I met Vivian Fransen at a neighborhood book club meeting. She authored the club’s selection of the month, The Straight Spouse: A Memoir. Her memoir and mine confront the same marital struggle, but from opposite perspectives. My wife left our marriage to explore a heterosexual relationship; her husband left their marriage to explore a homosexual relationship.
I was new to the club—this was only my second meeting. I didn’t know any of the members, but as I glanced around the room, I guessed they were mostly senior and all straight. Even the author was straight. Refreshments were laid out, fruits, salads, sweets. Once the plates were full, the friendly, inconsequential chatter encircling the buffet, morphed seamlessly into a book discussion. The questions the members posed were thoughtful and intelligent, sensitive and respectful, and entirely focused on content. I stayed in the background of the discussion, saying nothing, observing body language, facial expression, attitude.
I was bursting with questions of my own, all about style, writing process, querying agents, publishing and so much more, none of which interested this group. I had dislodged myself from my cozy home this rainy Sunday morning, to attend a meeting with my specific list of wants. I wanted writing advice from a published author. I wanted to use her book as a comp for mine. I wanted useful information, and I could almost taste my impatience. Did I expect this meeting to revolve around me and my personal agenda? Probably. I’ve always been a selfish learner. Put me in a room with an expert, and everyone else disappears.
The rain persisted, pelting the windows of the dark church hall. Outside, the shapes of trees and rooflines blurred as the droplets smeared the dirty glass. Inside, the edges of my impatience softened into resignation. I was drawn back to the discussion by a question. “How could she explain her husband’s infidelity in the light of their marriage vows?” I had just confronted this subject in my own book. I looked at the author. She fumbled. I jumped in.
“My book tells a similar story,” I began, “and I just worked through this very question. Maybe I can shed some light on his dilemma.” All eyes turned toward me. “Throughout her book, Ms. Fransen clearly asserts her love for her husband, and his for her. They both confirm the strength of their marriage and their healthy sexual relationship. This was not a question of infidelity for him. It was, and is, a question of identity.”
A light went on in Vivian’s eyes and the hint of a smile touched her lips. “I’ve been asked that question so many times,” she later confided, “and I never knew how to answer it.”
A man asked, “Didn’t he know before he got married?”
“We all come to terms with our sexual identity at some point in our lives,” I continued, “usually in early adolescence, and the path we follow seems inevitable and natural. But not always. Some people go through life trying to do what they think is expected of them, no matter how hard, always squelching the conflicts within. Maybe if they just try harder. Then one day, completely unbidden, the delayed question prickles, persists and can no longer be ignored. No one can determine when that question will arise, but to live an authentic life, it must be answered.”
When the meeting ended, I approached the author. While she autographed my copy of her book, I congratulated her on her finished project and thanked her for sharing her insights with us.
The meeting had been good but I my agenda remained unaddressed. This was my last chance.
“May I ask you a craft question?” I ventured.
“I can’t figure out how to end my book,” I admitted with no small degree of embarrassment.
“When did the inciting incident occur?” She asked.
“In 2017. Not quite two years ago.”
“That’s why,” she said kindly. “It’s too soon. You haven’t lived the ending yet.”
I rolled her words around in my head as I geared up to confront the weather. You haven’t lived the ending yet. So sometimes NOT writing Is the best thing I can do for my writing? I opened my umbrella and stepped into the deluge still reeling from the revelation. I smiled as I skirted puddles and leapt gutter rivulets. What a relief.
For now, the blank pages of my memoir can wait while I give myself time to live the missing words.