I bought a laptop the other day, and I'm working through the trusty old desktop computer, deleting all of the crap I don't want to keep, transferring all the crap I do.
I came across a document called "p&wmag". Opened it up and found...well...this. It was apparently something I submitted, under an alias no less, to a magazine (P&W??) back in 2005.
Since I've been such a slacker lately on the writing front, I figured I'd throw it out here for old time's sake.
When I was about 13 I decided I wanted to be a writer. Some may have called it “a calling”, though at the time I wouldn’t have painted it with such a mystical brush. More likely it was the idea that I could get people’s attention, a pursuit in which I had proven myself to be woefully inadequate. Or, it may have been brought on by the death of my previous dream of becoming Shaun Cassidy’s wife.
I remember sitting on a concrete step, snuggled in the recessed doorway of the elementary school which I had attended as a small child, shivering against the cold, trying to write in my tiny little spiral pocket notebook. This doorway was rarely used, a loading door or emergency exit or something of the like. It smelled of urine, the corners were full of cigarette butts and discarded drug paraphernalia, but it was preferable to the relatively clean but far less peaceful prospect of home. This is where I always went, in the evenings and on the weekends, to be alone, smoke cigarettes and try to think deeply literate thoughts. I was successful in all of these endeavors but the last. My first attempt at a novel was so bad that it was an embarrassment, even though nobody ever saw it but me.
That experience changed my life. My unhappiness with my story convinced me that I was without talent. This was an opinion formed firmly in my own head, and given more weight than a statement from God Himself. It was certainly not up for debate as I thought so little of what I had written that I threw it away. It was a simple fact. As much as I wanted to be creative, I was devoid of the imagination, focus and skill that might turn me into a “real writer”.
Shortly after I decided that I was destined for a life of obscurity, with neither the last name of Cassidy nor a Pulitzer Prize, I discovered boys. Well more aptly they discovered me and I discovered the fleeting sense of power that came with being pursued by the opposite sex. I grew to depend on the hormonally induced feeling of value, enhanced by drugs and alcohol, generously fertilized by the pile of compliments and sweet words that boys, even at the tender age of 14 or 15, will heap on a girl with the hopes of getting into her pants. As long as a boy thought I was special, or at least pretended to, I could find reason to doubt how very mediocre I felt.
Through my slutty phase, which has earned its title in my mind more because of my reputation and attitude than by volume of sexual activity, I wrote poetry. I wrote long rambling poems, most of which rhymed predictably, about love lost, longing and unhappiness. I mostly wrote when I was heartbroken which means that I turned out poems in abundance.
I spent my days in school with my best friend, who was also my dealer, floating from class to class with only enough lucidity to remain ambulatory. I spent most of my evenings alone in my room, wearing giant headphones, Pink Floyd’s The Wall up loud enough to cover the noise of arguing downstairs.
One night a week I went out with my friends. Usually we went roller-skating, on four wheels, to disco music. Is it any wonder I was messed up? These memories are foggy, leaving the roller rink with older boys, beer in hand. Getting high behind the building. Searching for acceptance, never finding it.
During the next few years I dated a long line of forgettable young men. Each relationship had its own story, mind you, but they all ended similarly. There was the one who I still swear was gay. There was one who felt it necessary to have two girlfriends. The one who didn’t appreciate when I had two boyfriends. There was the one I dated through most of junior year. He left town to spend the summer between 11th and 12th grade with his dad. Of course I waited for him. Two days after he returned he informed me he had been thinking about breaking up with me all summer, but he wasn’t really SURE until he got back.
Not long after that humiliating break up, an acquaintance invited me to a party. This was October 22, 1982. I remember the date because it was my mother’s birthday. It was a bit odd that this particular acquaintance would invite me, of all people, as we ran in decidedly different circles and seemed to have quite different values. For example she seemed to prefer to stay conscious during school hours and didn’t feel the need to swap spit with half of the school. But we had known each other since elementary school, she lived within walking distance of my house and there was to be beer, so I graciously accepted her invitation.
I don’t remember much about the party except that I drank, I may have snuck outside and got high, and I definitely ended up in a car necking with a guy I barely knew. Somewhat inebriated, I must have wandered home and went to bed. It’s ironic that I remember so little, because it turns out that I would be reminded of this night for the rest of my life.
