True Calling

          So, after years of reading magazines for serious writers and reading many books and more books and reading other magazines and majoring in English Literature and studying Shakespeare and learning Latin and Greek and Babylonian, yes, I have read the Code of Hammurabi in the original, and going to writing workshops, all in preparation for writing THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, I discovered this past weekend that my true calling is writing trashy romance novels with Victorian-like erotica and pirates.

             It was Friday night. I had worked all day. The boys were in Vermont and the girl was out with friends. It was me, the computer and a glass of wine.  I had slogged away for two weeks writing everyday on my WORK IN PROGRESS for #novelpi on Twitter, a fun challenge to write a certain number of words each day and report in.  My goal was 250, I know, pretty low, but I had never written EVERYDAY so set the bar low and the writing was going well. I was making quota and a bit more.

             It was then, alone on Friday in the empty house, that I realized out of nowhere that I could write ANYTHING I WANTED.  I picked a scene for my WORK IN PROGRESS that I had thought would end with some significant eye contact.  And I wrote it out. O.M.G.  I had never written a sex scene, ever, but, after this I felt I had to take a shower, but I figured while I was in the mood I’d try the pirate scene.  O.M.G.  Then I did take a shower. 

           On Saturday more pirates, though not more sex.  But the damage was done, it’s been TRY TO STOP ME ever since.  I have found my niche.  I thought it would be horror.  I really, really like horror.  Or, maybe mystery.  I really, really like mysteries.  Or just a literary novel that would receive critical acclaim, but would not sell well.  But, no – romance, sex and pirates.  That’s what I seem to write well in abundance. 

           I spent Sunday coming to terms with my new found talent.  After writing a scene  about pirates and whips (it’s not as kinky as it sounds), I walked around encouraging myself – say it loud, say it proud – “I write trashy romance novels.”  I’m going to a writing workshop in a week and, in preparation to “what are you working on?” I practiced, “a well-written trashy romance novel” but that sounds like I’m embarrassed about the subject, and have to justify it by adding well-written.  So just, “trashy romance novel” will have to do.  Now I could say just “romance novel,” but there are many out there without sex and I don’t want to be confused with those, because this novel seems destined to have a lot of sex – with a plot; and not a pizza delivery boy kind of plot either, but a real plot where no one has sex for pages and pages. More like a combination of Daphne DuMaurier, Treasure Island and Anonymous.   I can deal with that. 

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Directions Home

          Depending on what route I take to drive my children to school and to my office each day, I pass by the house of Robert Hayes on Main Street in Amesbury, Massachusetts.  It’s a lovely house overlooking the Merrimack River, across the street from Lowell’s Boat Shop which was built in 1793 and is the oldest operating boat shop in the United States. There are other lovely houses along this route, but I notice this one each day because Bob Hayes, 37 years old, walked through Logan Airport for the last time on the morning of September 11, 2001 headed to Los Angeles on American Airlines Flight 11 for a business meeting. He left behind his wife, Debbie, who he ironically met at Logan Airport in 1989 and two small boys, Robbie who was 4 years old at the time and Ryan who was 8 months old. Tomorrow there will be a memorial there where Debbie still lives with her sons; but I don’t need a memorial to remember.  I remember each day as I drive by his house.

          After I pass the house of Bob Hayes I continue over the Hines Bridge. In the winter bald eagles come to nest in the tall white pines on either side of the bridge. We even have an Eagle Festival in February each year.  Derek Hines was 21 years old on September 11, 2001.  Four years later, on September 1, 2005 1st Lt. Derek Hines, from Newburyport, Massachusetts, was killed in Afghanistan in a firefight.  He left behind his parents and siblings. The bridge was dedicated to him in 2006.  Each time I cross the bridge I am grateful for those who serve and sad for those who gave their lives in that service, and for those left behind.  I would not want to be the mother of bridge. Not even one where eagles fly in winter.

          Immediately following the Hines Bridge is the Chain Bridge, the oldest suspension bridge in the United States, which signals the crossing into Newburyport.  After I drop off my children at school, I continue along High Street past the Newburyport Superior Court, the oldest regularly operating courthouse in the United States that opened in 1805 and where John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and Rufus Choate argued, to my office downtown.  In my office I have a copy of the Bill of Rights on the wall.

          In the afternoon I pick up my children from school and follow the same route in reverse.  Coming home I also pass Holy Family Church, and the house where John Greenleaf Whittier lived and wrote “Snowbound.”  When we arrive home I get the mail and the newspaper. 

          On September 11, 2001 Jordan Shay was 14 years old.  He graduated from Amesbury High School in 2005, the same year Derek Hines was killed in Afghanistan. In the newspaper I read that on September 3, 2009 Spc. Jordan Shay, 22 years old, was killed in Iraq on his second tour of duty.  He came home today.  He will be buried this Saturday following a service at Holy Family Church.  In between will be another September 11th.

