I stand up and stagger back into the house and sink down on the nearest sofa in the family room. The walls are bare. I made you take every painting you ever created, even the one I like the most, the one you painted of me. I wonder if you’ll paint a picture of Sue-Sue.

“I’m done,” Mandy says. She closes the slider and sits down on the sofa next to me. “I’ll get your ex-husband’s signatures and then we can place the home on the market. What hours do you want the lockbox programmed for?”

I feel a headache blooming behind my right eye. I rub my temples, hoping to stave it off, but it remains. “How about by appointment only?”

“It will sell quicker with better access,” Mandy says. “I’m sure you want to move quickly.”

I don’t want to move at all. I want to take a bottle of sleeping pills and lie down on the cool leather sofa and fall into a hundred year’s sleep only to be awakened by true love’s first kiss.

But my life isn’t a fairytale. It’s a nightmare.

“Okay. Show it as much as you’d like. I’ll stay with a friend until we get an offer.”

Mandy’s smile broadens. At least I still have the power to make someone happy.

After Mandy leaves, I exhale. The tears pour out in messy belly-aching sobs. They rack my body until I feel like I’m out of breath from sprinting five miles. I grab a throw pillow and squeeze it tightly in a hug because you’re no longer here to hold me, and I wait for my breathing to return to a normal pace before I go into the kitchen to remove my figurines from the refrigerator, the first step to clearing out the house like I must clear out my life, making room for the next family who will move into it with the same bright hopes of making this place a home.

###

When the Dream Becomes a Nightmare

My husband had a dream we divorced because I am married to writing.

Sure, the majority of my social events center on writing and literature and book promotions. Sure, I spend a good portion of my day writing and a good portion of my nights editing. And the weekends, well, they fall into the dark side of creativity.

My family constantly makes sacrifices to support my writing habit. My husband assumes all responsibility for childcare and housework, letting me have the space and time to concentrate at home instead of renting an office downtown. He postpones intimacy so I can meet deadlines. My children wait and wonder when I will have time for them. Sometimes they understand. Other times my son will shut the notebook I am writing in and shout, “The End!” before grabbing my hand and demanding, “Eat!” My daughter fluctuates from pride in promoting my work to frustration in wanting to eat breakfast with me without the clutter of notes on the kitchen table and a pen nearby in case inspiration strikes.

I have been writing since I was ten. That means long before I met my husband and gave birth to my children I had logged in hundreds of hours at the desk, typing away on an electric typewriter, writing draft after draft. I had my first poem published when I was 15. By the time I was 17, I was writing for the local paper. Two months before my twenty-fifth birthday, I received a check for my first piece of fiction.

But to dream that all of that came before him and displaced him, left me feeling bereft and helpless to convince him otherwise.

How can you tell your spouse the written word means less to you than he does when the only vehicle you have to use is words?

Showing him didn’t help. That meant canceling speaking engagements, book launches, signing parties, and other literary events. It meant pulling back instead of reaching out, but if I didn’t do something, my marriage, my family, the foundation I stood on, would crumble.

Sure, he says the dream was just a dream. He doesn’t feel that way. Not really.

But still…I have to be wary…how much do I push the envelope before the whole contents spill out?

I’ve been told I’m ambitious. I have enjoyed moderate success as a writer, enough to pay some bills, obtain some local recognition, and open a few doors to big-time opportunities, but not enough to replace the income from my other jobs, gain national recognition, or capitalize on any of those big-time opportunities. I’m what the industry calls a mid-list writer, one who falls between the cracks of oblivion and fame. But the potential exists to break out of that rut, to possibly become more, with each new poem, essay, article, screenplay or book.

That’s the real threat to the marriage—the breakout novel that will catapult me from where I am to where I want to be—that’s what will cause all the rest of my world to tumble down. And that’s the tension I live with every day: not whether to write or not to write, but whether to write better and reach further, to stop doing what I’ve already done and reach for something more.

That “more” tips the scales between the best wife and the best mother and the well-paid, well-recognized and well-respected writer.

I cannot predict the future, but I can tread lightly on the present. And that means declining some opportunities for more time to devote to those who have come into my life either by choice or circumstance to form what I call my family. To sacrifice one for the other isn’t ideal, but it is reality.

