The driving premise in The Glass Wives is the loss and lack of a father for the children in the story. It’s what drives the main character, Evie, to do everything she does. Without that “inciting incident” of the ex-husband/husband/father dying in a car accident, there would be no book. Or there would be a different book.
What I learned while writing The Glass Wives was that in fiction, like in real life, the absence of a character (or person) can be a monumental force.
I’ve experienced this in real life with the loss of my children’s father. Unlike Evie Glass in The Glass Wives, there is no one living in my basement, no wayward, trophy-wife, widow who needs a place to stay. But like Evie Glass, I am the curator of my ex-husband’s memory, at least to an extent. I’m the one who suggests looking at the wedding album, the scrapbooks (complete with embellishments), I’m the one who still tells an occasional story or plucks a coincidence out of the air: “Your dad liked that too.”
The following is a reprint (repost?) of something I wrote when my son received his first college acceptance email. Now he’s going to be a college senior. Reading it reminds me how art can imitate life. How reminders can filter—even cut in line—though the texts and emails, the Facebook posts and deadlines. And how that’s a good thing. Random thoughts of my ex—even his place as my kids’ father—have dissipated with time, but what hasn’t changed is that I choose to remember the good and not the bad, because what good would that do? And like in fiction, there is some conscious selection in real life as well.
And that too, is a good thing.
PRIDE WITHOUT PREJUDICE
In the spring of 1990 when I had been married about six weeks, my husband graduated from medical school. The group of about 100 students recited the Hippocratic Oath and thus became physicians. The dean, on the stage in the hospital’s auditorium, then called the graduates by name in order to bestow upon them a heartfelt handshake and an acetate enveloped diploma — knighting them with the suffix “M.D.”, and releasing them into a world of internships, residencies, fellowships and if they stayed the course, Wednesdays for golf.
I left my seat. No one was sitting anyway. I wiggled my way between other graduates, our friends whose names were farther along in the alphabet than my new one. As my husband approached the stairs to the stage I started to shake. My mouth was open and my breathing was deep. I exhaled hard and shook my hands at my sides without stopping. Large hands lay solid on my shoulders and a soft, deep voice in my ear said “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK.” I turned only enough to see the robe and to know it was a friend, another graduate. When the dean called my husband’s name I stretched to see and tears streamed down my face. My body rocked. The friends’ hands squeezed and then held both my arms with a kind strength that steadied me.
Outward from my core, to my head, hands and feet I surged with energy. I personified a cliché as Iburst with pride.
It is the first time I remember ever having that feeling.
To this day it remains an untarnished memory.
As a parent, I have felt that swell many times, in varying degrees over the past almost-eighteen years. Even when I know I’m witnessing, or participating in, something extraordinary, the grip of genuine, unfettered pride is startling. But that big-time pride? The kind that almost knocks you off your feet? That does not come around every other Tuesday.
I felt it at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah where she commanded a congregation for over two hours with personality, authority and grace — and where I was told I mouthed every word she said – both Hebrew and English.
The most recent string of crazy-proud moments began when I was grocery shopping in Target. My cell phone buzzed in my pocket. I answered the call from my son and he said, “I got into Iowa.”
I could have used those hands on my shoulders in the bread aisle that day.
No matter what real life circumstances surround them, proud moments are unmarred by time and circumstance in my memory. The emotions retain their original shape in my heart.
And when I’m lucky – it all reaches out and steadies me.