Sunday, January 10, 2010

Of Her Own

Her mother was scandalized by her Nevada divorce, nevermind that it was her second. She thought she was keeping it secret pretty well, but damn Ed and his big mouth. Selfish. And that had been the whole problem. That had been part of the problem. He was selfish. She was selfish.

The things he wanted were things he could only get from her: a clean house, children, holiday dinners. The things she wanted she could only get for herself. The divorce wrung her out, and so she had remained for nearly a year. Juiceless, balled up and paper-dry.

The words, at first, were tightly wadded things. Dense, clotted bits of her soul that she seemed to hack off with her pen. You can still read them somewhere, in one of those old notebooks. She would be mortified to think of someone reading them now; in fact, you may feel a little dirty as you open the pages. Like reading your mother's high school diary. So, go read them or don't. I can only tell you so much.

Her first marriage had been almost too brief to count as a marriage, but too long to be annulled. After two weeks she sat across from him at the breakfast table and wondered, "Is this it?"

The words began - so slowly! - to unclench inside her. They weren't easy words. Some of them were ugly, and some days they made her ill. That's when you or I would have laid down the pen, but she couldn't. Not yet. It’s no wonder she never wrote when she was with Ed. He reminded her of her bedtime each night and reminded her he was hungry. He kept such regular hours. He had a tidy mind. And so, as he breathed, he wrote. Pages flew from his hand as sandwiches and coffee appeared at his side and empty plates and cups vanished.

One morning she mentioned her own office. Ed laughed. She knew which room it should be, and she pressed him. It isn't that he forbade it; that would have been absurd. It's just that that room was to be a nursery soon and what's wrong with writing in the kitchen? The table is spacious, and may we please discuss this after lunch?

She never wrote like he did, like breathing or daydreaming. For her it was laboring (she imagined) to deliver a child that never quite got born. When she read the words back -- those red, angry, wailing thoughts -- she was disgusted, but she didn't stop.

Her biographers say her work came from her pain. From what I could see, it was entirely the other way around.

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