This has been an odd week. The manuscript for Collateral Damage went to New York on Monday. Now it’s the long wait, holding my breath, waiting to hear what my new editor is going to say. In other words, it’s the literary equivalent of postpartum depression. I’m familiar with that, because I’ve had it before—both kinds.
First let’s address the real thing. That happened in 1974 after the birth of my second child who came by way of an emergency Caesarian. Things were tough financially at our house, and the marriage wasn’t exactly going swimmingly, either. My son was born in May. By September, I had a live-in babysitter and a full-time job selling life insurance that often required my going on evening appointments. Eventually it also led to my having to work out of town three days a week. As I drove to those evening appointments, I would see families sitting down and eating their meals together, something I doubted our family would ever have. Most of the time, coming and going, I would cry the whole way, stopping to fix my makeup before going inside.
My district manager’s office was in Longview, Washington. One night, after my last appointment, I stopped by the bar at the Huntington Hotel, had four stiff drinks, and then drove home to PeEll on fifty miles or so of back roads. The next morning I woke up with a terrible hangover and a tough realization. What I had done the night before had been beyond stupid. What if I had died? Who would take care of my two very young children? That very day, I hied to Centralia to see a counselor. During the appointment, I poured out my heart to him—telling him about my situation—two small children, a demanding job, and a drunk for a husband. He listened, gave me a prescription for anti-depressants, and sent me on my way.
I took the pills, but nothing changed. The following week I went back for my second appointment, hoping to hear some words of wisdom. “Well, he said, you have two problems in your family–your husband’s drinking of course, and your women’s lib. You know, you’re very ambitious.”
“What is it?” I demanded, “a disease?”
He allowed as how ambition in women was a real problem. Let’s just say I left his office in a towering rage. (At six-one, believe me, I can do towering rages!) I flushed his anti-depressants down the first toilet I found, and I haven’t been clinically depressed even once ever since. I believe now that that sudden surge of fury that rushed through my body caused a chemical reaction that actually reset whatever was going on in my brain at the time. And I have to hand it to the psychologist—he cured me completely in only two visits. That particular cure may not work for everyone, but being boiling mad in his office certainly worked for me.
So now on to the literary version of postpartum depression. Agatha Christie once said that after finishing one book she always felt as though she would never write another. I often feel the same way, although, right this moment, I have a teeny-tiny seed of a story that’s bouncing around inside my little gray cells that may end up coming to fruition.
In the meantime, I’ve watched a lot of TV–The Formula 1 race from Australia, the Masters from Augusta, and lots and lots of “blood and guts” show, which is how Bill refers to the true crime programs that dominate the saved shows on our DVR. But two real bright spots came to me via email this past week. One was from a man who had just finished reading Nothing to Lose. He said that “Although J.P. Beaumont may be getting older, he hasn’t lost his sense of duty and purpose.” That’s how I think of him, too. And I was delighted to have that belief affirmed by one of my readers.
In a previous blog, I spoke about how at the beginning of the pandemic, I introduced two of my devoted fans to one another. They both lived in Tucson and had husbands in hospitals with non-Covid related conditions. The three of us became an inadvertent on-line support group, something that has continued to this day. We called it the Circle, and eventually two more women were added to the list. By the way, during the Tucson Festival of Books, three of us, Janice Molina, Valerie Golembowski, and I were actually able to sit down and share a meal together.
But this past week, when I was at a low point, Valerie sent me a piece she had written, and I’m including it here. It’s a vignette that includes three characters you’ll all recognize:
“Hello, Sheriff Brady. This is Beau. How ya’ been?”
“Fine, Beau. How are you? What’s up?”
“Well, just wanted to let you know that JA’s been laid up here in Seattle.”
Joanna Brady sat down at the kitchen table, snuggling the cordless phone against her ear while she aimed another spoonful of oatmeal into baby Sage’s mouth. “Is she all right? What happened?”