A couple of weeks later, the girl who threw the party asked me if I’d like to go to a football game with her. I had no interest whatsoever in football, though I attended every home game just to get away from my parents for an evening. I had never been to an away game. She said a friend was going to drive her and she was sure he would be happy to take me as well. His name was Don.
Our high school wasn’t huge. Everyone knew everyone, if not by name then by face. I had never met Don, but I knew who he was. We ran with different crowds, and I didn’t like his. I had no reason to believe that I was going to be even remotely fond of him, but I thought I could probably stomach his company long enough to get me and my newly rediscovered friend to a football game two towns away.
He picked my friend up first. When he came to pick me up, she jumped into the back seat. This was odd because he drove a big old 1963 Chevy Impala with bench seats that would have probably seated four if necessary. But I had a Little Kings between my thighs and a cigarette in my hand, I wasn’t at home so all was right with the world.
I don’t know how long it took me to figure out that I had been set up, but when it became clear I was completely blindsided by the revelation. I was apparently invited to the party weeks before so that Don could get up the nerve to approach me. By the time he drank enough magic nerve potion, I was out in the car necking with good old What’s His Name. This trip to the football game was his second chance.
He was nice to me. He treated me with respect and dignity. He was no saint but he wasn’t hell bent on killing every brain cell he had before he was 18 either. We weren’t all that well suited for each other but I couldn’t find anything WRONG with him except for the fact that he was very much not my type, which is to say that I wasn’t afraid of him and I was relatively sure he wouldn’t cheat on me.
Normal life as a couple ensued. Graduation parties gave way to getting jobs, which led to cohabitation, which turned into marriage, which became parenthood. I am not an easy woman to live with and I tested his patience frequently along the way. There were bouts of depression and anxiety attacks, obsessive dieting, alternating with compulsive eating. A basic lack of satisfaction permeated every corner of my life and manifested itself in a laundry list of behaviors that were destructive to us as a couple and to me as a person. There was definitely something wrong, and no matter how much he tried to make me happy, I didn’t seem to be capable of letting him. Something was missing. For twenty years I longed for some elusive, blessed, peaceful fulfillment that drugs, sex, food, love, motherhood and professional success had been unable to provide.
Then, one day, out of boredom, I decided to start keeping a journal. I hadn’t written anything more ambitious than memos and procedure manuals in 20 years, but I was told that it could provide insight into some of my more self-destructive behaviors, of which there were many. It wasn’t illegal and wouldn’t add inches to my hips, so why not?
As I tentatively made my first entry, which started as creatively as “This is my first entry”, I felt a shift in my heart. That aching dissatisfaction that I had felt, as constant and familiar as the roar of a car motor on a cross-country trip, somehow shifted into a lower gear. After 25 years of wandering, I found myself back on a familiar path, I can’t say right now where it leads but I see something small and distant, far ahead, and it looks like Hope.
Initially it was easy to regret my decision to stop writing all those years ago. If I hadn’t given up so easily would I have gone through all of the fumbling that I did? Would I have skipped the drugs and gone to college? Would I have skipped the boys and kept my self-respect? Would I have skipped What’s His Name and therefore not be teased about it every blessed time my (edit- EX-)husband recalls pursuing me in high school? Would I have been more at peace with myself, easier to live with, a better wife and mother?
But then I wonder, if I had been dedicated to an artist’s life instead of being hell-bent on self-destruction would I have gone to a football game with a guy I barely knew just so that I wouldn’t have to be at home? Would I have had my son? I can look back at the last quarter-century and think of the great American novel that I may or may not have written, the places I might have traveled and the like-minded, deeply complicated, artistic people I might have met, but it doesn’t compare to the life I’ve led and the people I’ve loved.
Maybe passions, like the most important people in our lives, come to us when we need them and let the luckiest of us go, sweetly and quietly, when we don’t. Maybe they hang on relentlessly only to the truly tortured souls and set the rest of us free when we need to focus on other things. I might say that my passion for writing failed me by not giving me the talent or the drive or the belief in myself to continue on to be a great writer, a free spirit, a true artist. But maybe it just stepped patiently aside to let me do other things. I may not have been ready to go where writing would have taken me then. I wonder if I am now.