Book Talk With J & J were kind enought to interview me this past week on their blog: http://booksbypickles.blogspot.com/2009/01/interview-with-sue-mcgeown.html
Thanks for this opportunity, Jen! I really appreciate it. Would you please tell your readers that I’m anxious to get my stories read and out there. Anyone who contacts me at firstname.lastname@example.org can request a free e-copy of any one of my books!
Jen: Will you please share a short bio with us?
I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, aunt, uncle (don’t ask), teacher, author … but, most importantly, a “woman after God’s own heart.” I’ve been a 4th grade teacher, a teacher of the gifted, a curriculum writer, a Children’s minister, a church deacon, a vacation Bible school coordinator, a preschool director, and a Bible study leader. Living in Bridgewater, New Jersey, with my husband of over fifteen years and my three children, writing stories is just about the best way I can imagine spending my time. Each of my stories champions those emotions nearest and dearest to me: faith, joy, hope and love.
Jen: Tell us about Joining The Club and where it's available.
I like to write about people that are flawed but have good hearts. And by good hearts I mean that they have hearts, which are open to God and what He’d like to accomplish in their lives.
Joining The Club is a story loaded with colorful, flawed characters with truckloads of attitudes and issues and quirks. I had grand fun writing it! My main character, Elaine, is a thrice-married woman who’s sworn off love and relationships forever. After all, her life is already complicated enough with one daughter who’s “easy” and one daughter who’s “hard”, a grandson who’s a potential criminal, a meter reader who’s got attitude to spare, a girlfriend who’s trying to save her soul while at the same time jump start her love-life, and a mother who’s best avoided at all costs. Despite Elaine’s effort to keep her life as simple as possible, her life grows more and more complicated: drunken ex-husbands park on her front lawn, a secret she’s kept her entire life becomes public knowledge, and she meets a man that can’t possibly be as good as he seems.
Joining The Club is my ninth book. It’s currently available only on my self-publishing site www.lulu.com. PLEASE! Don’t let that deter you, okay? Lulu is very user friendly – just like Amazon and by searching for me – Susan McGeown – all of my stories will immediately show up. (Or you can just click here: http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=681731)
Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
Sue:Ha. Do you know that up until about five years ago I thought that everyone had stories in their heads? Seriously. A friend asked me once where I got the ideas from my stories. I said, “You know how you’ve always got a story running in your head? I just started to write mine down.” My friend acted like I was nuts. Said she had no idea what I was talking about. I was stunned. “What do you think about when you’re in traffic, or lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, or stuck listening to Aunt Lucy tell you about the time she met Uncle Fred for the five hundredth time?” I asked. She told me she thought about bills or her latest to do list or what she was going to fix for dinner. I was so shocked that I did this independent survey of all my friends asking them if they had stories in their heads. Only one friend – who writes music – gave me a smile and a nod. “Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. I dream music,” he said. I was rather overwhelmed to discover that this thing I had taken for granted literally from early childhood – this ability to dream up stories (and keep them running in my head for days or even weeks until I finished them or just got tried of the train of thought) was something rare and special.
So, in answer to your question, I’ve always written (even when I was too little to actually write it down, I ran the stories in my head). I didn’t appreciate my call though until about five years ago.
Jen: Describe your writing in three words.
Empowering, hopeful, realistic
Jen: Do you have a writing routine?
Sue:My stories always start with a bang – a sudden, vivid image in my mind that I want to know more about. Most of my stories’ opening scenes are these initial images. When I’ve got a story going, I write about 5-6 hours a day when the kids are at school or when I can escape to the sanctity of my room and computer.
Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest?
Sue:Historical fiction is harder than contemporary fiction because there is the pressure to keep things accurate. But for me, the hardest aspect as I write is keeping all the little details accurate – like timelines and character “facts” I’ve invented. And oh my goodness do I hate to proofread and correct. I’ve got a wonderful team of friends who proofread my stuff once I’ve got a rough draft. I hate having the tedious job of going back and having to fix everything.
The most fun is the story itself. Sometimes I dream parts of it, sometimes I’ll be listening to music (usually Christian rock) and the story will roll out in my head like a movie, and sometimes I sit at my computer and just type. The process of the story unfolding and then gradually coming together for a conclusion is a wondrous, delightful process – the ultimate rush.
