I’m going to break away from the usual book-related musings and updates for a few minutes. I want to tell you a story about someone who changed my life. But you know I can’t write with anything less than my heart on the page. I’m going to be brutally honest with you here.
See, I’ve never had the best mental health. You probably guessed that if you’ve followed my blog since its launch. I tend to have mood swings. I question my worth sometimes—in fact, I examine that worth on a daily basis–and I doubt myself a lot. Those who know me understand that writing is how I medicate this affliction. It’s always been my way of exorcising those demons in my head. Fiction is my mask, and behind it I hide a lot of what I think and how I feel. There’s more of me in my work than most of you will ever know. This isn’t a cry for help. I assure you I am 100% perfectly fine right now. This is just exposition, I promise.
I tell you all this to explain where I was ten years ago. I was in college, living alone in a dorm room, suffering from heartbreak and severe writer’s block. I’d built my life around a girl who, for various reasons, could not fill that gap in my life that I needed her to fill. I don’t blame her for that—it really wasn’t meant to be. I hadn’t yet learned how to stand on my own, nor did I understand my own emotions and how to deal with them. I was just a kid, really. I was twenty years old, and like every twenty-year-old, I thought I knew best. Obviously I was wrong.
I spent a year digging myself out of that hole, learning to stand on my own, learning to hold back my emotions, learning to get a grip on myself. I wore a mask for the people in my life, portraying a smiling, functioning person while inside I was a big, jumbled mess of confusion and anger and resentment. For a while I thought about killing myself (relax, I haven’t for a long, long time). I mean, what good was I doing? No one gave a shit about what I had to say, no one read what I’d written, and even though I was already planning ahead for graduate school, the thought of going just seemed empty to me. I was doing it because that’s what was expected, and I just didn’t feel comfortable with it. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin, to be honest.
Those feelings changed on August 13th, 2004.
I wasn’t looking for Erica, and I don’t think she was looking for me, but for whatever reason that day was the day our strings of fate became entwined together. The day I met her was the first time that I felt like I could take off that mask. She made me feel comfortable with myself for once. She was as weird as I was, and I think that we got along so well because we recognized that in one another. And, to be perfectly, brutally honest, she saved my life without even realizing it.
The day I met Erica, she unwittingly taught me that it was okay to keep going, and I did for a while because I wanted to be a part of her life. At some point during the ensuing years, I figured out how to keep going out of respect for myself and stand on my own feet again: I figured this out not because she carried me, but because she encouraged me to walk on my own. It wasn’t easy. We’ve had our arguments, and we’ve said things to one another that would’ve broken a weaker couple’s resolve . . . but we’re still here, together, and even now I still consider her my best friend and my other, better half.
To say I love her is an understatement, and sometimes telling her I love her feels like such an inadequate expression. I respect her because she’s patient. I admire her for her strength to endure even when the chips are down (and they’ve been down for us a lot over the years). I’m thankful that she encouraged me to keep going with my work, rather than tell me to give it up, that what I want is never going to happen.
She taught me that it was okay to smile again. She taught me that it was okay to cry again. And she taught me that it was okay to write again.
Everything I am and have become is because of her. She is the woman behind the curtain who pushes me out on stage. She is the one who holds my hand when it shakes because I’m terrified of facing people. She’s the one who listens to my fears, who tells me to man up and deal with these things because I have to, who reminds me every single day why I’m still here. Part of A LIFE TRANSPARENT was written as an apology to her for being so distant when I worked for that shitty law firm. Part of THE LIMINAL MAN was written to show her I’m trying to be a better man. I do these things because not once have I forgotten where I was before I met her, and where I would be if she’d not come along.
When we were dating, I read her the speech that Stephen King gave when he accepted his award from the National Book Foundation. The whole thing reads like a love letter to his wife, Tabby, attributing his entire career to her, and I’ve chosen a particular passage for you:
Tabby Spruce had no more money than I did but with sarcasm she was loaded. When we married in 1971, we already had one child. By the middle of 1972, we had a pair. I taught school and worked in a laundry during the summer. Tabby worked for Dunkin’ Donuts. When she was working, I took care of the kids. When I was working, it was vice versa. And writing was always an undisputed part of that work. Tabby finished the first book of our marriage, a slim but wonderful book of poetry called Grimoire.This is a very atypical audience, one passionately dedicated to books and to the word. Most of the world, however, sees writing as a fairly useless occupation. I’ve even heard it called mental masturbation, once or twice by people in my family. I never heard that from my wife.
When I’d finished, Erica simply said, “I’ll work at Dunkin Donuts if I have to.” That’s when I knew. I may not have felt ready at the time, but I definitely knew she would be the one.
We married five years ago today. I loved her the day I met her even though I didn’t know it, and that love has grown over the last nine years. She is the reason I can face tomorrow, and for that I owe her everything.
I’m not the sort of guy who likes to send cards because they always seem so insincere and fake. I can’t buy Erica jewelry because she’d rather make her own, and she doesn’t care for flowers all that much. And money’s kind of tight right now because of all those medical bills from earlier this year. Right now all I can offer her are my words; she already has my heart.
So . . . happy 5th anniversary, Erica. I love you, and I’ll see you when I get home.
P.S. For the readers: You may now return to your regularly schedule brooding and moodiness. Carry on.