I’m having fun with chapter one.
Can you reach a point where you are never satisfied with what you’ve written?
What more can I say?
Looking at the mess constituting my room and my life, slob may have been an appropriate description. I considered myself old, overweight though not necessarily fat, hair graying at the edges, and few wrinkles around the eyes, there were no real pluses in my description.
Some said I had a kindly face, but perhaps I had the look of a paternalistic grandfather. There were several men in the office who were the same age and had grandchildren. And some who had children at a time when they should be planning for retirement, not parenthood.
World-weary and perpetually tired, I’d passed the mid-life crisis, wondering what it was that affected other men my age. Twenty-odd years later, I was still wondering.
I used to think I’d missed a lot in half a lifetime.
Now, I didn’t know what to think.
Did I deserve pity? No.
Did I deserve sympathy? No!
The only person who could get me out of the rut was myself. For years I’d traded on Ellen’s good nature. She deserved better, left me, and was now happier in the arms of a man who I wanted to believe treated her far better than I. She had told me so herself, and judging by her manner, it had to be true. Only recently had she got her smile back, the one that lit her face up, one that infectiously spread happiness to anyone near her.
There were reasons why I became the person I was now. Some might say they were valid. In the cold, hard light of dawn, I could see it was time I stopped using my past as a crutch and got on with the business of living.
Perhaps today would be the first day of the rest of my life.
I took the bus rather than drove. At that hour of the morning, the traffic would be bad, and there would be no parking spaces left. And I was using public transport more and more, have become accustomed to the convenience. Time to read the paper, or a good book, or just dream about a different life.
This morning I thought about Ellen. I hadn’t for a while, but that might have been fueled by the arrival of the divorce papers she wanted me to sign. I’d had my time to be angry, and disappointed, she’d said, and she was right. It was time to move on.
And she had stuck by me through thick and thin, coming back from overseas service a basket case after nine months in a POW camp, after a war that was more horrible than anyone could imagine. Two mental breakdowns, periods of indolence and lassitude, leaving her to bring up the girls on her own. I had not been a great father, and much less a husband.
I remembered that argument word for word.
I could see the looks of pain in the girl’s faces.
I remembered the hug, the kiss on the cheek, the tears. It had not been out of hate, but a necessity. For her and the children. Until I found some lasting peace, they were better off at arm’s length. Away from the arguing, the silences, the absences.
After she left I tried to get my life in order. Drugs, professional help, alcohol, meditation, then work.
Over ten years ago, it took a year, perhaps a little more before sanity returned.
She did not.
By then I knew she had found someone else, a mystery man, whom neither she would tell me who, and the girls honestly didn’t know. She’d promised that much, any new man in her life would not get to meet the girls. And she would tell me, and then when she was ready.
Then, suddenly, the children were no longer children but young adults and out in the world on their own, and I had become more a banker than a father, an observer rather than a participant, and it was as if we were more like ships passing in the night. And overnight, the ships had sailed to the other side of the world.
My own fault, of course, and a bit late now to change history. I could see Ellen’s influence over them, her prejudices and dislikes, and their contempt, like their mother, for me, simmering beneath the surface, but in fairness to them, I really hadn’t been much of a help as a parent should be.
And now I was getting my life back in order, perhaps I could try and make it up to them, and that first meeting, with them and Ellen, nearly a month ago, had been a step in the right direction. They’d agreed to see me again, without her, during the holidays, which had now arrived. All I had to do was make the call, and get on a plane.
This mess I was heading into, it would not take long. I pulled out my phone and after searching for a travel agent near where I worked, I made an appointment to see about going overseas.
She had spoken to me about the divorce papers several days ago, alternately pleading with, and then abusing, me. There had been some very strong language in the conversation, words I’d thought her incapable of using, but I confess, finally, I didn’t really know her all that well anymore.
Since then I had been calling her to arrange a meeting. She had not yet replied. With some distance to go before I reached the office, I tried calling her again. I was almost glad when she didn’t answer.
I never realized just how hard it was to revise and re-write, and how much time it takes.
Perhaps that’s why first novels take so long to write!
© Charles Heath 2016-2023