August 19, 2016

Vagabond Traveler: One More City…

Category: News — admin @ 6:00 pm

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if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it…

if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it…

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready…

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

—Charles Bukowski, excerpts; So you want to be a writer
____________________

It’s always been stirring around down there, deep inside. I’ve felt it, shifting, twisting, struggling to get out, to get told. And always, when I looked down inside to check things out, there was a small persistent voice that came. No. Not now. Don’t do it. Not this moment. It will come when it gets here, the story you need to tell. Not right now. One day, it’ll get here. You’ll know. It will come on its own, it will speak its own voice, and when it does come, you won’t be able to keep it silent.

And I remember it all so clear, looking back. How that first journey was, to my first and only book. It was an impossible and hopeless dream, that I had back then. And I never got in anyone’s face about it. Nah, I figured. Ten million other people are out there in the market, frantically hawking their words to whoever they can get to listen. They got formulas, they go to seminars, they got all kinds of time-tested ways of making things work, when it comes to selling your book. I instinctively recoiled from all that noise and hassle. I don’t want to walk out there in that loud and messy market. And I thought to myself. Just sit in your little corner and write. Write your heart. It’s a long shot, but maybe you can make the market come to you.

It was a spectacularly naive game plan. Looking back, there was almost zero chance that it would work. But I never fretted much about it. I focused on what I wanted to do. Write. Write and post. And in those first few years after my marriage blew up, that was pretty much the focus of my life. Tell your story. Throw it out there. Someone who knows someone will eventually have to notice.

And a few years in, here comes a prophet, striding along, leaning wisely on his staff. Gray-haired and gray bearded. Well at least salt-and-pepper-haired and bearded, back then. He was a man I have known all my life. Jerry Eicher. A well-known writer of Amish fiction, Jerry had broken into the market in his own unique way. He won some sort of writing contest, I think. And he connected with Harvest House, his publisher. And he got a slew of books written and published, all without an agent. As of now, he has sold over 800.000 books, total, from a series of titles, which dwarfs the sales of my book. Our connection goes way back. We were both born in Aylmer, the same year. All the way up to second grade, we were neighbors, then Jerry’s family moved to Honduras with Peter Stoll and his group. We connected sporadically over the years. And when I started writing and blogging, Jerry read my stuff.

And he’s the man who first came striding through the wilderness, to show me the way. At least the way he knew. We communicated off and on, via email. And Jerry offered to connect me with his guy at Harvest House. I’d appreciate that, I said. One way or another, I will get published someday. I know that as surely as I’ve ever known anything in my heart. I forget the guy’s name at Harvest House, the one Jerry connected me with. I sent him a few of my blog stories. He got quite excited. Harvest House would publish me, he assured me. And I dared to believe, dared to hope, that all of it was happening as I had dreamed it would.

Jerry’s friend took my stuff to the board at Harvest House. He urged them to publish it. But a couple of people on that board shook their heads in horror. We can’t put writing like this on the market. It’s not sweet enough. Amish stories have to be sweet. And the sad message came back to me. Harvest House won’t publish you. And it seemed like the twilight of my dream had come, as the darkness settled and night closed in. I felt the disappointment, all the way down deep. But still I sat at my desk, and still I wrote and wrote and posted my blog. That’s all I knew to do.

I had always believed. Someone who knows someone who knows someone will get me connected. And in that dark hour, that’s exactly what happened. The Harvest House guy was extremely disappointed. And we talked one night, on the phone. And he told me. “I know an agent, a good friend of mine. Let me talk to him about this.” I was pretty disillusioned by the Harvest House board. My stories weren’t sweet enough. What kind of a moron would say such a thing? I didn’t know Amish stories were supposed to be sweet. But I thanked the guy. I would appreciate that. If this was how the publishing world worked, well, I might as well just keep posting on my blog. None of my blog readers had ever suggested such an inane thing, that my stories weren’t sweet enough. So I didn’t expect much to develop from the guy’s agent friend. Still, one always clings to a sliver of hope in a time like that.

A few weeks later, sure enough, here comes an email from the agent the guy claimed he knew. Chip MacGregor, the only person in the publishing world I still communicate with today. He asked to talk on the phone, which we did. He didn’t seem like a wordy man. Almost shy and quiet. He asked for some of my stuff and other info, and I sent him what he wanted. And then he just disappeared for a few months. Hmm. I sure wonder what that was all about, I thought to myself. There’s sure not much fuss or hassle going on. And as always, I sat and wrote and wrote and posted my blog.

