10th June 2018 at 12:41 am #24584
Thirty three years is a long time . It is longer than I spent living with either of my parents or bringing up my own children. It is two thirds of my lifetime as I write this aged forty seven. Thirty three years is the length of time I was in a relationship with my husband Richard. 1984 was an important year in world history. Indira Gandhi was assassinated and the AIDS virus was discovered. Apple released the Macintosh computer and Band Aid released Do They Know It’s Christmas. Richard and I started courting in the same year. That’s what dating was called back then. I was a shy and sensitive girl of fourteen. As a nervous teenager I lacked confidence and had a tendency to seek approval from those around me. Richard was ten years older than me and our fledgling relationship was frowned upon at the time. According to Richard’s friends, I was jailbait. Kicked out of the hovel I lived in with my Dad when I came of age, I moved in with Richard. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. Little did I know that I had jumped out of the frying pan of a dysfunctional family life, straight into the flames of Richard’s fire. I ignored the advice of my friends and family and married him three years later. I was nineteen. When we took our wedding vows at Huddersfield Register Office on a very hot and sunny Saturday in June 1989, we made a promise to each other that it would be forever. For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and until death do us part. We had an unshakeable bond and we were in love. We believed in every single word we exchanged that day. Richard said we went together like peas and carrots and we were inseparable.
People being the way they are said we wouldn’t last six months. Those people were friends we drank with in village pubs and members of our own families. Unpleasant comments get passed down grapevines by people who love to gossip. They can be so hurtful sometimes can’t they? Richard and I ignored them. We proved them all wrong in the end. We stuck together through thick and thin as we watched relatives and friends get married, divorced and then remarried. Some of them did it more than once. My mother left my father when I was eleven years old. Twenty five years of marital misery with him had been enough. She married her second husband twice, even though she said he wanted a ‘yes woman’ and she would never be one. She eventually got rid of him too. Both of my parents have lived alone for many years now. I sometimes wonder if they are lonely.
Perhaps I am old fashioned but I think marriage should be a once in a lifetime event. You have to keep working together to make it successful. My husband often joked that we deserved a matching pair of gold watches the size of frying pans for putting up with each other’s silly antics and bizarre behaviour. We did exchange gold watches one Christmas. I don’t do bling and didn’t really like mine. I took it back to the shop and updated my wardrobe with the refunded money instead. I had my husband’s approval of course. I still have Richard’s watch and like to look at it sometimes. Now he has left me and I don’t even have a brass carriage clock for the mantelpiece. There is nothing to mark my thirty three years of loyal service to him.
Our partnership was generally happy and very loving. We also endured the everyday ups and downs that are experienced in most if not all marriages. To say that our marriage wasn’t easy is an understatement. It was often noisy and volatile, particularly in the early years. Raising three children, money worries and work problems are all part of normal family life. These things are a huge strain on any loving couple’s relationship. We survived the toughest times and I am proud of that. Absolutely crazily in love one minute and at each other’s throats the next. It’s a miracle we didn’t kill each other. When Richard and I argued, we did not have little storms in pretty fine bone china teacups that passed after a couple of hours. An apology and a bunch of flowers bringing sunshine and laughter back to the marital home as is often the case in many marriages. Nope. Not us. We had great big tsunamis of epic proportions. They lasted around a week at a time and brought with them resentment and emotional turmoil. Our arguments had the power to create carnage and destroy the foundations of the most solid partnerships. My husband and I were often knee deep in a marital mudslinging match. It became a game to see which of us would win. That was just how we rolled. A combination of his lack of patience and my fiery ginger temper was not always a good one. Richard was self important and could be arrogant sometimes. He was often jealous too. I have always been hormonal and highly strung. I like things to be fair and they usually weren’t. The pair of us could be like chalk and cheese. My husband always said that he could read me like a book. He said he knew what I was going to think before I even thought about it myself. More often than not, he was completely right. That was usually enough to cause a ginger temper tantrum in itself. Trust me when I say that Richard knew instinctively how to wind me up when he wanted to. He liked winding me up he said, because my eyes change colour and go from blue to green when I am angry. He thought that was sexy apparently. Nobody has ever verified this statement so he could have been making it up just to get one over on me. I wouldn’t put it past him. He was like that sometimes. When I am wound up I also get angry. My mouth can churn out the most offensive profanities at an alarming rate. It is easily capable of causing a marital massacre within minutes. Things were not always hunky dory in our marriage, but the making up was always wonderful. We spent as much time in bed making things right again as we did arguing. I am sure you get the picture.
