When I was in high school, I kept a journal. Not a diary: a journal. The difference, in my mind, is a diary is a record of events — a “what”. A journal goes much deeper into those events — a “what”, plus a “why”, and oftentimes a wistful “what if”.
Of course my journal was riddled with the typical teenaged angst and anger: drawings, scribblings, drug-induced musings. I also wrote stories and scenarios filled with hope, redemption, validation. And I kept it up, through college, through my first disastrous marriage, though my second hectic, child-filled marriage. I wrote notebooks full of thoughts, feelings, “whats” and “what-ifs”. I truly wish I still had those journals, but they were all destroyed in a house fire. Maybe that’s a good thing. Some of those years were too awful to revisit.
It wasn’t until I discovered, to my shock and horror, my job at Cornell was expendable, that I decided to seriously address this writing thing I had done all my life and try to pull something of value from it. But, I had something more pressing to seriously address first.
I woke up one Saturday morning with the sick realization that my husband had found it necessary to call the sheriff the night before. I don’t remember what the fight was about, but I just couldn’t seem to stop myself from going at him. I dimly remember my daughter trying to stop the fight, and then she was gone. That was June 3, our 27th wedding anniversary.
I do remember exactly what I had to drink that night: a generous shot of single-malt scotch, the equivalent of a bottle of wine, and at least two bottles of beer. I could barely walk, and my husband told me I was not making any logical sense at all. I also clearly remember him telling me at one point that he was done with me.
When I dragged myself out of bed that awful morning, I felt ill. Not just physically from the alcohol, but also from the realization that I truly no longer had any control over my drinking.
It took me sitting at the kitchen table for hours, drinking cup after cup of coffee and trying to picture my life without alcohol, before I finally made the decision. I found the local AA site on the Web, checked the schedule of meetings, and went to the first one available: that very same day at noon. I discovered a whole roomful of people who had experiences strikingly similar to mine and felt a small comfort there. Then, I went off to my part-time bartending job.
I clearly remember that night. I was standing behind the bar, surrounded by bottles and bottles of the stuff, and feeling incredibly alone. I hadn’t seen or heard from my daughter since the fight. My husband hadn’t said two words to me, and I got the feeling he didn’t think I could do this. I can’t blame him: I’d let him down so many times before. And I worried that the early morning 911 call would show up in Saturday’s paper, complete with names and addresses. Still, I tried very hard to block those kinds of thoughts out because they smack of self-pity. The good news is, it got to be 1:00, I closed up the bar, and I hadn’t touched a drop. Yes, I could do this.
Meanwhile, in between AA meetings and job searching, I tapped out a “what-if”. The what-if grew into a story, the story took on life, and became a novel. I read it, re-read it, moved stuff around, reworded other stuff, created a cover, and reformatted it for the Kindle. Then I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and pushed the Publish button on Amazon’s KDP site.
I find it absolutely wonderful that, without any promoting or marketing, beyond telling my friends and family about it, I managed to sell almost 100 copies — some to the UK and France — and garner four really nice reviews. One of the reviewers said “Very nice, but you can do better.” She’s now my editor and mentor and together we’re reworking the What-If into a Something-Else.
It’s keeping me away from the booze (have you ever written anything while under the influence, thinking it was poetic and profound, then re-read it when sober?), waking up long dormant brain cells, and stirring up the old what-ifs. I can’t wait to see what happens next…