The rest, I guess, is history. About eight months later, Chip brought me an offer from Tyndale House. They wanted a memoir. I don’t know if I can write one, I said. Which was true. I didn’t know, and actually doubted that I could. I might have heard of Tyndale House before, but I had no idea that they were as big and respected in the industry as they are. When you look at the publishing world and publishers, and all the would-be authors out there, when you look at an equation such as that, you’ll know I had no clue of much of anything back then. I had about as much chance of getting published by Tyndale as I had of getting struck by lightning on a clear day. Maybe less, even. I know that now, looking back.

It all came together, then, and the book came out and took off and did some crazy things. I won’t go over all that again. That little journey has been well documented, right here. The thing is, what happens after you get something like that accomplished? I didn’t know, really. Enjoy the ride, I guess. Then in late 2011, a small nudge from Chip, in an email. Tyndale would like to check about the possibility of another book. The sequel. I was freaked out a good deal by that, but once again, I said. I don’t know if I can write one, but I guess I can try. So I went off and tried for a while.

It did not go well at all. When writing my first book, all the way through, I told myself. You’re not “writing a book.” You’re writing on your blog. Talk to your blog readers. They’re the ones you’ve always talked to. So I focused on that, when the going got tough a few times. Focused on speaking to my readers. And mostly it worked, pulled me through. Still, my “manuscript” was one big mess. Stories ran together, or out of order. There were few chapter breaks, and no chapter titles. I just spewed it all out and sent it in. My Tyndale team took it from there. And I have always given those people all the credit in the world. I wrote the words, and they cut and fused the book from that. They could not have done a more professional job. I wouldn’t change ten words in the book if I could.

Back to the sequel. That’s what you do, when you write a successful first book. Get the second one out while the market’s hot. The time-honored formula. And that’s the main reason most sequels are just flat out flops. You can’t force real writing. You can nudge it along a little, maybe, but you can’t force it. And I could not find my voice, to come out right with a second book. I went down dark roads, that had been lurking in my subconscious mind for decades. That little torrent was unleashed. And it did not go well.

So I told the people I was talking to back then in the publishing world. I’m pulling back. I’m going back to where it all started, and just speak my voice on my blog. Maybe another book will come one day. I believe it will. But maybe, too, it won’t. I’m fine with whatever comes, either way. It’ll just be what it is. That’s what I told them.

And that’s what I’ve done, ever since that day. Just rolled along, and lived. And come close to dying at least once, maybe twice. Not being dramatic, it’s just a fact. And I wrote it all on my blog. Up and down and through deep dark places and over great soaring mountains. I walked through it all. And I’ve always been pretty honest about it, right here where I can speak my voice. Here, I am comfortable. Here, I just write my heart. Here, I trust my readers enough to speak to them straight. There is no filter between me and them.

And I gotta hand it to Chip, my agent. We’ve always stayed connected, loosely. We’re Facebook friends, and I’m a faithful reader of his blog. He’s got the best insider’s perspective on the publishing market out there. Some of what he says I should do, I pay no attention to at all. Like attending seminars and joining a writer’s group and treating your writing as a business and working so many hours a day and producing X amount of words. I never have done any of that, and I never will. It’s just not who I am. Don’t get me wrong. I love the money my book brought me, and I wish it had been ten times more. But money had nothing at all to do with the reasons I wrote it. Look. You can write for any reason you want to. It’s none of my business. But I’ll tell you this. If you’re writing for the money, it’ll show up in your words. It has to. You’re a mercenary, not a writer.

Chip writes a lot about market trends, too, and I find all that more than fascinating. So we stay connected, loosely, like I said. He sends me an email once in a great while, just to “see how you’re doing.” In other words, any writing coming through the pipeline in the foreseeable future? And I always smile, and tell him. Thanks for checking. Right now, I’m good. And as each new year came in, lately, I emailed him. I can feel things stirring down there. Maybe this will be the year I can get you something. I’ll let you know when it gets here. And I gotta hand it to the man. He has never, never, pressured me in any way. I’ve always respected that about him. He has left me alone when I wanted to be left alone. Letting me know he’s there, of course. But otherwise, he hasn’t bothered me much at all.

And now, it’s today. Five years have passed since Growing Up Amish was released. Six, since the summer I wrote it. That’s a long time, for a rank new author to just disappear like I did. And it’s not that I haven’t thought about it often along the way, about writing the second book. I don’t like the word, sequel. Second book is better. And I’ve looked inside myself, and thought about things. Why doesn’t it come churning out, like the first book did? Why can’t I just walk on down that road, and crank it out?

