It’s not that I quit my job, exactly. But I didn’t really mind when they started cutting my hours, and I didn’t fight back. And then one day, the schedule was posted, and I wasn’t on it. I can't say I was disappointed about the job, but the chances of picking up something else were slim.
I told Charlie, and he just hugged me, like he always did, and told me things would be fine. His positivity was one of the things I loved most about him and things did always seem to be fine when he was around.
By dinnertime, his wheels were turning.
“You know,” he mused, plucking an onion ring from my plate, “this could be the perfect time for you to write that novel.”
“I mean, baby, it’s something you’ve wanted ever since college. My job gives us enough to live on, as long as we don’t get too crazy with our spending. Why don’t you take some time and get that book together? You can be the next great thing in American literature and support me.”
I practically fell in his lap as I leaned over to hug him.
“Really? Charlie, are you sure?”
“Sure I’m sure. You’ll be great,” he assured me, kissing my nose.
I’d love to tell you that I was an artsy, studious novelist from then on. The type who lurked in coffee shops all day long, drinking overly bitter French roast and chewing thoughtfully on a pen. Really, the furthest I got was one afternoon in a local café, showing up with a notebook and an audaciously teal beret and managing to eat lunch with a straight face.
But really, it was a struggle. Ever since I had studied English lit in college, I’d gotten this idea in my head that I could be a writer. It wasn’t that my favorite authors made it look easy; I just liked so much what they’d put out into the world, that I wanted to share in it. I wanted to be like them, to touch readers the way they had affected me. I’d really never made something lovable before.
So I dutifully scribbled in journals, waxing eloquent about this character’s development or outlining yet another subplot. And every once in awhile, I actually wrote a piece of the story. It was just that dragging out a plot for tens of thousands of words was harder than I'd anticipated.
I plodded along that way for nearly two years. I finally felt like I was getting somewhere, and it wasn’t such a struggle write each day. It was actually coming together! At the same time, Charlie was getting low on patience. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. I caught the sidelong glances at my notebooks, the quick once-over when he’d get home from a day at the office and find me in my pajamas.
And of course, it slowly descended into discontent, then resentment, then disgust. I was vaguely aware of it, lurking in the peripheral edges of my subconscious, but I prayed, ever so quietly, that if I didn’t look at it, it would stay there. I was so close. If he would just swallow his frustration a little longer, he would see what I had produced, and it would all be worth it.
Optimistic, wasn’t I?
One night, he worked till after eight. He came home looking worn, his tie loosened and his eyes tired. I set aside my notebook and got up to give him a kiss, but he held up a hand to stop me.
“Pajamas, Wen? Really?”
I froze. “I’ve been writing here all day. I didn’t see any reason to get changed.”
“That’s just great.” He shrugged out of his suit coat and tossed it onto the chair.
"You hate me,” I said quietly, sitting back down, secretly hoping to start a little drama, leading to hot make up sex.
He sighed. “I could never hate you, Wendy.” But he didn’t come any closer.
“You loathe me, then,” I amended. “You think I’m a loser for wearing my PJ’s and trying to write this stupid novel.”
“I just don’t understand why you-“
“It’s okay,” I muttered. “I’ll go back to work.”
He eyed me without speaking.
“It’s just that I was getting so close.”
“I’m not saying you need to go back to work, Wendy.”
“No, you obviously are,” I countered, tossing my pen onto the coffee table. “And I understand. Really, I do.”
“I just think it would be better if you moved out,” he said quietly.
So I moved. My parents loaned me the money to get a new place, and I packed up my stuff and told Charlie goodbye. He even offered to drive the moving truck for me.
Then I had to put on some pants (and a bra, no less) and get a big girl job.
And I lucked out. Some friend of a friend knew someone at a publishing company, and agreed to help me land an admin gig. The pay was underwhelming, but I knew the contacts would be invaluable.
So for the past few months, I’ve just kept my head down and worked hard – busting ass at the office, and staying up every night working on the novel, fueled by a fire that wasn't there when I was living with Charlie. A few weeks ago, I finally finished it.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to ask my boss Marcie to read it. She has so many manuscripts to read, and I’m sure there are plenty of would-be novelists in the company who want special consideration, or they wouldn’t have gone after a job in publishing. I didn’t want to be that guy.
Finally, the Tuesday before last, I put a fake name on the header of my novel file, and printed it out. I mixed it in with a few other manuscripts and delivered them to her office in a pile. Then I waited.
On Monday afternoon, I heard a muffled sound coming from her office. Frowning, I tiptoed over and listened at the door.
She was chuckling.
Tapping on the door, I poked my head in. “Marcie, is everything okay?”
Marcie glanced up, her eyes full of mirth. “Fine, Wendy, fine, I’m sorry I disturbed you,” she apologized ruefully. “I just can’t get over these submissions sometimes.”
“That bad, huh?”
“Worse, usually. Everyone with a laptop thinks they can be the next great American novelist.”
“Yeah.” I fingered a piece of fuzz on my cardigan. “This batch worse than usual?”
“No more than usual, I’m afraid,” she replied with a smile, setting a sheaf of papers on her desk. “It’s just this first one I’m looking at. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
“It’s a story about a bunch of high school kids and a shooting. Bullying, psychotic episode, teen pregnancy. Sound familiar?”
I shook my head, although the truth was I knew exactly what she was talking about.
“Jodi Picoult wrote a story just like this one a couple of years ago. It wasn’t one of her best books by a long shot, but it did well. This manuscript is just the poor man’s Nineteen Minutes.”
“I’ve never read Jodi Picoult,” I whispered.
“If the quality was better, I’d say it bordered on plagiarism,” she continued thoughtfully. “It’s certainly close enough.”
“Well, it could be a coincidence,” I said slowly. “I’m sure they didn’t mean it.”
“Maybe not,” she agreed. “Ah, well.”
“Anyway, Marcie, I’ll let you get back to work. So I guess that manuscript is a no?”
She laughed aloud. “Between you and me, dear, it’s a hell no. But let’s send Peta Anderson a nicer letter than that, okay?”