Over and above everything else, we laughed and had fun. Lots of it. We had a shared love of humour and could laugh at ourselves individually as well as each other. I think it was the glue that held us together when times were difficult. Like Laurel and Hardy or Patsy and Edwina of Ab Fab, we were a double act. It didn’t matter if we were out in public or in the privacy of our own home. We would be at the checkout in the supermarket. The till operator would ask if I needed any help with the packing. Richard would dive straight in with a charming smile and say, “it’s okay love, she can manage.” I would act all disgruntled and downtrodden. “See what I’ve got to put up with?” I’d say to the till lady. She would give me such a sympathetic look that Richard and I would burst into fits of giggles and she would realise we were just messing around. There were times in the pub with our friends when we would be standing separately at the bar and firing insults at each other. Some of the comments would be aimed way below the belt. It was all just a game to make our mates laugh and have some fun. I miss the banter between us so much. It was priceless.
We went on to rear our three offspring. They have now flown the family nest and we were enjoying the freedom, comfort and security we had found since the children had left home. We had finally matured as a couple. We were all grown up and settling down at last. We were looking forward to a whole new and exciting chapter in our lives, focusing on enjoying ourselves. Just the two of us. Following our hobbies and travelling at home and abroad were all on the cards. We were looking forwards to the pleasure of grandchildren you can give back at the end of the day when you’ve had enough of the noise and the mess they make. Life was pretty much going swimmingly. It was full speed ahead and almost approaching perfect. Our time had come, Richard told me so himself. How swiftly and savagely things can change.
Unfortunately on the 18th of May 2017 death did us part. Richard was involved in a tragic accident at work and died at the scene. He was only fifty eight years old and far too young to die. His whole wonderful lifetime was wiped out in the blink of an eye. He was gone and so was our marriage. Just like that without so much as a click of the fingers. The children and I have been shaken to the core by his passing. His death has been a harsh blow that refuses to sink in. It’s a tough and cruel world. There was no long and painful illness to warn us that he would die. There was nothing to prepare us for the heartbreaking grief that bereavement of somebody so close brings. My whole world came crashing down around me on that fateful day. My fella was so happy when he kissed me on the lips and went to work that day. He never came home for the dinner I was making him. I take what comfort I can from the fact that Richard’s death was instant and painless. That is just how it was for him. I know that all those who have been bereaved will have a unique story to tell. Each story will be very different. This one is mine and mine only. The people who know me best say that I tell it how it is. So this is just how it is for me. It isn’t always pretty but real life rarely is. This is not a story of death and grief. It is a story of inner strength and a journey of self discovery. This is the story of Jen.
10th June 2018 at 9:35 am #24594
What a sad and moving story you have, and you’re very brave to put it out there. I hope writing it has given you some catharsis.
I’ve never written in memoir, but I have read some guidance about it over the years and understand it needs to be treated in a similar way to a novel. It may be a true story, but it still needs the narrative drive and structure to pull the reader in and make them want to know what happens. It needs the highs and the lows and the hooks.
In a novel it’s often normal in the first draft to include a lot of scaffolding. Information that the writer needs to know about the story, but not the reader. It’s different in momoir, because you already know you’re story, but I wonder if you’re doing a similar thing here. You’re taking the plunge, getting the grief out up front, but in doing that you’re telling me exactly what happens in you’re story. This chapter is a kind of synopsis, and if I know what’s going to happen, you’re taking away a big incentive to read on.
The other thing you’re doing is telling us rather than showing. For us to invest in your story you need to allow us to connect to you. Show us your first meeting with Richard, with all the excitement and raw emotion you would have experienced. Let us understand why a fourteen year old girl fell in love with a man ten years older. In doing that you’ll allow the reader to fall in love with him a little too, and then we’ll want to know what happens.
I’m thinking that perhaps you don’t need this chapter, and if you look at chapter 2 you may find that is where the story starts.
I hope that is helpful, but it is only my opinion, so use what works for you and ignore the rest. And good luck with this. It sounds like an emotive memoir.
19th August 2018 at 11:46 pm #49579
Many thanks for sharing this story. I think you have got a lot of very good material here to expand upon and the writing itself is very nice and concise. I would probably say though there’s room for improvement in the way you tell the story. At the moment, I think you are documenting what is clearly a moving story, but I would say the golden rule of writing is “show, don’t tell”. For instance, you mention you and your husband used to argue. Could you perhaps describe this in more detail?