A big part of it, I think, was fear. Well, a lot of it was. You get to thinking. There’s a quarter million people out there who have read your story, your quest to break away. They read your innermost feelings, they know who you were and what you did. They know how you hurt people, in your past. Something like that can freak you out, when you stop and actually absorb it.

A part of it, too, is just you figuring out who you are. My book did some pretty crazy things, it brought me honors and some acclaim. And I had to sit down and figure it all out. Am I a “writer?” Or am I just a guy who goes to work in his pickup truck every day, and writes evenings and weekends in his spare time? The high accolades proclaimed me a “writer.” A new and singular voice.

But my gut instincts told me. I’m the guy in the truck, going off to work every day. Do not ever talk down to your people. Their blood will always be your blood. Don’t talk yourself up. Respect where you came from. And speak your voice from where your heart is. I went with my instincts. And I’ve tried hard to stay true to who I know I am.

But mostly, I think, the second book hasn’t come because it wasn’t time. There’s a whole lot of reasons as to why. Part of it may be because my father is still alive and fairly alert. My book pierced him pretty hard. It hurt him. A great lion of the Amish people, in his final years, when he should be basking in the honor of his life’s work. And here comes his son, writing to all the world about his father’s human flaws. How fair is that? Who deserves such a thing? And what do you think the second book will be about, a lot of it? Yeah, it’ll be about my Dad. The struggles we had, even since Growing Up Amish came out, to face each other and speak real truth. That was a hard row for both of us. But especially for him, I think. What is the ethical thing to do? I don’t know. I guess you just tell the story.

And jumping around a little bit, here. We’re in late August. More than half the year is gone. I turn fifty-five next week. Next March, I’ll have ten solid years of writing under my belt. Which is nothing, compared to Dad at that age. He had tens of thousands of pages printed by then. I got one book, and this blog. My father was the real writer, if you look at production. Whatever. This is not where I meant to go, here in this paragraph. It’s so easy, to meander off sideways down bunny trails.

What I set off to say was this. This year is more than half gone. And this has been one of the freest and wildest years I’ve ever seen in my life. All of it comes from the sheer joy of living, after the death angel came real close to getting his wish, last November. He lost, though, and had to lay down his sword. And I came out of that dark place, I came back to where life was, and realized. I was never afraid, back there. That seems so strange. But it’s true. And I lifted my face to the heavens and raised my arms in triumph and fiercely exulted. And shouted out, to anyone who would hear. I AM NOT AFRAID. I WILL NEVER BE AFRAID AGAIN.

It changes things, when you look death in the face and feel no fear. It changes everything, when you get back. And I’ve written about it until y’all must be getting sick of hearing it. Hear me one more time. I’ll shut up, soon. I promise. But anyway. At first, I kind of sat back in wonder. And I wondered if it would last, this new knowledge. Could it last? It waves, sure, some. But mostly, the fearlessness grows stronger. The path to freedom more real.

And that’s what almost all of my adult life has been about. A relentless quest to be free. Free from cultural chains. Free from legalistic bondage. Free from fear. Free from shame. Free to walk before God and speak my heart honestly to Him, and to my readers, right from where I am. Free to live, just live, and free to go get counseling when I get nudged to. I will be free, I will be free, I will be free. That has been the battle song of my heart, for about as long as I can remember. And yeah, I’ve been beaten and battered around a good bit. I’ve lost a lot of battles. It doesn’t matter. I’m still standing. And I have never wavered in my unrelenting quest.

And in this year of freedom, lately there came something else. The writing I had kept pushing off came stirring. I’ve known the road I need to walk for some time, now. I’ve known the story line, the setting, what needs to get told. I just never got up the nerve to start walking. About a month or so ago, I emailed Chip. I got something coming, inside me. I’ve been real happy with what’s been coming on the blog. I’m writing free and relaxed. I think I’ll have something for you, soon. And I asked him. What do you think the market will be like? Can you show my stuff around? He emailed back. There are plenty of publishers out there who will be very interested in seeing what you have to offer.

And that wasn’t a guarantee of anything. The market is there. That’s all Chip was telling me. Send me your stuff. And he also needs an updated bio, four or five suggested titles, and forty or fifty pages of actual writing. Good grief. I got no problem with working on the writing. But all that other stuff is just tiresome. I’m not sure I even know what a bio is. Just tell your publisher people to go look at my blog. I got everything posted there that you’ll ever need to know about me. Ah well, let me get those fifty pages worked up, and then we’ll talk, I emailed back. You can shop what I write to anyone you want.

