In late June of 1985, I was invited to do a poetry reading of After the Fire at a retreat for newly widowed folks. The retreat was held at a YMCA camp on the far side of Tacoma, and I went there with a good deal of misgiving. Yes, the book told the story of the loss of my own spouse, but at the time my first husband died, we’d been divorced for a year and a half. The other people attending the retreat were all still married when their spouses died.
At lunch that Saturday, one of the attendees introduced me to a man named Bill, “a guy you have to meet,” but I was nervous about my upcoming poetry reading, and to say I was distracted during lunch is something of an understatement. And when I did said poetry reading, Bill didn’t show up. No surprises there. For him that day, less than six months after the death of his wife, what he needed was a solitary walk on the beach.
That evening, after dinner there was a grief support workshop where people, gathered in a circle, were supposed to say our name and our spouse’s name, along with when and how they died. In the course of those introductions, I learned that Bill’s wife, Lynn, had died of breast cancer two years to the day after my husband died of alcoholism. They both died a few minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Needless to say, I was struck by that coincidence. Later, still in the circle, we were expected to share. I recounted that I’d been on my own for five years. No one was ringing my doorbell at Bay Vista, so obviously my life as a woman was over. I was raising my kids, writing my books, and making the best of a bad bargain. Then, having shared my story, I waited to see what Bill would say. He said NOTHING!
So when the sharing session was over, I went looking for him. I found him out by the bonfire, roasting marshmallows. I marched up to him with a chip on my shoulder and demanded, “So what are you, the strong silent type?” “No,” he answered. “It still hurts too much to talk about it.”
Those were our opening lines. Within five minutes, I was literally crying on his shoulder, thinking to myself: This is so stupid, but it feels so good.
And it was good. I’ve retold the story countless times over the years, how we met on the 21st of June, the longest day of the year, and married on the 21st of December, the longest night of the year. As I write these words, it’s thirty two years to the day. So Happy Anniversary, right? WRONG!
We were on the cruise when my editor asked me if I could please write an emergency novella. I came up with the idea of Beau working a cold case in my upcoming novella, Still Dead, due out August 8. While I was writing, I pressed the easy button and gave the old crime a familiar time frame–Saturday, June 21, 1985. No need to check on that detail because, after all, it’s a cornerstone of our family’s history.
The copy-editing came back yesterday, and the first message from Eleanor, the copy editor, was a bright red block around that date, and a note from her saying that the applicable Saturday in June, 1985, was actually the twenty-second!
You could have knocked me over with a feather! For more than thirty years, reality be damned, I’ve told the story my way, and the power of storytelling is such that it can completely override facts.
The upshot is this. Today is June 21st. Bill and I are celebrating our anniversary today, because, regardless of the calendar saying otherwise, it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
A very Merry Unanniversary to us! Thirty two years, minus one day, and counting.