When I shared with some friends that my husband and I were planning to divorce this spring after 23 years of marriage, one asked me whether I was now fantasizing about the flowers on the table of my future kitchen the way Mary did in The Awful Mess.
I was taken aback. In fact, I don’t think I ever answered her, possibly because it hadn’t really occurred to me until then how much my situation was like my heroine’s.
For one thing, I first drafted Mary’s story over a decade ago, and I didn’t consider her to have that much in common with me — other than getting laid off from a publishing company, similar fertility issues, and a certain degree of native snarkiness. Perhaps most of all, I felt that I had much better taste in first husbands.
I guess we have a little more in common now, though I’m still quite certain I have better taste in first husbands.
Anyway, like Mary, I now need to downsize pretty radically in order to continue to lead the kind of life I want — in my case, one that will allow me to still teach part-time and write part-time instead of going back to a full-time job. But that’s about it. I don’t suffer from Mary’s traumatized desire for solitude … just my normal introverted writer’s desire for healthy dollops of solitude on a regular basis.
Unlike Mary, I have a college-age son who will be downsizing with me, at least until he goes off on his own. There’s no scandalous pregnancy in my future (at least not one of my own).
Like Mary, I will be coping with an immediate drastic drop in income, but that’s fine as long as I can live within my means, and that’s something I’ve been pretty good at over the years. I started saving for retirement quite young, and at this point I believe I can afford to value flexibility over income while I try to launch my fiction career.
Unlike Mary, I know that if disaster strikes, my parents would be happy to take us in and wouldn’t spend the duration criticizing me, although I can anticipate some tension with my mom. Let’s just say she keeps a much cleaner house than I do.
Mary was married for eight years. Jaime and I were getting close to a quarter century. No one can regard our divorce as the result of some impulsive, youthful mistake, a starter marriage that didn’t work out. And there’s really no point in having regrets about it. We’ve had a pretty good life together. We’re still friends who can share a good laugh. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on our son, or my grandchildren and my lovely stepdaughter. I’ve also felt very much enriched by Jaime’s Puerto Rican culture. Just not so much that I would want to spend the rest of my days in Puerto Rico, if he even wanted me there, which he doesn’t (well, except to visit — I already have an invitation).
At this point I am less sad than I am relieved. I suppose I’m a bit like Mary in that, though I think Mary is actually much more traumatized than she realizes. I don’t believe that’s true of me, if only because this has been a long, slow marriage-death, the kind that lets you get used to the idea and finally start to poke at it with your foot because, well, it’s beginning to smell.
Unlike Mary, I don’t have to worry about my ex being a jerk. Jaime’s ex-wife Jenny has been a part of our extended family throughout our marriage because that was what it took to remain close with his daughter. I know that he is capable of being civilized with an ex, and a responsible divorced parent, and those are two of the things I most respect about him.
So as I consider my friend’s original question now, I realize that no — I’m not fantasizing about flowers on my table (frankly, I’ll be lucky to get a kitchen large enough to fit a table). But I am definitely fantasizing about the luxury of putting my own happiness first.
This is part of the reason I can sympathize with what Jaime is doing. At middle age, we can’t help but realize that there’s no longer an unlimited amount of time to achieve what we want. He’s 60 and he wants to go back to his homeland. I sincerely hope it will make him happy.
Starting Sheer Hubris Press was certainly a decision made in the pursuit of my own happiness, and although the financial rewards I hope to reap from it are still years away, I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to give it a go, and that I will have the opportunity to keep at it. It’s already brought me great joy simply by connecting me with readers and other writers.
So here’s the plan: Adapt to the changes that are coming, and have fun doing it.
The fundamental truth is that whatever changes I try to make at this point are temporary at best. My aging parents could begin to require more attention from me at any moment. My son is still growing up. And judging from this winter, there’s at least an outside chance that a new ice age is underway.
As someone who writes novels with strong romantic elements, I can tell you this isn’t the plot I had in mind back in 1989 when I got engaged. But there’s a reason most romances end with a wedding. That’s the luxury of being fictional. You can stop while you’re ahead.
Of course, the luxury of NOT being a fictional character is that you still exist afterwards. So here’s to my new life. I am looking forward to it.