“Just some minor surgery. She’s already home from the hospital, but I thought she could use some visitors. Are you up to it?”
“I have some vacation time built up, and Butch wants me to use it,” she said, wiping a dribble of cereal from Sage’s face. “I think I can persuade him to watch the kids for a couple of days. What’d you have in mind?”
“I left a message with Ali. If it’s okay with you folks, I can make some reservations. Ali will probably have to take US Airways from Flag and you can hop aboard an AA flight from Tucson. How does that sound?”
“Sounds good to me. I could leave on Friday.”
“Good! I’ll confirm with Ali and get back to you.”
“Beau, let me call Ali. I haven’t spoken to her in a while and it’ll be good to catch up.”
“Okay. Let me know if Friday is good for her, too.”
“Thanks, Beau. Talk to you soon.”
Joanna disconnected and took the baby from the high chair. “Butch, you have a minute?”
“Sure. Who was on the phone?”
“That was Beau. JA’s had some surgery, and he thinks it’d be a good idea if we paid her a visit.”
“You know what, that’s a great idea! She’s always there for all of you.”
“I think so, too. I’m going to call Ali and see if we can get away on Friday. Beau’ll make the reservations.”
Joanna handed Sage over to Butch. “I think a diaper change is in order.”
Butch sniffed and agreed. “Anything for you, dear!” he said.
While Butch did diaper duty, Joanna looked up Ali’s number, hoping she was home in Sedona. “Hi, Ali? This is Joanna. How’re you?”
“Great Sheriff! Good to hear from you. What’s new?”
“That’s why I’m calling. JA’s been laid up for a bit and Beau thinks we should pay her a visit. Are you up to it?”
“Absolutely! Is it serious?”
“No, I don’t think so, but we’ll find out more when we get there. Can you leave Friday? From Flag?”
“Sure. Things are under control at the office right now. That shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Beau said he’ll make the reservations. I’ll let him know Friday’s good for both of us.”
“Thanks, Joanna! It’ll be good to see JA again. We have a lot to catch up on.”
Friday afternoon, Beau picked up Joanna and Ali at SeaTac his Mercedes which was big enough to accommodate three adults and two carry-ons.
“Love the car, Beau! Thanks for extra room!”
“Not a problem, Ali! It feels good to stretch out every once in a while.”
“What hotel are we at, Beau?”
“Well, as you guess, I’m at the Belltown condo with Mel, but JA asked if you’d two would like to stay with her at Casa Jance.”
“Sounds wonderful,” replied Joanna, “but won’t we make for extra work, especially if JA’s under the weather?”
“Not at all. She assured me it wouldn’t be any trouble, and besides, it’s just for a couple of days.”
“Okay, then! Onward!”
“That was a wonderful dinner, JA!”
“Yeah, its amazing what good takeout is available nowadays!”
“And no dishes, either.”
“How about a game of Scrabble?” asked Ali. “I haven’t played in a long time.”
“I’ll get it”, offered Beau, “if Bill’ll point the way.”
“I’m not big on Scrabble,”, JA said, “so I’ll keep score, but Bill’s a killer as far as Scrabble is concerned, and he plays to win!”
“So do I!” said Joanna. Ali merely nodded.
“By the way,” Joanna added, “Here’s a card and some cookies Jenny made for you, and before we start the game, I have something else. It’s from Valerie. I saw her just before I left. When I told her we were going to visit you, she asked me to give you this.”
With that, Joanna got up from her chair, stooped in front of JA, and gave her a big hug. “All your fans love you, you know.”
Wiping a tear from her eye, JA replied, “And for that I’m very grateful. Now it’s time play! Who goes first?”
In case you’re interested, that fictional tear resulted in a real one. What a gift it was to have my characters show up in person to cheer me on when I was at a low point. And although it was strange to hear them speaking words I hadn’t personally written, it was also very gratifying.
So thank you for that wonderful get well card, Valerie. Between those two very different cures for postpartum depression, I much prefer yours.