I was standing in my kitchen. It was a Friday or Saturday night. My husband and I were having a pre-dinner hangout while the kids were happily occupied. We were chatting, we were relaxed. I burped. It was loud. Deliberately loud. With gusto. And he made a joke. He was about to leave on a work trip to Colombia and he said something about Colombia being home to some of the most beautiful women on Earth. We laughed. I laughed. But it must have upset me, or made me think. I know it must have because I woke up early and wrote a poem about it the next morning. At first the poem was a little bit angry, and then, a few days later, it softened. I didn’t share it with anyone, it sat on the shelf. A few months passed and I read it again and thought it was good. I thought it was helpful and something that many people might identify with. I felt like I wanted to share it, but I wanted to know what my husband would think.
I walked in to the kitchen, paper in hand. It was a different Saturday, my husband had just come back from the store with the groceries he had bought to make dinner. We were going to have bratwurst while the kids watched a movie and I knew he was looking forward to relaxing, to having a drink together, to a night where there is no work in the morning, no focus on obligations, just some time to be companionable, together. I knew the timing wasn’t great, but he was about to leave for another trip out of town, and what other time was there? It wasn’t a weeknight discussion. So I walked in, hesitatingly, apologetically, and asked if I could read aloud a poem that I had written because I wanted to talk to him about it.
I think I can imagine the dread that coursed through his body when he heard these words from me. I felt bad, he felt bad, before the poem was even read. Please don’t ruin Bratwurst night we both pleaded silently before I began. But I read it. And I ruined Bratwurst night. Why do you have to write these things down, he asked. Because that’s what I do, I responded. That’s how I learn, that’s how I understand, I said. But I always sound like such a jerk. Not always, I offered but I did have to admit that it was more frequently when I had a negative feeling that he crept into my writing, or that for whatever reason I didn’t feel it necessary or appropriate to write about the good feelings, with regard to him.
As a writer what I like to do, or even need to do, is to examine life, to look at real life and wonder about it and try to represent it and understand it, for myself, and sometimes to share with others. He did not volunteer to be the public subject of my ponderings, he didn’t even know there was an artist inside me when he signed up for this gig. He married the left side of my brain and then the right side went and started a revolution. So what now?
For the record, I think the man I married is one of the most beautiful souls I have ever known. His exterior is rather handsome which initially confused me until I learned that the real beauty of his person is his kindness and his capacity for giving. Animals love this man, his quiet steadiness, his knowledge of all the best spots to scratch. I don’t know anyone who works harder than he does. Like everyone, he has his challenges, but even these, to hear him speak of them, to follow the thoughtful path of his logic, is so refreshing, such a pleasure.
He helps me. In every way. He cooks healthy food for me, he digs holes for me so I can plant things, he risks his life to access our attic, he teaches our children to love nature and to listen for birdsong, he is so kind to my mother. When I told him I wanted to leave my job, right after we had signed our mortgage, I know he was nervous. But he agreed that I should. When I told him I wanted to stop earning money for a while, use our savings, retirement, to see about becoming a writer, he supported me.
I was standing in our kitchen, another Saturday, this was about a year ago. I had a different piece of paper in hand. It was a list I had written with my mom, about 20 years prior, in her handwriting. I can’t tell you what was on the list anymore. But as a summary, it was a kind of brainstorm of things I could do to become ‘realized’ as a person, habits to take on, things to learn, ways to get myself to a happy, productive version of me. I found it when going through an old folder and I read it and my stomach fell down lower than my feet. This list looked just like the list I was still writing. Nothing had changed in twenty years. I was still struggling with all of the same things. I wanted to do something and I wasn’t able to do it. I had failed to make anything real in the world, just a bunch of half-attempts that were never completed, always abandoned.
I brought the piece of paper into the kitchen. I showed it to Dave. What if I can never do it? I asked. I have been failing for 20 years to be different, to follow through, what if I can’t do it?
He looked at the piece of paper. He looked at me. Maybe you never will, he said. Maybe, sometimes, there are things you can’t change, some things you aren’t able to overcome. He hugged me.
It sounds like a hard thing to hear, but it was a brave, honest, loving thing to say. It was a real thing to say. And it changed everything. I ripped that paper up into a million pieces.
I will never look at this list again.
I will never write this list again.
I am publishing my book today. My first book.
That is what love can do for you. Real love.
My first book, The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts, is now available for purchase. You can learn more about my current work, including The Stuffed Project, or subscribe to the blog to get new posts directly in your inbox.