Just Say the Word

 

In this old photo, I was about to marry my Greek husband, the one who inspired my memoir, Harlot’s Sauce. Take a close look at my father’s face, and you can see how he felt about my upcoming nuptials. Only two minutes before this photo was snapped, he and I were in the church vestibule, and he said, “It’s not too late. I will take you out of here right now. Just say the word.”

How would you remember that moment if it happened to you? Would it be a humorous moment, or a nightmarish one? I chose to write it as humor. As one reviewer said about Harlot’s Sauce, “So many horrible things happen to the protagonist, and yet I found myself doubled over in laughter at the same time I was appalled.”

That was the best review she could have given me. Nora Ephron once said, in regards to a similarly horrific moment in her own life, “This might make a funny story one day.”

My literary agent, who I adore, commented while he was reading the synopsis for Spells & Oregano, “I love how complex and complicated your characters are.”

The observations about them — Luca, the hero in Spells & Oregano, struggling to curb a drinking problem, Angela in Cooking for Ghosts who can’t stop biting her nails, Rohini, who hides things from everyone because she’s terrified to trust, Cynthia and Jane who come across sometimes as the most challenging women — society calls them “bitches”— but who have the deepest heartbreak of all — all have traits and coping mechanisms that I’ve observed in people I love in my six decades on the planet. Good people with many flaws.

I chose to write about my personal experiences with humor instead of heartbreak, and I chose to make my fictitious characters alive with the same foibles real human beings have. In doing so, I was surprised to learn how many hearts were reached. Email after email from other women who grew up in very dysfunctional families, who also spent decades in dysfunctional marriages, and those stories about real women became one of the impetuses for creating characters. Angela in Cooking for Ghosts — a woman who was browbeaten into submission by a rigid upbringing and an autocratic husband. How Jane copes with her heartbreak (which I can’t reveal or risk spoiling her story) came from observing some men and women stuff down their pain until it manifests itself into something physical. Or Cynthia, who had the courage we all wish we had to get away from a bad situation at a very young age, but how that decision impacted her adult life and her daughter’s just as we fear it might — negatively and profoundly. Rohini, whose nightmare of a back story came from what a stranger shared with me one night, out of the blue, on a balcony in Greece, as though she couldn’t stop the words from escaping.

How all of these experiences have hit a chord with readers — other women with their own stories of heartbreak. That’s why I wrote Cooking for Ghosts and Spells & Oregano as I did — nothing gets tied up neatly in a bow, because life just isn’t like that for most of us. Most of us are on a journey of learning, changing, and growing for the whole of our lives. Those who refuse to change, refuse to experience pain, or courage, or fear, stagnate, and to my mind, might as well already be dead.

My father was right, ironically – my Greek husband and I were not suited for the long haul. However, it took meeting him and marrying him, moving to Greece with him, to change what I needed to change about myself to find the courage to leave him. He also gave me some amazing moments, as well as a beautiful son. And now, I live a totally different life, which wouldn’t exist if I had cowered from that truth — we did not belong together. I’m a woman thrice married. I used to view that as a failing. And now, I view it as just one more brave thing life has forced me to do. That is, if I wanted to truly live it, and not just be a bystander.

If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d care to share with me in the comments if you’ve ever had a bad experience that turned out to be a good one in disguise for you.  

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