“When I am wound up I also get angry. My mouth can churn out the most offensive profanities at an alarming rate. It is easily capable of causing a marital massacre within minutes. Things were not always hunky dory in our marriage, but the making up was always wonderful. We spent as much time in bed making things right again as we did arguing. I am sure you get the picture.”
This was quite an interesting piece to read, but you are essentially telling us what happens in your arguments. When I read this I kept thinking to myself: “What did she say? Is there an example of an argument she had that she remembers in accurate detail? How did she react to his bad temper or vice versa? How is the marriage not hunky dory? How was it always wonderful, what did they do together?”
The excellent bit about this section is that it does intrigue the reader to learn more about you and your husband, I think now it’s just a matter of describing these memories in detail so the reader can share in the same emotional journey that you have gone through and visualise what you have gone through.
10th June 2018 at 9:44 am #24595
Hi Katherine thanks for your feedback. I do know exactly what you are saying and I am at 86k words now. This post is the i troduction to the book and i have wondered if i nèded it mtself. The story does begin for real in chapter 2. There is lots of show don’t tell from there with much more detail. Perhaps I should weave the essence of the intro into the following chapter.
10th June 2018 at 2:11 pm #24618
I agree with Kate and if you yourself have been wondering if this chapter is necessary then I would suggest it probably isn’t. That said, it certainly has the makings of an interesting read and I’m sure you’re right to consider weaving elements of it into the rest of the book. Your final paragraph (pruned a little) might make a good opening, though. I like the idea of beginning with “death did us part”.
Your writing style is easy to read but you labour the details in places. If 33 years is 2/3 of your life you can leave us to work out your age. We don’t really need a potted history of what happened in 1984 unless any of those points are directly relevant to your story.
I like your gold watches story, and the bitterness at not even having the carriage clock to mark 33 years of service is poignant.
A good start.
10th June 2018 at 6:06 pm #24634
Thanks Arabella the story isn’t about my husbands death. I have taken all your points on board. This was an introduction I wrote way back on the beginning. I think to get my thoughts clear and it’s helped me to figure out what I don’t really want.
12th June 2018 at 9:27 am #24743
It must have taken a lot of courage to write that chapter after what you’ve gone through, and I’m sorry for your loss.
I’m going to echo Kate and Bella. I’m afraid that I wasn’t pulled in until you got to the accident. The writing was fluid, and there are some delightful phrases (How swiftly and savagely things can change, for instance, which just floored me), but I found myself skimming it.
The last two paragraphs are gripping, and I agree with Bella that that may be a good place to start.
I think you can indeed “weave the essence” of this introduction elsewhere, as you touch upon many things – your time with friends, your relationship with the children, your everyday life and plans for the future.
That’s just one opinion, to be used or ignored at will. You know your story best.
I don’t know if you’ve read Joan Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’, which she wrote after her husband literally dropped dead at the dinner table? She starts with the accident and follows with the fall out and her reactions over the next year.
Learning from tragedy is powerful, and you’ve got good premise here. I’d read more.
12th June 2018 at 1:02 pm #24808
Thankyou Giselle your comments are very encouraging. I am already working the most salient points into the rest of my manuscript. This introduction will not be part of the book.
13th June 2018 at 10:06 am #24886
Best of luck with your project, Jen.:-) If it’s any consolation my book is now starting a couple of chapters later than I originally planned. I’d started staight into action, but not with the right person.
We’ll get there….
13th June 2018 at 8:36 pm #24937
Good luck with yours too Giselle. For want of a better phrase, I bashed mine out in note form as a way to deal with the grief in the early months after Richard’s passing away. The introduction was still in note form which is why is so sketchy. The story is about me coping with the aftermath and finding out who I am as a newly single person rather than wife and mother. Its very funny but sad at the same time. I feel its going to be a long slog but it will all work out well in the long run.
14th June 2018 at 7:03 am #24943
You’re still a mother, though they’ve flown the nest. If my friends’ children are anything to go by, some fledglings may return. ;-) Mine’s been long slog, but fun. It’s all in the journey, they say (we’re now on seven years, but who’s counting?)
26th July 2018 at 7:41 am #41079
Hi Jen – I’m usually uninterested in memoirs but I became drawn in by yours. I thought the beginning was very good. I read some of the comments and although I see their point, I think putting action before background is not always required. Your history is much like most people’s and it strikes an instant cord.
Yes the dreadful accident will define the following narrative but without having already ‘met’ your husband in the first section, it would lack the feeling of tragedy that subsequently ensued.
It’s your story, tell it from your viewpoint.
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