I don’t know. It feels almost like I’m starting all over again. Except this time I have a record. Last time, I didn’t. We’ll see how it goes, I guess. Maybe lightning can strike the same place twice.

Moving along, then. A few weeks back I got a message from my gray-haired friend, Jerry Eicher. He was coming through the area that Saturday afternoon, and wondered if I wanted to meet. Of course, I said. Let’s get together at Vinola’s around five or so.

I arrived early and sat at the bar. And soon he came walking in. I stood and greeted him. And he sat at the bar with me. Give him the nonalcoholic “Ira,” I told Amy the barmaid. She smiled her dazzling smile. And she got all busy juicing oranges and throwing other things together. She filled a large glass and poured in the mixed juices and some seltzer water, threw in some cherries, then shook it all up. Jerry lifted the glass and tasted. That’s my special drink from Amy, I told him proudly. She named it after me. How do you like it? “It’s good,” he said. “I really like it.”

We ordered greasy bar food, then just sat there and talked. It’s been a while. I respect Jerry’s take on the publishing market almost as much as I respect Chip’s. And he told me. “You were so lucky that Tyndale got hold of your book and published it. They had the credibility to market it to both the Christian and secular worlds. Not a lot of publishers have that kind of credibility. They got it done.” I am grateful, I said. I always will be. And we talked. I told him. I’ve been very happy with the blog writing lately. The new writing’s stirring in me, and I’m working on getting started on my second book.

He nodded. “You know,” he said. “You could just take a bunch of your blogs and make a book out of them. That would sell. Your writing’s that good.” But the blogs are out there for free, I protested. Why would anyone pay for what they can get for free? He scoffed. “People aren’t going to go dig them out. The blogs disappear, down the line as you post new ones. If you put the best ones in a book, that book would sell.” I thought about that for a moment. You know what? I said. There’s been at least one publisher who approached Chip with that very idea. I told him no, because I want to try to write another real book. Maybe if my stuff doesn’t get picked up, my fifty pages, maybe then I’ll go back and make a book out of the best blogs. Hmm. I hadn’t ever considered that seriously before. We’ll see.

And we just talked along as our food came out and we ate. Jerry has seen a lot, when it comes to the publishing world. Way more than I ever will. It’s always fascinating, to hear his perspective. I told him. The Amish fiction market has collapsed. He agreed. He’s still writing those books, but you have to be established, these days, to get your Amish fiction published. Most of the fly-by-night authors are long gone. My words, not his. I’ve always been suspicious of the genre. But I respect Jerry. I always will. He’s the one who opened the door to the publishing world to me. I don’t forget a favor like that.

And I’ve thought about things a lot, since Jerry and I talked at Vinola’s. I’ve made noises, here and there these last few years, about a second book. But even as I was writing those noises, I could not feel it inside me, that anything was coming soon. Now, it’s different. And now, I’m telling you.

Something is coming, soon. And no, it’s not something wicked this way comes. It’s something real will finally be written. And it’s like I told Sam, my counselor, last session we had. We talked, and nothing was off the table. And I told Sam, there at the end. I can see the path to where I need to go. I can feel the chains breaking from me. But still, that path needs to be walked. And hard things need to be faced. Real hard things. I’m focused on the destination. I’m not sure how I’ll get there. But I’m not afraid to start walking. That’s how I feel right now, about a lot of things. Including my writing. Including my second book.

So I guess I’ll be taking a little side trip, here, real soon. I won’t be posting on the blog as regularly as I have been. Oh, I’ll check back, once in a while. I always have. I’ll tell you how it’s going. If I get stuck, I’ll come back and tell you that, too. And if my stuff gets rejected, I’ll just throw it out for free right here on my blog. We’ll see how it all goes when I get there.

I remember so well when the journey of the first book started. I wrote about it back then. I called it a shining city on a hill, the place where I was going. And it was just that, in all the ways I could have imagined. The thing is, I look back on it now and realize the cold hard truth in what King Solomon wrote, long ago. The man knew what he was talking about. Because in the end, all of it was vanity, that shining city, all of it was a weariness of the body and the mind. From where I am today, I can see that and say that. Not from where I was back then. It was a vision and a dream. It was a beautiful gleaming place, whatever else it was. And today I know. There will never be another shining city like the first one.

