My wife sat down with me yesterday to have a talk. Besides the fact that she is my rock, she is also very level headed and stable. She remains calm when all about her are losing their minds, namely me. I am at the other end of the spectrum and ride an emotional roller coaster pretty much every day. Having been around her family, who are all very tight to the vest with feelings and take things in stride, I see where she gets her steadfastness. When faced with breast cancer, she walked in the door, told me she had it, and proceeded to map out where we would go from there. I was a basket-case. She never shed a single tear through the whole ordeal. (Well, she did cry when they knocked both of her front teeth out during the breast surgery, but I couldn’t blame her for that.) I credit her attitude for her complete recovery. She has been cancer free for what will soon be twelve years.
My wife’s mantra has always been, “Might as well laugh as cry.” She faces adversity with a positive human spirit that I envy. There doesn’t appear to be a mountain she’s not willing to climb, if that is what is called for. I can’t imagine a person I’d rather be stranded with, and not just because I love her. She would never give up, never feel sorry for herself, and she would make sure those with her continued to put one foot in front of the other, because there is always hope in her world. So it was to her I turned, when I hit the wall yesterday afternoon.
I have been working on the next Rainey Bell thriller since last spring. I stopped to write another book and then picked up where I left off in the Rainey book. I started and stopped several times, and then sat down to write out a complete outline of the story, something I never do. I thought that might be what was holding me up. It wasn’t. The book is completely outlined and should have come easy, as all the others had. It didn’t.
Things had been going very well for me at the beginning of 2012, better than I could have hoped. Yet, I could not shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen. I often heard my mother’s voice in my head, saying, “You never fly so high that you don’t have to come back down.” That has been my experience throughout life. The more successful I became, the more I feared some other part of my life would crash to the ground.
On March 10, 2012, that prophecy nearly came true. My wife stopped breathing. While she survived the hypoglycemic episode, I shook for months. I watched her like a hawk. I fretted and fussed over her constantly. I stayed on an unremitting vigil, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Although she was doing better, I could not shake the feeling that soon, I would face an unfathomable loss. In this frame of mind, I could not write a Rainey Bell book. I managed to write Out on the Panhandle, and I'm sure that was because it was about us, fiction, but at the heart those characters are me and my wife. The characters were happy and safe, something I prayed would remain true for their real life counterparts.
After publishing Out on the Panhandle, I tried to write and I did, but not the Rainey book. I write every day, it isn’t always for a novel, but I do practice the art daily. I made some progress with Rainey, but it was like pulling teeth. Writing has always come very easy to me. Once I know where the story is going, it usually just flows out, a constant stream of scenes playing out in my mind. Not this time. It seemed that every time I would get started, I’d lose the flow and stop. The other shoe was swinging in the wind and about to land hard. I could feel a dark cloud rising on the horizon.
I had learned over the years to listen to that little voice, warning of impending danger. It has served me well. There have been times when I circled the drain like this, and finally saw the problem before it was too late. My instincts are strong and have often alerted me in time to head off disaster. These feelings are a blessing and a curse, for when they hit, I cannot move forward until I have understood them. They can be paralyzing, and I depend on my wife to remind me that worrying about something before it happens does not make the happening of it easier. Still, I could not move forward. Something was dreadfully wrong.
With all the worrying about my wife, I am happy to say that the dark cloud did not concern her. Unfortunately, my instincts were correct. In early December, I found out my beloved Dixie, the dog I had loved more than any other, my constant companion, my best friend, had a brain tumor. I had three weeks to tell her goodbye. My heart was broken on December 27th, when I had to hold her for the last time and tell her to “rest now.” The shoe dropped.
Since then, I have tried to move on. Each day is a struggle. I remind myself of all the blessings I have and that I was so, so blessed to have had Dixie in my life. Still, my heart is broken. I began to write again, but it wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. My wife has been supportive and encouraging, but I can’t find the joy in writing that I once had.
Yesterday, she found me in tears. I had been standing on the back porch, watching the dogs sniff every square inch of the backyard. Most days now, I can go without tearing up, but yesterday, I just couldn’t hold it together anymore. I sat down on the porch steps and just sobbed. My wife came out of the house and sat down beside me.
“Honey, are you okay?” She asked.
“Hell no, I’m not okay. I’m pissed as hell that my dog died.”
“I know, honey,” she said, patting my back.
“For the first time in my life,” I said, through the sobs, “I had the money to fix anything that happened to her, but I couldn’t fix this.” Then the floodgates opened, and I began to curse the world. “I knew better than to be this happy. I knew I could never have it all. I can’t write. I can’t think. I’ve tried to move on. I’ve tried to understand. I’ve tried to not worry you, but I am barely functioning here. I can’t pull this load.”
She let me cry some more and then she said, “When a person loves as hard as you do, you can’t avoid a broken heart, but you are stronger than you think. And I know why you can’t write that Rainey book.”
I was intrigued and wiped away the tears with my sleeve. “Why?” I asked.
“Because you embody your characters. I live with them, so I should know. Rainey is happy and you don’t want to let the other shoe drop on her. Rainey is the part of your personality that is a bit paranoid. She is the one that never thinks she can be happy. She hears that same voice in her head, your mother, saying she can’t have it all. Rainey, like you, believes there is a price to pay for contentment.”
“It appears that there is, or at least that has been my experience,” I said, with a bit of sarcasm.
She raised one eyebrow, which I cannot do and have always envied that ability. “The joy Dixie brought into your life, you think you paid too high a price for that? You would trade the love you two shared, not to have to feel this pain?”
“Of course not.”
She asked, “When you traumatize a character, what is your ultimate goal?”
I stared at her. I was too emotionally invested in my meltdown for rational conversation.
She continued, “You take a character down to watch her rise back up. You break their hearts, you traumatize them, and I watch you fall apart with them.” She paused and smiled, “But then I watch you get them back up off their knees. I see you help them find their footing. You reach down and find the strength of character to push them through whatever life hands them. That’s not fiction, honey. They get that from you.”
I was still dumbfounded, when she stood and started back in the house. She turned, just before she went in.
“You don’t want to write this Rainey book, because you don’t think your heart can take it right now. I think you should. Go on, wreak havoc in Rainey’s perfect world. You’ll put it back together again in the end. I think it would do you both good. I think it’s what you need to heal your broken heart. My momma had a saying too. ‘You never get so far down that you can’t get back up.’ You just need to take that first step.”
Last night, I wrote over five thousand words in The Rainey Season.