Jen: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
Sue:I love when people talk to me about my stories. I love hearing any kind of feedback – questions, observations, or discussions. One of my friends read my story A Well Behaved Woman’s Life. All of a sudden, one summer evening there she was sitting out on my back deck. I went out to see her and she looked at me with wonder and tears in her eyes and said, “How did you know? How could you understand? What? Are you in my head or something?” I had made the whole story up and yet I had really, really touched her. That just about blew me away.
Jen: Is there a genre that you’d like to write?
Sue:I write Women’s Inspirational Fiction. Yeah, I know. There really isn’t a genre like that. I can perceive that as a problem because agents and publishing houses say, “Umm, Sue? You have a strong, unique voice and your writing is snappy and clever but we don’t have a place for what you write ... Sorry …” Or I can perceive all this as an advantage: “Have you read the stories that Sue McGeown writes? I’ve never read anything like them! AT LAST, someone is writing realistic stories about people like me that I can really associate with!” So I write Women’s Inspirational Fiction: fiction stories that speak to all kinds of women and whose ultimate purpose is to inspire.
Jen: Where do you draw your inspiration?
Sue:I believe that my talent is God’s gift to me. I believe that my stories are God’s direction. I believe that my purpose is to make God smile. That is the framework I operate in.
Jen: Do you have a favorite character or one that you identify most with?
Sue:Tough question. I suppose you’ll want to know which one of my children is my favorite in your next question! Ha. Hmmm. I really wish I was as quick witted as Elaine is in Joining The Club. In the story I have her rolling off these great witticisms like lightning bolts when in reality the conversation has taken me six hours to write! Ha. And I love Bear – from my Trilogy – Call Me Bear, Call Me Elle, and Call Me Survivor. I love how she transforms over the course of her life from a terrified, frightened white girl named Elle to a powerful, outspoken woman of the Eastern Cherokees named Bear. In reality, everyone of my main female characters are me … either from experience or imagining how I would react in a particular situation.
And here’s a little secret – my male main characters (AKA known as The Love Interest) are always modeled after my husband … the good parts anyway! Sometimes I’ll ask him questions, trying to get the male perspective. On occasion, he’s given me a hard look and said, “You’re doing book research, aren’t you? I’M NOT ANSWERING THAT!!!” (So I ask my girlfriends to ask their husbands and get back to me … HA!)
Jen: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What are you reading now?
Sue:Well, I try not to read whatever I’m writing. I just don’t want to let my brain collect “stuff” even subconsciously. I enjoy romantic suspense, romance, historical, contemporary, some fantasy and science fiction. NO HORROR!!!!
That being said I love Suzanne Brockmann (Romantic Suspense), Diana Gabaldon (Fantasy), Sara Donati (Historical Fiction), Linda Howard (Romanic Suspense), Rachel Gibson (love her romantic humor!!), Sharon Shinn (her Science Fiction Angel series) and Beverly Swerling (Historical Fiction). I’ve recently been delighted with Marian Keyes (Rachel’s Holiday) and am laughing my way through her book Watermelon right now. Let’s just say this – I am a voracious reader. I not only always have a book in progress but I also always have about ten or eleven “on the shelf” waiting to go!
Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Sue:I have to be careful because “staying home and writing” doesn’t always qualify for a lot of people as a priority and there can be a mentality of “Ask Sue. She’s home all day … just … writing.” But for me, writing makes me happy, energizes me, and makes me feel alive. I have to do it. And if I’ve got free time … we’ll that’s what I’m doing.
That being said, family is tremendously important and has first priority. Shocking as it might be, I really like hanging out with my husband and three kids. I’m always a class mom at school and have gone in and spoken about being a writer a number of times at school. I’m also very active in my church and lead three Bible studies from my home. I lead youth groups and direct vacation Bible school each summer, too. So IF family and God responsibilities are met, I run to my computer and write … (And if I’m not writing, I’m reading!)
Jen: What's next for you?
Sue:I wrote my first nonfiction right after Joining The Club. It’s called Biblical Women and Who They Hooked Up With. (No kidding!!) It’s gotten a lot of favorable buzz and I’ve even gotten some speaking engagements out of it! Is that ever fun! I’ve got another nonfiction in the works: Biblical Warrior Women And Their Weapons. (Again, no kidding.) Both books take some famous and not so famous biblical women and examine their stories and how the lessons these women learned can be applied to us. I do it with a little bit of tongue in cheek humor with chapters like “Rahab and The Guy Who Got It For Free” and “Jael And A Really Sharp Nail.” I also have more than 150 pages written of an historical fiction story (set in the 12th century B.C.) that I stalled on and would like to eventually finish and a great lead in chapter done to a contemporary fiction story I think about often. I can only do one book at a time so occasionally things get a little backed up with me.
Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Sue:Joining The Club (and Biblical Women And Who They Hooked Up With) are only available on my self publishing website http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=681731. CHECK IT OUT!! This website has all of my books in both print and electronic versions.
All my books except Joining The Club and Biblical Women And Who They Hooked Up With are available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Borders.
My website www.faithinspiredbooks.com has all my books and their first chapters.
There is also my blog www.faithinspiredbook.blogspot.com.
Jen: Do you have anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Sue:I would sincerely love to hear feedback about my works. My email address email@example.com is a perfect place to contact me to ask questions, request free e-copies of certain stories, and tell me what you think of my stories. PLEASE!! I’d love to hear from you!!
BACK COVER SYNOPSIS:
My name is Elaine.
Talk to my daughter Olivia and she’ll mention my lousy maternal instincts, blatant favoritism towards her sister, one-sided loyalties, and convenient memories regarding my personal disasters.
My friend Callie will tell you I have a wonderful relationship with my daughter Erin and a spectacular relationship with my grandson. She’s quick to point out that I’m “strong, capable, and resilient.”
Then there’s Alec. He says I’m the toughest woman he’s ever dealt with. He says that I’m smart and sharp and not at all shy or hesitant about speaking my mind. And he’s also quite certain that I’ve eviscerated lesser men.
Actually, I’m a moderately capable, semi-competent, usually reliable, vaguely lonely and uniquely insecure. Best served up in small, carefully managed dosages for the most successful result. Like strong cough syrup. Or Milk of Magnesia. Not intended for small children, not to be taken regularly, and never to be mixed with alcohol.
I’m afraid I’m not all that you see all along the coast of me,
I’m camouflaged, a desert mirage, a nobody.
Chapter 3: My Personal Nitroglycerin Stash
My mom and dad never married. He was a horrible excuse for a man who disappeared as soon as I made my presence known. I was a nasty, life-altering disaster that happened to my mother when she was nineteen on a full ride scholarship to Princeton University. It was my arrival that caused all of my mother’s hopes and dreams to be dashed to smithereens, never to be retrieved or resurrected. She went on to become a financial analyst in a small time office working for people who never appreciated her intelligence or ability. I grew up to be a disappointment of astronomical proportions because I was never contrite enough, appreciative enough, obedient enough, willing enough, quiet enough, fast enough, pretty enough …
Ah, hell. Give me a minute.
Sigh. I’m sure if you talked to my mother she would have a slightly different perspective. When I got pregnant at sixteen with what everyone assumed to be Dean’s baby (and no, of course my mother didn’t like Dean, she didn’t like anyone) it was the final straw that broke the proverbial mother’s back. She always knew I would amount to nothing and here I was, real-live proof (finally) of all she feared would come to pass. And in a way, that final straw was also the perfect opportunity to cut herself free of me forever. My mother did not attend my wedding and she never showed any interest in either Olivia or Erin (who arrived two years later when I was barely nineteen). With my marriage to Dean, my mother pretty much shut the door, locked the lock, and threw away the key. Bye-bye.
When things were at their very worst: Dean drinking, bill collectors calling, Miriam harping, and me breaking down, I called my mother. You need to know that in all those years that Dean and I were together I only called her once. Olivia was only three and Erin wasn’t even a year old and I was at an incredibly desperate point. I called my mother and asked her if the girls and I could come and stay for a bit until I got on my feet. I told her quite bluntly that I knew I had screwed up and that she was right about Dean, but that I had the babies to think about. I explained that I was taking night courses to get my teaching degree and working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office during the day. I promised her that I would have all the babysitting issues taken care of. The only thing I asked her for was a place for my babies and I to sleep. And she said no. No apology. No explanation. No alternative offer of help or support. Just no. And then hung up on me.
So I stayed where I was. Where else did I have to go? I did my best to make the most of a pretty horrendous situation. I tried to stay focused on my goal rather than get dragged down by the disaster that was my life. I stayed married to Dean almost four more years. To this day I don’t know what was harder: accomplishing what I set out to do or keeping my sanity. Maybe they were equally difficult.
