Back at writing group, the consensus changed. I could write a love story but only one love story – my personal love story.
“You are lyrical when you write about loving Rod,” said one group member.
“It flows,” said another.
“This book isn’t Rod’s story,” I said.
They looked from one to another. I could feel my brow knotting, my throat tightening. An urge to hurl things through the glass table bubbled up. I pushed down the urge.
“What if you ran it as a parallel story to the main story?” one said.
“You could do it in Italics,” another said.
“Yeah. A bad example is the book Everything is Illuminated.’
“Hey, I liked that book but now I’m into magical realism. Shit. That’s tons of extra work,” I said.
Feeling overwhelmed and blue, I went to lunch with a friend who reads. She gave me a copy of Barnard’s Death of a Mystery Writer. How apropos.
Back at my computer, I thought, “Love is a mystery. What do I know about it? Can I, or anyone, only write about what one knows, literally?” I have loved, fiercely, loyally and with my whole heart. When I let myself sail in my sea of love memories, it was the little memories that would rise up again and again. The spontaneous, poignant beats of our hearts.
My husband was getting on my nerves. For weeks, he had been agitated about some computer problem at work. Mumbling to himself. Pacing. Absent to the dogs and me. The moment he sat down, the cat jumped on his lap purring, making biscuits.
“Get out of here. Grab some friends. Go to Atlanta,” I said.
“I don’t want to leave you,” he said.
“Leave me, leave me. I’ll be here when you come back,” I said handing him the phone.
That weekend, he piled a bunch of his friends into the van, checked an engine hose was properly connected with a towel and duct tape, and tootled off to Atlanta. I had the house to myself. Everyone settled down.
I thought, “Yes. I get the bathroom to myself.” Our house was a 1910 bungalow with one heated bathroom and a structurally unsound, basically unusable add-on bathroom in the back. We were afraid to use it. We could fall through the floor to the basement or some plumbing fixture could explode. We were convinced something bad had happened in there before we bought the house.
Rod complained about the main bathroom continually. He would say, “I sit down and my knees hit the tub. It’s ugly. It’s claustrophobic. Yada yada yada.” He was right. In the quiet of his trip, I saw the bathroom was ugly and claustrophobic. I had a brilliant idea and drove to the paint store (not a mistake). From there I went to the craft store (a mistake).
That weekend, I painted a sea mural on the bathroom walls. Working from sunup to sundown, I stenciled, yeah, stenciled, seashells on the bottom part of the walls, many types of fishes in a rainbow of colors with air bubbles working up to the surface, and waves capped with tugboats. To top it off, I painted clouds on the ceiling. I was impressed with my artistic abilities and intoxicated with paint fumes. Sitting in the living room, beaming like a Buddha who had missed his Lithium dose, I waited for my husband’s surprise and praise.
“Honey, I’m home,” he shouted bursting through the door. He took one look at me and said, “What have you done?”
“Nothing. A little something. Maybe it’s not that noticeable,” I said starting to feel foolish.
He lumbered through the house, peeking through a door before he stepped foot in the room, checking floor to ceiling. The animals followed discretely while I sat in the living room beyond foolish, now acutely embarrassed like the time I gave a presentation with my blouse unbuttoned in the seventh grade.
He opened the door to the bathroom. Gasped. Silence. More silence then he walked back to stand in front of me. “I love it. The seaside. When I take a crap, I will think of you painting the bathroom for me. I will want to go.”
He took my hand lifting me to my feet. We raced down the hall to the bathroom, pulling off each other’s clothes as we went.
After he died, I would go sit on the floor in the bathroom. Counting seashells. Tracing air bubbles. Even with the mural, the bathroom was still ugly and claustrophobic. Airplane sized really. But no matter how big or luxurious another bathroom, nothing could compare to the love knowable in each brushstroke and echo of praise.
I will let my characters create that love space without forcing, tweaking, paralleling, or massaging the manuscript. A love space no matter how tiny or silly. But I have the stencil – it will happen in its own time. My writing must be patient. Courageously waiting for the colors and shapes of love personal to each character and story.

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