That’s why I chose to help my husband with much needed home repairs instead of attending another book festival. That’s why I refused to travel out of the country on a three month writing retreat to be with my family—correcting my daughter’s homework, discussing behavioral strategies with specialists for my son, supporting my husband emotionally as he reorganizes and expands his business. For in the end, it does not matter whether or not future generations study my novel in their junior high English class, but whether or not I showed the ones I love I care more about them than anything else…and that they feel it and believe it and know it to be true.

Always the First Time

Desperate for company, I turned on the TV to watch 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. The Hawaiian atmosphere seemed soothing after a long day at work. I proceeded to paste Indie Excellence stickers on my stock of Out of Balance books while only listening to the movie as background noise. But halfway through the movie, I couldn’t work anymore. I was captivated by the young woman who lost her short term memory as the result of an auto accident. She could remember everything that happened before the accident, but anything new she only retained for 24 hours. Her mind became a tabula rosa overnight.

Of course, the island’s biggest womanizer, Henry Roth, falls in love with her. Lucy, however, can’t remember him after the first day. Her father, brother, and friends care too much about Lucy to let her be victimized by someone looking for a one night stand without consequences. But Henry is insistent. He endures Lucy’s violent rage when she does not recognize him even after spending the previous day enveloped in his arms, whispering sweet nothings. He believes his love for her will heal her mind. It doesn’t. But he still goes on loving her, knowing he is powerless to fix her.

I identified with Henry. I live with and love a disabled person. I understand the unique challenges of trying to live a normal life while trying to do what’s best for the one you love. Unlike Henry, I am bound by moral and legal obligations. Henry, however, could have any woman he wanted. He chose Lucy. Loving someone deeply always plunges you into the unknown, but loving a disabled person forces you to be breathless and terrified and alive. You become more aware, more creative, more intuitive, more adventurous, because you want to connect with a person who lives in an insular world circumscribed by protective routines. What amazed me most of all was Henry’s willingness to give up his normal life to become part of Lucy’s broken world, a world where he has to struggle every day not only to get her to recognize him, but to win her heart all over again. He battles bad days when she rages against him, throwing lamps and dishes at his head because she thinks he is an intruder in her father’s house. But there are good days, too, where he finds a way to reach out to her and bridge the familiarity of one day with the uncertainty of the next. He even rewrites his dreams to incorporate her into them, because he loves her.

On the other hand, Lucy’s disability comes with its own blessing: she could not remember the sins of yesterday. What freedom comes with that! Imagine your spouse forgetting everything you’ve ever done wrong and falling in love with you for the first time. Now imagine that happening every day for the rest of your life. Incredible. Absolutely incredible, right? There would be no divorce for irreconcilable differences because you would never remember any disharmony in your relationship after a good night’s sleep. There would be no reason for adultery because every day you would be falling in love for the first time. Life would be fresh. Each day we would enjoy a first smile, a first laugh, a first kiss.

Unfortunately, normal people do not live their lives this way. Normal people hold grudges close to the chest as if guarding precious metal. They sink under the weight of their memories. They imagine their lives as a chain of gloomy, dungeon-filled days with people they used to love once, a long time ago, when they were young and stupid, and they only choose to stay together because of moral or legal or financial responsibilities.

But what if everyone was damaged like Lucy? What if our memories were as evanescent as soap bubbles, here one moment and gone the next? Would we be able to stop destroying any chance at love taking root and transforming our lives? Could we drop our expectations of perfection or happily-ever-after or any other fantasy we might entertain? Could we learn to accept our own and each other’s limitations? Could we wake up each morning with the horror of our brokenness and the amazement for our blessings? Could we make our old and tired relationships new?

For underneath all the trappings of social and economical status, we are broken. We want to be loved for who we are by someone who can genuinely love us back. We want to start each day fresh, letting all the mistakes of yesterday dissolve into the nothingness of forgetting. We want to wake up and embrace the ones we love with amazement and gratitude for what we have been given, not with the terror for what has been taken away. The good news is we do not have to lose half our minds to discover the beauty of falling in love over and over again with someone who can accept us as we are, damaged and imperfect, ragged and flawed. We can choose to make each moment the first time, if we are conscious, if we are aware, if we are truly present and alive. We can make all things new.