Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Author, Chapter Twenty-Nine: Allison

July 2

Your life can change in one day, in one moment, don't you ever doubt that, kid.

I met my wife, my ex-wife that is, Allison Greta Harding, while I was on a book tour for Faith. I was a fucking rock star. After my first book came out, everyone had heard of me. I was on the cover of People goddamn magazine, and you better believe shit like that goes to your head. And to a lot of other people's.

But I was aware of it. Aware of what my fame could mean. Allison was pouring beer in a hotel bar and, bless her, she'd never heard of me. She worked a late night shift and then partied with her friends after the bars closed until like six in the morning. Theirs was a bizarre, twilight existence. I met her in Chicago and paid for her to travel with us to the next two towns we traveled to. It took me that long to talk her into bed, and you can believe that kept my attention.

Because that became rare very quickly. I was on a book tour, for Christ's sake. All these people coming out to see me. Me! I had a 50-year-old woman slip me her panties, her phone number, and a small bag of blow. It was surreal. And of course, as they always tell you, you want what you can't have.

In the end, what impressed her was my writing. It was the converse of what I'd wanted. I wanted someone who didn't know who I was, so that they would be with me because they didn't care about my writing. They could like it, but they'd like me more. In the end, what got her to pay attention to me, got her to sleep with me, spend time with me, was my first book. The real first one. I'd taken to carrying it with me, as a reminder of where I'd come from.

Allison had never read any of my books, wasn't much of a reader and had never heard of me. Maybe she'd seen my books in stores somewhere along the line, and she wasn't impressed with Wilcox. As much money as he put in her pocket before she left me, and even now, I suppose, she was never a fan. But she was a fan of me, of my turn of phrase, my way of using words, the way I could make her feel things. I could probably fill an anthology with the little short stories and poetry I wrote her, but she's got all of it. That was the writing I did when I wasn't here, and I was able to do it because it was small, if not insignificant. None of that was stuff that needed to be inspired like my novels were, it was all material that just flowed out of me, spur of the moment. I guess you'd say it was inspired by her, but it didn't seem like a big deal at the time.

So she married me, of course. She was my first assistant out here, really. I became a faster, cleaner writer with her out here to spend time with me. She didn't like me during the summers, but the summers were short when she was with me, and we spent the time I wasn't writing having sex outside in the grass or going to movies and plays in the city. The illusion was perfect until we had kids.

She quit smoking Basic Lights the day she found out she was pregnant. It took me five years of struggling on and off. That should tell you all you need to know. She was my assistant by default, because she was my companion, not because she cared or believed in the work. And how fucking pretentious does that sound “believed in the work”. God.

I think, subconsciously, we had the second kid because we had the ridiculous idea that a matched set would solve our problems. Because one hadn't been enough, two would make everything perfect. And how ridiculous does that sound when you say it out loud? But of course, we weren't talking about things like that by then.

It only took two years before she stopped coming out here. She'd stay in Portland with the kids, so my trips up here took longer and longer because I didn't have anyone to shore me up when I was working. Then she began to resent the amount of time I spent on the road. I'll admit it, eventually I started spending more time on the road because she was such a bitch about it. And the accusations that I was sleeping with my groupies on the road, which started out as obscene and preposterous, well of course they all became true before too long. She was speaking her curses into life, like something out of one of my goddamn books. I blamed her for a while. Then I blamed me. Now, I don't know. It doesn't seem worth trying to assign blame anymore, I suppose.

I love my kids, don't get me wrong, I'm a different guy with them, you've seen that. But on some level I will always resent them because they took my wife away. I wrote about that with the parasites in Sphinx and while no one knew exactly that I was talking about them, the idea wasn't subtle. I guess, in a way, based on what we talked about yesterday, that might be the most direct thing I stole from my own life, because it was about the way I actually felt about something, not about what I observed.

She left me, and I don't blame her. She served me with papers when I was here, of course, and I was most of the way done, so I managed to finish that book. The next summer was the first time I didn't complete a book. The only time I haven't since I was 21, if you can believe that. I came out here, and there were fits and starts, and I bought a truckload of food from Costco beforehand so I'd never have to leave, and I never did, and I drank enough Woodford to fill a bathtub but...the gears were stuck. I started four different books the first two weeks I was out here and none of them took. I wrote...lots of little things. Nothing that counted. Nothing I could work with. My agent freaked out, but we did enough publicity to cover for it. It was only a couple of years after we jumped ship to Vintage, so you can imagine they were pissed.

We don't talk. Well, obviously we exchange words, because we have kids, but we don't do any more than cover the basics, the bills, their needs, their schedule. She feels betrayed by me, that I placed my work ahead of her, and in some ways I can't blame her. I return to this place every summer, like a junkie returning to his dealer. I could afford to quit. I could have afforded to quit ten goddamn years ago and save my marriage, but I didn't. I'm not really sure why.

I don't have anything to prove to anyone, not any more. I'm a good writer, a popular writer, a famous writer. I could write a final Wilcox book, in fact, I already have, and that would be that. I told you I wrote two books in a summer once. The second book was the final one in the series. It'll need some tweaking before it's published, out of date references and what have you, but that second book I wrote was the end of the series. I've known for years how it would all end, where things would finish up, and eventually it just came out. That was a hell of a summer, I wrote till the middle of September. So even though I have an extra book floating around, I still can't afford to take a vacation, unless it's a permanent one.

And maybe I should, you know? I'm not here to prove anything to anyone. I bet you if I stopped coming back here, I'd just stop writing. But I don't even know if I really could stop coming back here. I mean, that's what she wanted from me, in the end, not even that I stop writing, but that I stop coming out here every summer, writing like a zombie and coming back fat and logy after three months. She wanted the man she fell in love with to stick around instead of periodically vacating the premises and putting on another man's skin for a quarter of the year.

In the end, my need to keep writing, for whatever reason, was stronger than my need to keep her happy. To keep my kids happy, come to that.

I guess the resentment is pretty equal on all sides by this point. I can't see that I'm going to do anything to change it any time soon, either. I suppose you think that's sad. Shit, I suppose it is.

I just think of myself as being trapped. Maybe that's an excuse, but it's where I'm at, whenever I think about stuff like this. I'm stuck. And I don't know that I can do anything to change things or make things any better.
I'm not brave enough to change, really change things. It took all my guts to change from a fucking typewriter to a laptop, on the odd chance that it wouldn't work. How am I supposed to summon up the strength to stop doing the only thing that I know how to do? The only way that I know how to do it? It's beyond me. I can't do it. I'll just keep coming out here until I die.

And like I said before, this is probably be where it'll happen. No peacefully passing in my sleep for me, at least not in Portland or London. No dying making love to a beautiful woman, or surrounded by my grandkids. It'll happen here and my last work will finish with a string of the letter N where my forehead hit the keyboard and never came back up again.

There's a Far Side cartoon like that. Shows this guy slumped over a piano, and you can see one hand and it's skeletal, and there are people looking in on them and one of them says, “Shh, the maestro is decomposing”. I think it'll be just like that.

And now that I think about it, that's not the writer's equivalent of dying with his boots on. It's the equivalent of them finding Elvis dead on the fucking toilet. Your output, your shit, was what ended you.

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