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Divorce: How writing brought me through

Sun 28 Feb 2010 15:41:25 | 13 comments

I was sixty when my first book The Woman Who Never Cooked won Mid-List Press’s First Series award and was published in 2006. The book uses food and adultery as metaphor for the grief I bore through my mother’s, my father’s and my sister’s illnesses and deaths. I made up stuff that I could make real and surprised myself by discovering stories that it revealed. I’m told it reads like a zany tour through a bunch of women’s lives. It never struck me that way. I see a series of lenses that give me perspective on what happened to me. The book is fiction but I’m hidden inside the fiction and oddly or maybe not so odd, I included three memoir pieces that I don’t identify as such.

 

But that year, the year the book was published, my husband left me for reasons he couldn’t explain and that I couldn’t understand.

 

The bottom of my life fell out from under me.

 

I cratered.

 

Here’s some background:

 

My mother died in 1990: a stroke and late onset juvenile diabetes—it does happen; Type I diabetes later in life, but she was ill my whole childhood with anemia and heartbreak. And I loved her.

 

My sister in 1993 at age 53: juvenile diabetes: born before so much that is now known about this disease: a double amputee, four open heart surgeries, more hospital visits than you can imagine—or if you can, you understand. I was six and she, twelve when she got sick. And I loved her.

 

My father in 1999: late onset Parkinson’s disease and then a broken hip felled him but, boy, did it take him. He and I were deeply close, the strongest of the foursome. I loved him.

 

When my husband left me, to be trite here—after all, I am not the first sixty-year-old to get dumped—the loss of my husband was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

 

So what to do?

 

I got out of town, took a visiting writers job at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

 

And I stopped writing.

 

This is the funny part: how I didn’t know what I was doing on so many levels: I kept teaching, but I was also journaling—in a dreamlike state. I journal: it’s what I do. I actually don’t remember doing it. But a story lay inside those journals and I didn’t know it.

 

My daughter and her husband could see I was going south. They suggested, while I was also crazily Internet dating that I write a blog about my life. They also suggested that maybe I was crying too much when I wasn’t working: Maybe I could use some help?

 

Most of that help actually came from the writing, the way it had, rather oddly, from the first book. Here’s how the blog begins:

 

The first entry is called: I Need to Live Alone

 

I love romantic comedies: weep over them, quote their dialogue without attribution in conversation as when I am with a man who says he wants to be friends with me, “You actually believe that men and women can be friends?”

 

When Harry Met Sally: Harry: “What I’m saying is—and this is not a come-on in any way, shape, or form—is that men and women can’t be friends, because the sex part always gets in the way.”

 

I collect music scores of Rom-Coms, buy the DVDs and watch them over and over again. Now sure, the appeal to me and others is this: girl meets boy and LOVE results, inexorable, indomitable, irrefutable, life-changing LOVE.

 

I was 60 years old when my husband—let’s refer to him as D.—dumped me—old story, I know. But wait, as the commercials for fancy French Fry cutters say.

 

I begin writing about my separation from D. on August 25, my parents’ anniversary. They were married fifty-four years. Can you believe it? I am alone and reading The New York Times in my condo where I live now. I find this: AP report, dateline: Chamonix, France (Isn’t that where Cary meets Audrey in Charade’s first scene? “Can’t he do something constructive like start an avalanche or something?” Reggie, played by Audrey Hepburn asks Silvie after young Jean Louis shoots her in the face with his water gun. Then Jean Louis shoots Peter, played by Cary Grant.) The AP reports on an avalanche that “swept down a major summit in the French Alps before dawn on Sunday, leaving eight climbers missing and presumed dead along a trail often used to reach Mont Blanc . . .  . One survivor, Marco Delfini, an Italian guide, said he saw ‘a wall of ice coming towards us, and then we were carried 200 meters.’ An injured survivor Nicholas Duquesnes, told Agence France-Presse, ‘There was absolutely no noise; it was very disturbing. We only had time to swerve to the right before being mowed down.’ ”

 

I had been married 21 years when D. announced, “I need to live alone.” Oh so Greta Garbo. There was absolutely no noise. I was 60 years old and had been chasing him around the bedroom—to no avail—for ten years. Bill Maher in a comedy routine on HBO not so long after he had been dumped by ABC only to arise again with Politically Incorrect, said in a joke about older women, “menopause.” Get it? Men A Pause. Yeah, I got it.

 

The French Fry Cutter salesman raises his voice on the commercial in my head: “But wait, there’s more”: I decide to date. I want a man who believes that men and women in love must be friends. But Harry is right that the sex part matters.

 

The hell with Bill Maher.

 

That’s the end of chapter one.  By the way, actually I like him, but I also like that last line. I think if he ever hears of me, he’ll forgive me. I dunno.

 

I do know that forgiveness is key to the blog and my life.

 

And then Kelly Abbott, CEO of 3ones, Inc., an e-book publisher of literary prose and poetry, reads the blog and sees a book. I begin to believe in miracles. Kelly Abbott is a young bibliophile entrepreneur and I believe in him.

 

But we are not talking miracles here. We are talking: How do we repair? How do we forgive? How do we come to love again, to trust again, to feel safe again?