At twenty-four, I got my teaching degree, got a teaching job, and filed for divorce. I qualified for rental assistance and got a small two-bedroom apartment. I fed my kids through food stamps and free school lunches and a hell of a lot of spaghetti and peanut butter.
Those years with Dean were probably the hardest I ever had to live, but I did it. Looking back I realized that I might as well grab as much positive as I could from that time: I came out of those years knowing I could do just about anything I put my mind to. I realized that the kid my mom was never impressed with, never wanted, and downright resented was strong, determined, and smart. And if my mother couldn’t see it, that was her loss. Move on, Elaine. Move on.
By the time I was twenty-six, Olivia was ten and in fourth grade, and Erin was eight and in second. I had been teaching for almost two years and had already signed a teaching contract for the next year. I got on well with my principal and colleagues and was liked by the parents and students. You could almost say I was a success, right? Life was pretty darn good. Give that girl a pat on the back for accomplishing all she did, huh? I’d managed to get a slightly larger apartment in a better part of town. The girls saw Dean less than when we lived with him but at a much higher ratio of him being sober. Despite what my mother had always thought, despite my less than stellar past, I had every reason to assume that all of my big mistakes were in my past. And then I got introduced to the newly hired school psychologist. Yeah, you guessed it: Paul Richardson. AKA Paulie.
Through all this time I carried the secret of Olivia’s conception with me like a giant container of nitroglycerin. When someone commented on her unique eye color, her adorable dimple, her glossy black hair, or her volatile personality (none of which anyone in my or Dean’s family possessed) it was almost as if my heart stopped beating and my lungs stopped functioning. I waited for someone to look me in the eye and say, “Surely you could not have conceived this child with your husband Dean.”
But no one ever did.
Dean eventually rouses himself from the couch around ten-thirty. I’ve been upstairs quilting my way into nothingness once again since I woke up on the living room rug at about eight-fifteen a.m. But no matter how fast I cut, pin, and sew I can’t seem to escape the reality of my life: my secret is no secret at all. The top two people in the entire universe that I would want to not know now do: Olivia and Dean. I hear him in the kitchen clanking around pouring himself a cup of coffee and cooking something in the microwave. When I come down into the kitchen from my workroom – having taken long, long minutes to gather my courage, he’s leaning against the counter munching on a bagel.
“Got any Excedrin?” he asks. I find the container in the vitamin cupboard and watch him take four tablets with a gulp of coffee.
“Can I make you something else for breakfast?” I open the fridge and start taking out eggs and bacon. I will distract him with food. Now is probably the one time in my life that I wish I had a fifth of vodka to offer him.
“Hey, I never turn down a free meal,” he says and walks around the kitchen island and settles himself in a stool. “You okay, E?”
For all of his drunkenness, Dean was always a caring kind of guy when he was sober. He always seemed contrite, solicitous and appreciative when he was straight enough to manage those emotions. I shrug at his question. “I suppose.” Hey, I have been worse.
“I’ve been sober for eighteen months and eleven days. Then I got your phone call last night.”
I stop scrambling the bowl of eggs to look at him. “So, you’d like me to take full responsibility for your falling off the wagon. Again.” Notice it’s not a question, just a statement from extensive past experience.
“Hell no. I just wanted you to know that I’d set a world record for sobriety. Maybe this next time I’ll make the full two years and get a new big penny.” AA awards time milestones with mementoes that look like big pennies. Dean’s got a million of them for a week, a month, and maybe a few for the six-month marks. I know it’s pretty stellar that he’d made it to eighteen months …
It took me a long, long time to be able to look Dean in his handsome blue eyes and feel not a speck of guilt or responsibility for this grown man who can’t control his personal demons. I’ve got enough hard work keeping myself on the right track.
I go back to making breakfast. “Why didn’t you just call me back instead of going off to the nearest bar?”
He stuffs the last of his bagel into his mouth, sweeps the crumbs into the sink and leans back crossing his arms. With his blonde hair, blue eyes, and tanned construction worker muscles, he’s one fine specimen of a man. Actually, sober he’s about the sweetest guy on the face of the earth. The key words being when he’s sober. “This wasn’t something we could talk about on the phone, E,” he says with a stunning flash of maturity. “When I realized what you wanted to talk about I got right in the truck and headed on over.”