But still, the vagabond traveler blood in me stirs. And as the sun sets and twilight closes in on one more chapter of my journey, I see it way out there on the horizon, out there in the hills. A distant light glowing. So faint, but so clear. And now, I turn my face to those hills and walk.

And I believe, like I always have. One more shining city waits for me to get there.

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August 5, 2016

A Day That Will Never Come…

Category: News — admin @ 6:00 pm

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And now, because you have known madness and despair, and because you will
grow desperate again before you come to evening, we who have stormed the
ramparts of the furious earth and been hurled back, we who have been maddened
by the unknowable and bitter mystery of love, …and savored all of life, the
tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all
that henceforth never more shall touch us – we call upon you to take heart,
for we can swear to you that these things pass.

—Thomas Wolfe
___________________

Well, it’s been a little more than nine years since my first blog was posted, back in 2007. Nine years, and the journey has twisted and turned in ways I could never have imagined or foreseen. I try to stop and take stock once in a while. And I’ve written about it, a lot at first, then more sporadically as the months and years rolled on. If you go dig around in some of those early blogs, it won’t take you long to figure out what was going on. The catalyst, the event that pushed me out, that made me write my voice for the first time ever, in my life. The trigger. My marriage exploded, and my world blew up.

It was a brutal and bitter place to find my writing voice. I guess you don’t get to choose when something happens organically on its own like that. It just is what it is, and gets here when it gets here. And I hunkered down in those early years, and spoke from deep pits of darkness and pain such as I had never seen before and have not seen since.

And I muddled on through, those first few months. Ellen moved to a faraway city, way out west. I stumbled along at home. And that first summer, she filed the divorce papers from where she was. I didn’t fight anything. I signed where I needed to sign and sent the papers back. And I will say this. It was a numbing and painful time. But through all that, our divorce could not have been more amicable than it was. We never even hired any lawyers at all. Just signed an agreement written up by an attorney friend of mine. We listed her stuff, and listed mine. Before leaving, she lugged in some big old tubs and loaded them with her things and I carried the tubs out to the garage and stacked them there against the wall. And there they remain, and I got no problem with any of all that. There were a few pieces of furniture, too, that stayed. And I was OK with that as well. It was pretty strange, how relaxed it all came down in some ways, when I stop and look back at it now.

The divorce got finalized that fall, sometime in November, if I remember right. It was kind of funny how that happened. From here, anyway, it was. Back then, it wasn’t. I had gotten the official notice. On such and such a day, at 4:30 my time, the judge would call me from the bench. And we’d go through with the hearing. I dreaded the moment, but still, you just walk forward in a time like that. That’s all you can do. The day came. 4:30 came. No phone call. Then it was closing time, 5:00. I got into my truck and headed for home. Over the mountain. And as I approached the little town of White Horse, sure enough, my cell phone rang. Blocked number, I couldn’t see where it was coming from. I answered. Hello.

An authoritative female voice. “Is this Ira Wagler?” I hedged. Depends on who’s asking. “This is Judge (I don’t remember her name),” she said. “Is this Ira Wagler? Please identify yourself.” I was done hedging. It is, I said. I was driving right by the fire station, so I pulled in and parked. And we proceeded right on with the hearing. I answered a few questions, and I heard Ellen’s voice answering the same questions on the other end. It was all pretty laid back. And after ten minutes or so, the Judge was done. “I hereby declare you divorced,” she proclaimed. And then it was over. I hung up and just sat there for a moment.

It felt so very strange. I remember thinking. I’m divorced. Then, before driving on, I called my brother Steve. I just got divorced in the parking lot of the White Horse Fire Station, I told him. Steve had known it was coming, but he was just silent for a moment. He said something, then, I don’t remember what. And I told him. I’m sure it’s probably the first time in history that anyone got divorced in the parking lot of a fire station. We both chuckled. It was funny, when you thought about it. And then I drove on out toward home.

And the months moved on. I wrote and wrote. And raged and raged, once in a while. Mostly, it was rage against the pain that life is, so often. One thing I never, never did. I never blamed Ellen for the failure of our marriage any more than I blamed myself. It wasn’t her fault, any more than it was mine. Had I been the man I should have been, a whole lot of crap would likely never have happened. Not that it does much good to say that from here and now. But still. That’s how I always felt, in my heart.

And we never communicated much those first few years, Ellen and me. Once in a while, a strained email about some logistical thing. And when I settled on our house, then we communicated some, too. I got the house appraised, then remortgaged. And I bought out her half of the equity that was there. There weren’t a whole lot of pangs in me about all that. Some, sure. It was so final, so irrevocable, seemed like. With every step like that, the separation just got that much more firm, more deeply poured in concrete. But mostly, it all went well.

