I once heard of a woman who had recently divorced and was not coping well, and her best friend explained that she needed to get on with her life pointing out that she had one before she was married, so there was no reason not to have one after. I would have a problem with this argument were it applied to me as I really didn’t have a life before hand. It is more accurate to say I existed partially and painfully in the world.
While childhood was fine enough, things deteriorated rapidly as I entered my second decade of living that saw the death of my father and older sister. By seventeen I had graduated high school and watched what few friends I had disappear. My grades were modest and I flunked the SATs. I had a little talent with art and a knack for making up stories, but lacking any skill in grammar or spelling, I just wrote to amuse myself.
As I faced life after school I realized the road ahead was going to be a total misery likely ending in a dreadful death. I was a teenager after all, and I didn’t even have the benefit of the goth culture to categorize my misery or provide me with cool music or the proper uniform. I was working full time at a horrible job in the low rent district of Detroit waking every morning to another day of torture. Perhaps the worst part was knowing this was the best my life would be, because at eighteen, at least I had my health.
But as you recall from our last installment, I met Robin around that time. In some ways I always knew she was out there. I had premonitions of a girl, like a fantasy book prophecy: and lo you will meet a woman of unsurpassed beauty and she will make you whole. Again, remember I was a teenager with the kind of imagination that created a six book series that takes place in an invented world. Stuff like this happens.
As in all fantasy stories, this prophesy proved to be true. Where I am stupid, Robin is smart. If you’ve ever seen that black and white symbol for yin and yang--that’s us. Together we make one circle. Putting us together was like connecting the Shazzan rings. (That’s a reference to an old 60’s cartoon where a boy and a girl connect their rings and summon an all powerful genii. I know it’s obscure but aren’t you just glad I’m not quoting Kierkegaard?) Suddenly anything was possible.
Robin had a profound effect on my life in that when she looked at me she saw a great person. This was bizarre. No one ever looked at me like that. As impossible as it was, this valedictorian called me a genius. Which immediately made me question the quality of the school that named her valedictorian. The thing is, when someone who you have such a profound respect and admiration for thinks you're great…after a while you dare to believe it too.
She was the one who got me to enroll at a community college. It was a waste of time I knew, but some part of me wanted to live up to her expectation of me. I never got a degree, but I did land a job at an entry level position at an art studio.
Then we bought a house. No one in my family had ever bought a house--but we did. I worked 18 hour days and Robin worked full time while going to college full time to pay for it. We lived off spaghetti and peanut butter and jelly. But everyday things got better. Robin’s mother insisted she would “outgrow” me and it was easy to see why. By 1984 she graduated third in her class with an electrical engineering degree taking a job in a cutting edge software company, while I was working at a minimum wage job that soon became irrelevant with her new pay check.
When we started having children, I stayed home. At that time, stay-at-home-dads were not exactly lauded. Robin however treated me as if I were doing her a favor--how kind, how thoughtful of me for not insisting she stay home and raise the kids. Most everyone else had a slightly different opinion. Once more, her view of me trumped theirs. I then had a crazy notion of moving to the wilds of Vermont. I often have crazy notions, but this one was prompted by having been robbed at gun point in our bedroom at 3am and reinforced by the birth of our first child. In northern Vermont everyone leaves their keys in their cars, their doors open, and the worst crime is drunk driving. They play darts on Friday, square dance on Monday and attend the local band concerts on the town green on Wednesday evenings. It was about as far from Detroit both physically and culturally as I we could afford.
Now most people would think moving to a very rural area about 600 miles away from anyone you know was a little nutty--well most of our family and friends did too. Not Robin. If it was a dream I had, she wanted to make it manifest. And she did. Taking a pay cut she landed a job in the only software company in the Northeast Kingdom, where for seven years we played Little House on the Prairie. We got some land and built a house. We fought fires, blizzards, and coyotes. Robin crossed a mountain to work each day, and I carved a homestead out of thirty-acres. It was a lot easier to be a stay-at-home-dad when your building a home in the middle of nowhere. And it is pretty easy to write novels when you can’t see another house from your front porch, most of the year the ground is covered in four feet of snow, the temperature hovers at 20 below, you only get two and a half stations on the television, and the Internet hasn’t been invented yet. You either write novels or go crazy.
We had many adventures that we have entertained guests with. Tall tales of a Shangri-la world where people trust each other and only fear the government and Walmart.
Aside from providing me with an environment to write, Robin also read my books--even the bad ones. Usually she was the only one. Back then she didn’t so much critique the books, she just read them. It might seem pathetic in a way, but having one reader is oh so much better than having none. Neither one of us really knew enough about writing at that time to make any intelligent observations about what I wrote beyond, I liked this, but not that. Still it was enough to keep me going for ten years. That and the look in her eyes that never made me feel I was wasting my time, deluding myself, or that I should put the hobby away and do something important. To her, whatever I do is important.
If that’s where it ended I would have been insanely blessed to have a person within whom I had found a complete universe with no need to look beyond for satisfaction or fulfillment, but it didn’t stop there. As I mentioned from the day I met her, each day got better than the last. Days have gone by and I would say to myself, “there is no way tomorrow can ever be better than today was,” but it always is. And I expect it always will until that day when one or the other is left alone. On that day the ride will at last be over and the game no longer worth playing.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more, and Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar. His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain, Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane. Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave, so Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.
-- Peter Yarrow
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of The Writer’s Wife--still trying to figure out how to include a vampire. Grr…arrgg.