There is a huge part of me that can’t allow him – even for a minute – to assume a superior role between the two of us. Consequently I snap, “So, what? You drove up onto my lawn and proceeded to drink a case or two of beer sitting in your truck before you decided to ring the bell?”
He looks sheepish and gives me his patented ‘ain’t I cute’ grin. “Nah, I got as far as The Exchange. I stopped in to have just one drink to shore up my courage.” The Exchange is a bar almost within walking distance of my house, once you leave the development and get onto the main highway.
I need to give him one more slap. “You should have called your sponsor. You know the drill.”
In a tired, defeated voice, Dean says, “Yeah, Elaine, I know the drill.”
Dean has the ability, even after all these years, to make me feel sorry for him. Sitting there, now with his head in his hands looking down at the counter, I remember the handsome young man who was filled with charisma, golden-boy looks and athleticism. Heck, part of his appeal when we were first dating was that even absolutely drunk he was always kind, loving and attentive to me, which was a hell of a lot more than I got from my mother in any condition. Those early years together, I remember thinking that if I had to deal with his occasional drinking, at least he was still nice to me and acted like he liked me. How pitiful was that?
“Why’d you want to talk about this now, after all these years?” He’s been looking at me, as I stand in front of him lost in thought, letting the eggs and bacon start to burn.
I turn to the stove to avoid another fire. “Well, since Paul told me that you and Olivia had a DNA test that proved conclusively you weren’t her father, I thought it might be appropriate,” I say with a pile of sarcasm. “And since Olivia, through Paul mind you, has requested I provide her with her father’s full name and last known address.”
Dean blinks his big, blue, bloodshot eyes at me in confusion. “Paul? DNA test?” He shakes his head. “I didn’t have any test.” He tilts his head in puzzlement. “Doesn’t Olivia hate Paul big time?”
“Yes, but apparently Olivia has relative degrees of hatred. Currently she hates me more than she hates Paul.” Dean mumbles something about “and that’s saying something.” I continue without acknowledging his mumbling, “Hence she’s willing to speak with Paul to get what she needs from me.” I sigh and take the time to pour the last cup of coffee for myself and make a fresh pot. “Apparently she’s been seeing a therapist. The therapist knows Paul. I’m guessing Olivia was encouraged to speak through Paul to me since she was unwilling to speak with me directly.”
Dean looks at me with earnest sincerity. “I didn’t have any test, E.”
I snort. “Dean, I could shave your entire body of hair when you’re asleep and you wouldn’t know it. If Olivia wanted a sample for a DNA test, it would have been little trouble to get without your knowledge.”
Dean gets up and heads out of the kitchen. I have the presence of mind to turn off the stove before I follow him. He wanders back into the living room where he collapses full length on the couch. With his hand draped across his eyes and his voice husky with regret he says to me, “I’m so sorry, E.”
The last thing in the world I thought I was going to hear from Dean was an apology. I sit down in the chair next to the couch and say in stunned confusion, “What are you apologizing for, Dean? I’m the one who’s got to say the words of regret. Don’t you have a pile of questions? Accusations? Words of hurt and fury?”
He doesn’t answer me and when I hear him sniffle I realize he’s trying not to cry. And then, in fits and starts he begins to talk. And all I can do is listen. “You … were so sweet … when I first met you. Even with that … bitch of a mother you were all smiles and giggles and joy. When I hung out with you I felt like I was so much better than I knew I really was. For a while, you were a better high than drinking was. I thought,” he shrugs, “… well, I thought … maybe you could help me stay sober … more often.” He makes himself sit up and looks at me sitting in the chair.
“You … you suddenly started drinking at the parties we went to. Remember? I’d yell and tell you no, and you’d yell back and say that if I could do it why couldn’t you? I’m pretty sure they were our first fights. And then,” again he shrugs, “well, then I figured hell, if she’s going to drink then she won’t give me a hard time when I do. So, maybe it was okay.”
We’re both silent for a long, long time lost in our own thoughts: some good, but mostly bad. I remember those times: the wonder of someone liking you enough to call you a girlfriend, the discovery of emotions and feelings that you didn’t know existed, the power of beginning to play with adult situations … For me there was the added attraction of being able to escape from my mother, defy my mother, have someone who wanted me more than my mother … When you’re a teenager in love the world and its obstacles are never as big or imposing as they really, truly are. The world takes on an illusionary façade that makes problems disappear, obstacles miniscule, and reality nonexistent. Come on, you remember what it was like.