The Fish Day of Summer

          Some things you just can’t explain.  So when the cop standing on my porch asked, “Did your husband threaten to kill the family?” I could have said a lot of things.  I could have said, “You know it’s actually a funny story.” Or “He didn’t mean it like that. Or “It was a mistake.”  In the interminable moments between the question and my reply I thought “this is stupid, Michael is an idiot, Laura is an idiot, where’s William?,  someone shut the dogs up.”  One thought overshadowed all, “DON’T SAY ANYTHING.”  I had done enough Motions to Suppress Statements to know that when a cop is standing on your porch because your 14-year old daughter called 911 you don’t let him in and you DON’T SAY ANYTHING.  Of course I also knew that there are times when saying nothing is worse than saying something.  So I said, “It’s hot.”
            It had been hot for three days; really hot, sticky and humid and there was no escape.  The news story on TV all weekend was about Neil Entwistle who had just been convicted of killing his wife and baby daughter.   My husband, Michael, and I were watching TV when Michael noticed that a catfish in the fish tank had died and was floating at the top.  The thermometer on the tank was way up in the red and the plecostomus was sucking frantically on the glass.  Michael turned off the heater, but the damage was done, within moments the other two catfish were dead and floating.  My daughter, Laura and I immediately began accusing Michael of KILLING THE FISH. The heater had been his idea.  Why didn’t he turn it off when it got so hot outside?
          He would have none of it.  “The tank got hot because it was near a sunny window.”
          No, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT.  If the tank hadn’t been heated to begin with, it wouldn’t have gotten so hot and KILLED THE FISH.”
          Michael did not understand the logic of this.  It was not his fault.  It was at this point that Laura had HER BRILLIANT IDEA.  She started to empty the tank water into a container.
          Michael asked, “What are you doing?”
          “I’m going to take some water and put it in the fridge to cool the water and then put it back in the tank.”  She explained that cold water from the tap had chlorine that was bad for the fish.  I expressed my opinion of the soundness of her idea. She then walked toward the kitchen with the container.
          Michael cut her off right around the bathroom. “You are NOT putting filthy water in the refrigerator.”
          “Yes, I am.”
          A struggle ensued.  There were muffled noises from the bathroom then, “Now, look what you’ve done.” This from Michael.
          “What I’ve done? You KILLED THE FISH and now you spilled the water all over the bathroom.”
          Michael came out of the bathroom to where I was sitting in the living room.  “Why don’t you back me up?”
          “Because you KILLED THE FISH, and I thought putting tank water in the fridge was fine.”
          It was then that under his breath, quite calmly and not even in anger, but with some exasperation about being labeled a fish murderer, unjustly in his mind, and finding himself alone in his protestations he said to me, “Now, I know why people kill their whole families.”   Laura, who had not been watching TV and did not know or care about Neil Entwistle overheard this statement.  She was angry that her father had KILLED THE FISH, thwarted her plan and then accused her of spilling tank water all over the bathroom when it was ALL HIS FAULT.   She went to the kitchen and picked up the phone, brought it to the living room and announced, “I’m calling 911.  You just threatened to kill the family.”  When she actually got the police station she hung up.
          DEAD SILENCE.
          “Laura, you didn’t actually call 911, did you?”  I asked.
          “Yeah, but when I call usually no one answers.”
          “What do you mean when you usually call?”
          “I’ve called before from my cell-phone and I didn’t get a person answering.”
          “Cell phones work different . . .”
          The phone rang in Laura’s hand. 
          “That’s the police calling back.” I said.
          Laura now panicked, “What do I do. Here you answer it.”
          “Hello,” I said in my best “Oh, everything’s fine, nothing’s going on here” voice.
          “We received a 911 call from your address.”
          “My daughter called 911 by mistake.”
          “Can I talk to her?”
          “Sure.” 
          “Yes, yes.  Yes.  Everything’s OK.”  Hang up. Done.
          Until the cruiser pulled up in front of the house.  Michael looked around like he was NEVER going to see us again and said, “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have said that.  You know I didn’t mean it.”  By then my eleven-year old son, William had joined us and he blamed Laura for being stupid.  Always a reliable go-to accusation.  “Tell the truth,” was the last thing Michael said to us as he walked out to the porch like someone going to his execution. 
          Truth.  The truth is not always your friend.  It will not always set you free, sometimes it will get you into a lot of trouble and even arrested.  A child knows this.  And the truth in this case required a lot of back-story and explaining.  This is how our family resolves things.  We say things.  We’re dramatic.  Especially, Laura, she wants to be an actress, you know. 
          Michael came back in.  But I could tell from his look that it wasn’t over.  “Laura, he wants to talk to you.”
          “What do I say?”
          “Tell the truth.” Michael repeated.
          “But only as much as you need to.  The less you say the better.” I added.  Trust me on this.  Then Laura came back in and it was my turn.  I do not know what Michael or Laura said but “It’s hot” pretty much said it all for me and it was the truth.
          “Well, I’m hot too, but I don’t say I’m going to kill my family.”
          Again, responses flowed through my mind. “You don’t understand my family,”  “you must not have a very exciting family,” “there’s a man with a gun on my porch,” “get the hell off my porch.”  I even thought I might tell him the whole story of how Michael KILLED THE FISH.  I said, “We’ve been married for 25 years.  He would never do anything to hurt any of us.” Which wasn’t a great response, but it was again the truth.