And I won’t pretend otherwise. The ghosts of who we were lurked there in the old brick house we had shared as our home. I stayed rooted there, because I was too stubborn to get pushed out by the memories of what had been, or the hauntings of what might have been. So now and then, I wrestled with the ghosts, when they came. Go away, I told them. Leave me alone. And mostly, they did. But sometimes they returned with a vengeance, and the battle started all over again. That’s just how it was.

The years just kind of slide together, here, in my memory. I can’t quite remember the dates of what happened when. Anyway, it wasn’t all that long after Ellen moved out west that the word trickled back. She’s dating some guy she met, there. About my age, the man was. His name was Tim. I brooded a good bit when I heard that. Still, you just keep walking. And I will say. I never, never blamed Tim for anything. He was just a guy who came wandering along long after me and my ex-wife had blown up our marriage. I always figured he’s probably a pretty likable man. But still…but still.

And I remember the turmoil inside me when I heard. Ellen and Tim were engaged. They were going to get married in July of 2010, if I remember right. That was the summer I was writing my book. So there was a lot going on. Still, as the date approached, I brooded a good bit. It wasn’t right, that I sat here all alone, while she went gallivanting around, and now she’s getting married again. That’s the concept that was so strange. From where we both came from, you just didn’t see such a thing. No divorce. And for sure, no divorce and remarriage. And the ghosts kept pushing themselves forward, into my mind. There she was, way out there. And here I was, back where our future dreams together had been launched, not all that many years ago. I brooded and drank and brooded and wrote. How a book ever came out of me that summer is more than a miracle.

The date approached, her new wedding date, I mean. And as it got close, I had to get out of the house. That Friday, the day before, I boarded Big Blue and headed west to Daviess, the land of my father’s blood. There was a little gathering going on that I figured to attend. Some old historic Amish house in Daviess was going to be torn down soon. And that Saturday, the place was open to all who wanted to walk through one last time. The house had been in my blood lineage, on my mother’s side, I think. Anyway, I just figured. Go hit the road and drive. Maybe you can get your head cleared.

It was a real good trip, more than I could ever have hoped for. I connected with the Freundschaft that Saturday, and hung out with friends and relatives. I thought of it now and then, but only fleetingly. Ellen is getting married this afternoon. Overall, it went better than I had dared to hope it would. And the next morning, early, I headed on back east toward home.

I got back late that afternoon. And I walked into my home. And it was one of the strangest things I have ever felt. The ghosts were gone. There was no vestige, no hint of their presence. Whatever had ever existed between Ellen and me, that time was past, now. It was so clear. Now she belonged to another man. Coming from where I came from, this was a very strange place to be. But there I was. And since that day, the ghosts of our pasts, Ellen’s and mine, have never returned. That’s not saying Billy the Ghost isn’t around. He might be, even though the tenant hasn’t heard him in a while, now. But he’s not associated with any of all that. If he’s there, he’s there for his own reasons.

And sometime later that year, Anne Marie began the last leg of her long journey home. And sometime in the spring of 2011, I think it was, Ellen flew in to see her good friend and say good-bye. We spoke over the phone a few times, leading up to her trip back. And she told me. “I want to come and spend time with Anne Marie while she’s still here, and we can still talk. When she passes, I won’t be coming to the funeral.” And we planned to meet, Ellen and me, while she was around. She needed to pick up a few things from my house, and she also asked me. Would I consider giving her the Bosch Mixer that my Dad had given to us as a wedding present? She sure could use it, for her own cooking.

Sure, I said. (And yes, I know what a Bosch Mixer is. It doesn’t matter.) You can have it. I’ll never, never use it. And we arranged a time, one evening after work, that she would come around and pick it up. I went straight home from work that afternoon, and waited. And soon, a little SUV zipped into my drive. I looked out and watched as Ellen got out and walked up to my house. I opened the door, and we hugged a little awkwardly.

She sat at the kitchen table, and I stood and leaned against the sink. And we talked. We were both a little nervous, of course we were. But we chatted right along. My book was just coming out that June, so she had all kinds of questions about what it had taken to write it. She knew from our past that writing a book had been one of those hopeless dreams I figured would never happen. So she knew how important it was to me. And we talked along about it, as I dragged out the Bosch. We packed the Mixer and a bunch of attachments into a sturdy cardboard shipping box she had brought. She would UPS it back to her home out west.