 

What I know now:

 

·      I needed to look at this fact: I lived with, grew up with the long, tortuous and serious illnesses of my parents and my sister while I remained well and strong. Their lives, their difficult journeys made me question not only existence, but what I deserved. I’m beginning to see that’s why I came to the writing so late.

 

·      I keep writing (I can’t stop it now) because that process—not of catharsis—but of the creation of something “other” gives my life a fullness that I think only the attempt to create art can do. Whether or not I have succeeded is for others to judge. But I do know that I live life more fully and deeply through the attempt to make art, no matter how flawed the work may be, no matter how long the process.

 

·      Blogging helped—no matter what happens with the book: I have readers and a lot of them in 37 countries and on 6 continents. Google Analytics lets you find this stuff out. It helped to know that readership was growing. While I lived through loss, I wrote and stayed afloat on the sea of their belief.

 

·      Therapy was key to the journey and helped open up the work. Two therapists have walked with me on this journey. Much more ought to be said about both these women. But for now know this: I could not have come through without them.

 

·      Don’t forget this: I’m still working on the tautological question: Who am I? The questions keep coming at me. And I keep searching.

 

·      I’m sure of only one thing—certainty is not my long suit: The writing, the self-discovery I embarked on through the writing, brought me through to a place I would never have known without the trials of loss.

 

I feel gifted to be alive and to have lived this journey that continues.

 

Mary L. Tabor is the author of The Woman Who Never Cooked and you can find her at  www.maryltabor.com.  Or email her at mary@maryltabor.com.  The blog that will soon be a book can be found at http://maryltabor.blogspot.com.  


P.S.: If you write me, I will tell you which are the memoir pieces in The Woman Who Never Cooked.



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Comments

This was great, thank you! I started journaling when I was going through my divorce because frankly, I didn't know what else to do with all the pain and hatred I was feeling. It felt much safer to put it all down on paper and then stuff it in a drawer than not. What no one tells you about divorce is how gut wrenching it is. Even though I was the one who wanted out, I felt like such a failure. It was supposed to be forever. We were supposed to have grandchildren together, read the newspaper to one another forever. But I couldn't fix her, I couldn't save her, I couldn't change her. It's been 6 years and every now and again, I still find myself going back to my journal and writing again because it feels safe.
MK100: Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I found a happy ending--not that the journey is over. It continues. The journey I traveled was inward and I discovered with a big D through the effort of writing that became "other." This is no easy path, but then, Has there ever been a path that truly led somewhere worthy that was easy? --Mary
You are such a beautiful writer, Mary. Jumped over to read your blog too. My marriage is on the rocks and though we are working hard to work through our issues, I don't have much confidence that we'll weather this. I have often thought about starting a journal to try and work through all the emotions that feel like they're spinning out of control. But I am not a professional writer like you are. Do you have any advice for an amateur like me on how to get started and get past that scary blank page?
Morgan: Thank you for the kind words and for actually going to the blog to read my words. That's a gift to me. Many don't realize how much we who write and put our words out there need to hear from our readers. Grateful here for you! Now as to your q.: The blank page is scary for everyone. I say any writer who doesn't admit that is not telling the full truth--or maybe they're just luckier than those of us who have to work hard to get to the "willed word." When I teach I find that the best writers are those who understand what it is to be in conflict with oneself--not just in conflict. You understand that. Write about it. All good writing has internal conflict as a primary key. That's why we care when we read good stuff. We all know what that feels like. Writing about conflict means writing the specifics, the particulars, the "who struck john" particulars of our lives. You may not feel unique but you are. No one has your story. You have it. Write it! --Mary
Reading some of the blog, and also this explanation, I'm struck by your optimism. It's hard to get older, under any circumstances, it's hard to have done so much for others, putting them first (as you seem to have done), and finally be able to say, "This is me, this is for me, time for me to figure out what I want and am capable of doing." And to feel as if you can find it. That's a good foundation for anything.
I have missed your voice, Mary - and was glad to find you again in another spot. My daughter maintains that good art comes from pain. Maybe she has something there...
Wendy: Thank you for this insightful comment. What you say enlightens in that I actually did not realize that what I wrote here reveals the sentence YOU wrote. It is good for me to see what you have articulated. But then, that is part of the journey: by writing and by hearing what you say about that, I learn. --Mary
Rayna: So good to hear from you. For others reading here, I "virtually met" Rayna when she began reading my book that began as a blog. Her comments were very much a part of the sea of belief on which I forged my way. Rayna has a beautiful blog of her own where she writes about the creative process, where you can see her art and where her heart lies open for all to see. I have met so many wonderful people from around the world. Rayna is one of them. See her beautiful work by clicking on her name above! Glorious! -Mary
We should be grateful for women like Mary. She has shared her journey and its courage and her strength and vulnerability, a potent cocktail to inspire each of us to keep going . Life is learning. Thank you Mary for reminding me.
I agree with you, Jaki. Mary is one special woman who shares her journey with humility and grace.
Jaki, I was thrilled to read here your words about what I've written. I can't wait to read your book Fifty and Fabulous! You truly exemplify what you so generously have said here about me. I am honored by your comment and the humility with which you state it.
Diana, You and I must have been writing at the very same time! Thank you for what you have said with such kindness that defines you.
There are so many books that deal with divorce, but Mary's unique memoir makes one realize that we don't have to necessarily wave the white flag or sacrifice who we are in order to love again.



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