You remember how stupid you could be.
I was more than happy to give Dean my virginity at fourteen. He took everything I offered with delighted abandon. Sexual promiscuity as my mother called it was just another piece of kindling I was happy to throw onto the conflagration that was our relationship. Hell, she had a pile of things she was already complaining about to me that I couldn’t control (i.e. my existence) so what difference did it make whether I had wild adolescent sex with my good-for-nothing boyfriend? By the time Dean came on the scene I was already teetering on the edge of full-blown rebellion, anyway. Dean was just some excellent company for the ride.
Adding the sexual perk to our relationship ratcheted up Dean’s and my perception of what was real and what was false into the stratosphere of fairy-tale la-la land. We would ride around in Dean’s father’s car and choose houses we’d planned to live in once we were married. We would get engaged in our senior year, Dean would work and I would go to college to become a teacher. We were going to have four kids and name all the boy’s with Dean’s same initials and all the girls with my same initials. Dean was going to open his own construction company and I was going to run my own private school. We were always going to be happy, healthy and financially secure. And, as a result of our all encompassing love, our woefully dysfunctional parents were going to morph into grandparents that were solid, loving, dependable, and supportive … Okay, I’ll end this so you can stop laughing.
“You learned drinking from me, E,” Dean says quietly. “You did it to keep up with me and feel a part of the crowd.”
“I never felt a part of the crowd,” I say glumly, “drunk or sober.” Truth be told, I’ve never felt part of any crowd to this day.
Dean sighs. “Yeah, I know. But in the beginning you at least had me, though, didn’t you? You’d hang on my arm and be all sweet …”
I can still remember that glorious rush of belonging and being wanted. That feeling of superiority or inclusion or … I don’t know the right word … when Dean would grin at me and sling his arm around my neck to pull me close. That feeling of being a part of. “It was okay for a bit,” I say, “but after a while I felt alone with or without you.” Suddenly I feel like a lost fifteen-year-old instead of a mature, put-together forty-eight-year-old.
“That’s when you started drinking,” Dean states with certainty and I nod reluctantly. “To keep up with me.”
Let go of my hand, Elaine Marie. Why do you always have to hang on me? Where was this bizarre time-travel conversation headed with my barely sober first ex-husband? “Dean, why are you doing this?”
He looks at me then, takes a deep breath and says, “If you hadn’t been with me, drinking with me, going with me to those parties, you wouldn’t of gotten …” he swallows and alters his words, “ … ended up pregnant with Olivia.”
I lean forward and say, “How do you know how I got pregnant with Olivia?”
Dean frowns at me and seems to be confused at my question. “We went to Frankie’s brother’s graduation party. Things got out of hand pretty quick, remember?” I let myself be pulled back into the flashbacks of my deep, dark past: escapism without quilting but instead with alcohol and a truckload of teenage stupidity. When I come back to myself I find Dean looking at me with an expression that is so intense I immediately feel sick to my stomach. “You were drinking Rolling Rock beer and Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine.”
I cross my arms and glare at Dean. “What, were you keeping notes? I find it particularly spectacular that you can recall what I was drinking at a party almost thirty-five years ago, when during the same period of your life you lost at least three pairs of sneakers because you were too drunk to recall where you’d left them.”
“For a little while there, E, I had trouble keeping up with you.”
“That’s a lie.”
Dean doesn’t answer me at first. He just sits there staring at me. “You started drinking the Strawberry Hill right off the bat when we got there. Since you’d already been throwing back the Rolling Rock, I tried to get you to stop, or at least slow down. You told me to leave you alone.” Dean stops looking at me and stares out the living room window bright with morning sunshine. “I remember thinking, ‘Fine, let her. She’s not my problem. If she can enjoy herself, so can I.’” He shrugged his shoulders and looked down at his tightly clasped hands. “I figured what was the worst that could happen? You’d pass out and end up with a hell of a hangover. Besides, I still had almost a case of Rolling Rock. I knew where the good times could be had.”