Since that time, I think, Ellen and I have looked after each other and cared for each other about as much as two people coming from where we came from could have. We emailed briefly now and then, about this and that. When Anne Marie passed away, I immediately called her. And we grieved together and talked about our memories of our friend.

And from that time, I’ve always said, pretty much. I don’t mind talking to Ellen and even seeing her here and there. I would be OK if I randomly ran into her and her husband, Tim. I’d be good with that, as long as I wasn’t expecting it. But then I always poured a little bit of concrete. I will not deliberately go to a place where I know they both would be. A day like that is a day that will never come.

And time drifted on. Two years ago, Mom passed away. And last year, Ellen’s father, Adin, died. We communicated both times. She contacted me before Mom’s funeral. And she told me. “Back when we separated, you told me you didn’t want to go alone to your Mother’s funeral. I promised then that I would come and go with you. Do you need me to?” I was deeply touched that she remembered. But I told her. I’m OK. Janice will be there, and she can walk beside me. Thank you for remembering.

And when Adin passed last September, I called her. And we simply spoke for a few minutes. I remember how you tried hard, so hard, to reach your Dad, I said. And he never would let you. He always rejected you. I never forgot how that was. And we grieved, there, for a few minutes, at the tragedy of all we had seen together. And we cried a little bit together, too.

And that was how things stood, back last November when I went into the hospital for what was to be a routine, one-day procedure. The night before, I got a call from Ellen. Somehow she had heard about it. Oh, it’s OK, I told her. I got some issues. But I’m not afraid of whatever will come at me. That was a mouthful. I had no idea of what was about to come at me. Over the next ten days, I found out. I was right about one thing, though. I never was afraid, going into any of it.

Ellen texted me a few times, there in those ten days I was in the hospital. And I always talked back about where I was. She was a nurse. And she cared that I was getting through and getting better. And then I got out. And all of life looked a whole lot different than it had before. I will walk forward into this new place, I said to myself. It’s a beautiful thing, all of life. And it’s a beautiful thing, to walk free through it.

It’s been a different road, since that time. One of the first things I did was cut out unnecessary noise. You come at me harsh, you come at me in a bad way and threaten me, I just cut you off, and all the noise and fuss you’re making. I don’t have to listen to a negative vibe. That was a new free little path for me. And life moved on, like it always does. I looked forward to it, and walked forward into it. Mostly, anyway.

And sometime earlier this year, I don’t remember when exactly, I got the usual invite from my brother-in-law, Paul Yutzy. Well, I guess he’s my ex brother-in-law, now. He’s Ellen’s older brother. We have remained close friends, through all the years of all the crap that me and his sister went through. After getting through such a thing, there’s not a whole lot out there that’s gonna make you see each other any different than you always did. He’s my friend. And he’s a good man.

And this year, the invitation rolled in like it always does. Paul’s White Party, in July. It happens out on his patio deck every year. The formal tables set up. He cooks up a great feast. And all the guests dress up in white. This year, I looked at the invitation. All other years, I was all ambivalent in my response. Maybe I’ll make it. Paul and I both knew I had no intention of showing up. That’s how it always was before. But not this year.

This year, the invite came. And this year, I looked at it in a way I never had before. Yes. I will do this. A White Party. I can wear my white pants, a white shirt, and my seersucker jacket. And my little white hat. I think that would work out just fine. This is the new me. Now, I will go to places like Paul’s White Party. That’s what I thought to myself, all excited and confident.

And I told Paul. I’m coming, this year, for the first time ever. I’m excited about it. I think he was a little surprised. But he didn’t let on. “Great,” he said. And that’s how we left it, early on. But then, a few weeks later, he had something to tell me.

I don’t remember if he called me, or just sent me a message. It’s not that important, either way. But somehow, he told me. “Ellen wants to come for the White Party this year. She and Tim are going to be here. Are you OK with that?”

And right there it was. The day I had told myself would never come. I would not walk deliberately into a place where I knew my ex-wife and her husband would be. It wasn’t something I got showed how to do, growing up. It was always the outside English people who got caught up in traps like that. And I remember hearing of such a thing here and there, and wondering how it could be. How can any former husband and wife be at the same place in peace, especially when a new spouse is right there, too? I’ve always wondered. And I’ve always thought. That’s for those people to figure out. It’s not me.

But now, it was me.

