Before going to press with my third book....Split: A Memoir of Divorce, there was a divorce. And before there was a divorce, there was the Word. The Word, for those not privy to this particular Tower of Babel moment in my little tarbox house? The word(s) was, "You Can." As in:...."You Can Write About This, Suzanne."
My ex-husband said these six empowering words as he was leaving me, along with advance suggestions about Child Custody and when I should expect a Petition To Divorce Subpoena to slide into my visage.
He had known me for ten years as a copywriter, columnist, journalist and creative writer, for Knopf and Grove/Atlantic. So he'd already considered that I might find this particular divorce a compelling subject. Some men might be fearful or even in some confusion over what would happen in future. Yet in an exuberant, free spirited moment, he selflessly extended his blessing to a memoir, a novel, or even a Press Release, should that suit my purpose. It is all worth repeating, now that Split has been lauded as an international bestseller, has been named a Best of 2008 Book by Library Journal, has had an entire chapter published in The New York Times as well as The London Times, and is available worldwide via Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Amazon.com - and on its Kindle.
Yes, as he sashayed out the front door of our home, he sang out: "You Can Write About This!"
It may be difficult and a long road to publication, I thought to myself...I may not be able to finish it, say, in the next few years (it turned out to be 7 years and 400 revisions before Penguin USA graciously stepped in to bring it to press), what with diapers and single parenthood and the relentless mortgage debt on this ridiculous house? But who cares, I reasoned. Let creditors cool their collective heels! Art is in motion. I Can Write About It. I resolved to do so.
As I think I make plain in Split, he has always had a great "joie de vivre", giving of himself freely and constantly. I suppose he felt that as a bonus consolation prize to his walkout, he would grant me intellectual rights to my own experience. It was extraordinarily large of him. He gave it away freely, without a care in the world: He was moving on to a better place -- in fact he was leaving that very night to the 42 celebrated hills of San Francisco -- but I could write about the space where he had been.
It was all going to be all right.
True to form, he also went farther than was strictly necessary, on the same night. He made a bold optimistic proclamation as he stood with his hands outstretched to me, as I lay on the floor in a tragically humiliating stupor of shock, grief and horror. Yes. He delved into the subject of the good fresh money to be earned, now that I could write about it. He said, twiddling his long elegant fingers in the air in front of his body...
"All you have to do is sit down to your keyboard, Suzanne, and you will make three hundred thousand dollars."
It is a mark of his exaggerated belief in my skill as a writer and his confidence in a strong economy that he was so generous with this figure. Nonetheless, the oral estimation of the exact dollar amount I would certainly earn based on this little domestic fracas seemed to make him seem taller and richer, himself. He glowed with the benevolence of a giving patron of the arts, he exhaled an intangible aura of abundance and optimism. Then he walked.
To his credit, back on that spring night in 2000, he looked excited for me. There appeared a gleam in his eye that had been previously absent. It was a Whole Community Moment. He gave me his permission to write about my own divorce, as he delivered the news of the divorce itself to me. This was adroit, he saved all manner of question and answer periods that would have come later, he blocked my writing permission into the overall information news bulletin that night -- the primary news being the fact that he was leaving our family.
Yes I cried, yes I railed, but to no avail. It was not important, as I had failed miserably in my job as a wife to him, he had found a better candidate and he was history, good people. Our 15-month year old son and I were on our own, although he did pay the amount of court ordered child support, delivered on time, along with affectionate and frequent visitation. As for his forecast amount of $300K for the memoir of our divorce, it proved to be far less than that. I forgive him, though. How could he have known what a drastic turn our national economy would take, and how gas prices would go straight through the very roof of Heaven? How did he know there would be the unthinkable holocaust of 9/11 and then on the heels of that cataclysm, a complete travesty of a war and a national Recession to contend with? He is only human. He didn't know.
None of us knew anything. That's why writing - memoirs in particular -- became so important. And memoirs poured from the orifices of America.
We draw a curtain upon this time. We hope for better times.
And speaking of hope? A scant four days after my ex husband left, I had an emotional seizure. It was a dark, lonely weekend morning and I was unable to breast-feed and I became very sad. Not only could I not retain a husband or make the mortgage payment alone without plunging into an irretrievable abyss of debt? I could not express enough milk to wet a stamp. Sobbing, I gave my son a bottle of Enfamil. I picked up my telephone and I called Information and traced down the phone number of a favorite writer who lives in my area, Anne Lamott. After at least ten rings, she answered her phone, although we were mere acquaintances. And when I told her of how my husband had left, but! But that he'd said I could write about my divorce, she said - and I'll never forget the grace of the moment --" YOU'RE GODDAMNED RIGHT YOU CAN."
Ms Annie Lamott was on her way to church, it was a Sunday, and she talked to me the whole way. She is a marvelous writer and has not suffered divorce, to her ultimate credit as a human being. I feel instinctively that the great ones manage to avoid it, along with marriage as well. We need look no farther than dogs, horses, lions, lambs, Katherine Hepburn and Jesus as prime, unassailable examples.
Finally i would posit that if we don't learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.
Cut the cake.