When Dean and I were teenagers, the drinking age was eighteen. There were always liquor stores that served underage teens, fake IDs that you could mail away for, or older siblings who would be happy to accommodate should the price be right. Dean had an older brother, a fake ID that he’d mailed away to Las Vegas for, and knew of at least three liquor stores in the area that he’d been going to long enough that he was on a first name basis with the owners. In other words, when it came to obtaining alcohol, Dean was set. Factor in the underground network that always let you know when and where there was a house available for a party and each weekend was always a good excuse to cut loose and drink back a few cold ones.
I remember quite a few parties with Rolling Rock beer and Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine. But that’s about all I have ever chosen to let myself remember about most parties I attended back then. “What’s your point with all this, Dean?”
“I got pretty smashed that night, E.” Now it’s time for me to stare and not say anything. “I didn’t watch out for you like I usually did. I knew you were headed for trouble but I just wanted to let you learn a lesson.” Dean gets up, shoves his hands in his pockets and looks out the front picture window. “I know that was the night you got pregnant with Olivia, E.”
“Oh?” I say, shooting to my feet and walking around so he has to face me. “How’s that? Were you there? Did you take pictures?” My fists are so tightly clenched I feel the pain of my nails in my palms.
His blue eyes look bloodshot and sorry. “I didn’t take pictures.” He lets the reality of his unspoken words sink in: he was there.
“So, if you were there what made you so sure Olivia wasn’t yours?”
He clenches his jaw. “I didn’t participate.” Now it’s my turn to turn and walk away. I can’t stand the look in his eyes. He follows me and stands behind me. “I went looking for you. Some guys were laughing. ‘Go stand in line,’ they told me and pointed upstairs. I found you, upstairs … with at least three guys …”
I close my eyes and put my hands up to my ears to block out the words he’s saying. Within my mind I see just broken flashes of particular moments: the musty smell of a bed pillow that I was shoved facedown into so that I had trouble breathing for a time, the confusion of too many hands in too many places, and the inability to say what I wanted to say to stop what I was doing, the male laughter filled with titillated excitement … the terror of the darkness and the whispered words telling me to be quiet, the agony of helplessness, the fear of the enormity of what my mother would say if she knew, and what she would think of me then. The inevitable feeling that would eventually steal over me that I wasn’t really there … it was all just a bad dream that I would wake up from all this if I just closed my eyes and went away …
He takes my hands from my ears and forces them down and bear-hugs me from behind still holding onto my wrists. I struggle and fight, trying to get away from him but he just stands there like a block of stone. Finally I stop wrestling and just stand still letting the tears and snot run down my face. “I went wild, making them all … get out,” he says softly in my ear. “You’d passed out by then. I got you dressed, and took you home. You’re mom was out so I took you upstairs and tucked you in. I figured it would just be our secret. I never told anyone, E,” Dean says with intensity.
I feel him shrug. “When you told me you were pregnant, I hoped she was mine. Even though we always used Mike’s rubbers.” Dean’s older brother who fancied himself a ladies man and bought rubbers by the caseload, giving us an unlimited supply of birth control. “Olivia never looked like either one of us. It always seemed like there was a third person involved, ya know? But you never brought anything up so neither did I. We were both a part of the whole … thing … I just figured you wanted to forget that … time just as much as I did.” He turns me around and grips my upper arms tightly, giving me a little shake. “I loved her like my own, E. There was never a time that she wasn’t as important to me as Erin was. I swear to God. I … wish that I could have … kept that from happening to you … I always felt if I’d watched out for you better … hadn’t been so drunk … I could have changed things …”
I look up into his concerned eyes. How ironic is it that after all this time we are having such a precious conversation? A conversation that would put most sane people right over the edge. And yet I stand there and realize how fortunate I was to have had him be with me for this horrendous blot in my life. Who ever would have thought that Dean Kelly would be the perfect person for anything that involved comfort, love or support? For more than thirty-five years Dean has carried around the guilt of what he could have and should have done that night so long ago. For more than thirty-five years he’s agonized over a guilt that could not be forgotten or drunk away.
I stand there looking into his eyes filled with anguish and sincerity and guilt and am overwhelmed with what a mess all this is. Do I tell him it wasn’t his fault? Do I tell him the responsibility for all of this does not rest on his shoulders and never did? Do I tell him that there was nothing he could have done that night to protect me? Do I tell him that the night of that party I was already pregnant?
How could that not make everything only that much worse?