And I wrote back to Paul. I don’t have a problem with that. I plan to be there. And that’s how we left it as the date slowly drifted in and came at us.

The party was in late July. And as the day approached, I got to thinking. It might be real hot that evening, too hot for a suit coat. And then the week arrived. And man, was it ever hot all week. The sun scorched down every day, and the hottest temps of the week were forecast for Saturday afternoon. And then the day arrived.

It felt so strange, walking up to a new door like that. I felt no stress at all, and no flashbacks came at me all week. The actual morning dawned, and the day crept by. And by four I was dressed and ready. White pants, seersucker shirt, white hat. And Big Blue and I cruised on up north toward Lebanon and Paul’s big mansion.

I pulled in right at five and parked. I was a good bit early. I had planned it that way. I couldn’t stay late, because of other plans. So I figured to get there early and get some visiting done. I walked into the garage, where Paul greeted me. I’m early, I said. “That’s totally all right,” he said. I turned toward the house. And she came walking through the foyer and out into the garage. She was smiling.

It was Ellen. The woman I had married almost precisely sixteen years ago as I write this. It’s been nine years since it all blew up, and we’ve both aged a bit. I’ve aged the most, of course. I’m old, and gray-haired now. Gray-bearded, too. But she was still as beautiful as ever. Her smile was exactly as I remembered it. She greeted me, and her voice was the same, too. I smiled and spoke back. We walked to each other, and we hugged each other hard.

And it seemed like it all washed away from both of us in that moment. The horror and the hurt and all the pain and darkness of long ago. I swore back when it happened that the pain of it would sear me inside forever. And in a sense, I guess it’s always there somehow. It bubbles up now and then in the sadness of all the memories, and all that was lost. But you can reach a place where you look back and realize you have grown beyond any point you ever thought you could have. And you can walk calmly through a new door as it opens, in a day you swore would never come.

It all seems so strange, but that’s how it is. I can tell you that, from where I’ve been.

We chatted for a minute, then walked into the house. In the kitchen, Malinda was bustling about with two helpers, preparing the vast feast that would be served outside, later, on white tablecloths. I’m early, I told her. She smiled and welcomed me. Ellen and I sat at the table, then. I kept glancing around. “Oh,” she said. “Tim is upstairs, changing. He’ll be down in a few minutes.” And we just chatted along and caught up until I saw the man approaching from across the room. We are Facebook friends, so I recognized him. Tim. Ellen’s husband.

I stood and held out my hand. He gripped it hard. We looked each other in the eye and smiled. I’m happy to finally meet you, I said. “Same here,” he said. And he sat with us, and the three of us just talked about a lot of things. I told them about my hospital stay, and my heart, and how I’ll never be afraid again. And when Ellen wandered away for a few minutes, Tim told me almost shyly. He’d read my book, and he liked to read my blogs. I thanked him for taking the time. I’m always honored, I said.

And soon the other guests began trickling in. I walked about, greeting the people I knew and introducing myself to those I didn’t. When Ellen came around, I introduced her, too. This is my ex-wife, Ellen. Some people looked startled, but mostly everyone seemed very OK with everything.

The evening came at us, then. As we were getting seated, Ellen asked me. “Would you like to sit with us?” I hadn’t really thought about it, but I accepted. Yes, I’d like that very much. And we sat and ate together, the three of us. Me and Ellen and Tim.

Paul’s White Party is a big, big deal. He and Malinda had prepared an enormous and delectable feast. Five or six courses, I can’t remember. Salad, then soup. Then the main dishes, which included grilled salmon, lamb chops, and steak. The food was beyond delicious, the wine robustly red. And sitting right there, I sinned grievously again, with my feasting.

The hours wore on, and we were comfortable and relaxed. Right at eight, I told Ellen. I need to leave now. And I told her the reasons why. She understood, and Tim did, too. I stood and he reached over, and we gripped hands again. I wished him well. And then Ellen asked. “Can I walk you to your truck?” You may, I said.

I thanked Paul on the way out, and waved good-bye to my other friends. I went inside to grab my keys, and Ellen met me in the garage. We walked over to the open door. And we stood there and looked at each other.

And we wished each other well. I had a lovely time, I told her. I enjoyed meeting Tim. He’s a good man. I’m sure you guys have to work through things, like every couple does. But I wish you every blessing. “Thank you,” she said. “I had a lovely time, too.”

We were done. There wasn’t a whole lot more to say. We faced each other, and then we hugged. Good-bye, I said. “Good-bye,” she answered.

And then I turned and walked out to my truck.

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