As some readers know, I’m working on a book about my extraordinary marriage. (Actually I think all marriages are rather extraordinary. Heck, all people are.) So maybe I should call it unusual. Or, wait, what about unconventional. That’s it! My unconventional marriage. If I meet my goal with the book, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll bask in the beauty of love because at its heart, ours is a love story, plain and simple.
So last week I was on a writing retreat to focus on the memoir and take a break from all the other writing I do day to day to make a living. I was a resident artist at the gorgeous Wildacres Retreat center in the mountains of North Carolina, a few hours from my home in Durham. (All writers and artists should apply! It’s an amazingly generous program.)
For a couple days I focused on the rewriting of a chapter I’d drafted years ago, which was the day of and week after my husband acknowledged/admitted/discovered he wanted to be a woman. The sentences will, as always, continue to change a jillion times over, but here’s an excerpt from the draft (similar to what I’ve written in essays). Anyone who has been through this will recognize the emotions, I’m guessing! We were at the dinner table when he broke the news:
While Wessel’s epiphany had seemingly delivered him to a place of clarity and peace, it hurled me into a churning, dark funnel cloud that sucked up my stable life and spit it back all mixed up. His order and understanding were my chaos and despair. My thoughts scattered about like atomic fallout, searing and painful. I could feel the sobs coming from deep within me.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled as I ran from the table and into the living room, as far as I could get without passing out. I hurled myself onto the couch, the same couch where we had shared our first embrace, and wailed.
After a few minutes, Wessel came over to me, his face crumpled and dark.
“I didn’t mean to create this type of reaction,” he said. “I guess I didn’t expect it.”
“You didn’t expect it?” I said between gasps. “You didn’t expect it? You tell me you want to be a woman and I’m supposed to say, ‘Oh, that’s nice dear, and can you pass the butter?’ What the hell are you talking about?”
I knew that my words were tearing through his heart like serrated bullets, but I didn’t want to stop. I was incredulous that he assumed I’d be fine with his news. He’d been processing this for days — for years! — whereas I was dropped into the middle of this scene like an actor in a horror movie who hadn’t been given her lines. How the hell was I supposed to react?
I kept thinking of the cliché, which I wanted to scream out in a dramatic, wavering voice: “This is not what I signed up for!” I’ve always thought it was such a stupid line because life is never what you “sign up for.” But this?
So last week I was sitting at my little table in my cabin in the woods without internet, cell service, TV and I’m all alone with my thoughts and my laptop and I’m re-living that week in December 2004 over and over, tapping out sentences. When I write about emotional things, I pretty easily keep a distance because I’m more focused on the craft of writing. But writing this, well, it got to me. I had to stop a few times and cry, and release the pain of those memories.
I’m fine now, really. More than fine. Happy, in love, feeling lucky. But it’s like anything we live through that’s difficult and painful and we look back and say, how did I make it to the other side? And hallelujah that I did!