One way a memoirist knows her story was engaging is when she meets a new reader, and the new reader says something along the lines of “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”
I smile kindly, and I want to reach out and pat them on the hand and say, “It’s OK. I’m OK. It’s ancient history.”
To me, of course, I experienced the struggle related to being “The Percussionist’s Wife” more than a decade ago and I processed a lot of the emotion while writing the book, which was years ago. I really am OK, and by now, I’m much more interested in subjects like the writing and the cover selection and the meaning behind the cool quotes that begin every chapter. But for the reader, the agonizing is still fresh.
The story is the same, but the perspective is different.
Today, however, I relived a few metaphorical sentences in a literal sense.
[Here is the point where I must warn my readers with gentle sensibilities that the language is about to get, well, harsh. You may be excused.]
The story begins in the book and the writing. I debated with myself years ago as I wrote the following because I considered I might be exaggerating a bit. In the end, I decided the metaphor was apt:
Shit happens in a marriage, and I had seen so many couples get divorced over their shit. We were swimming in shit, inhaling it, exhaling it, covered in it, but I thought I could rise above our shit.
I imagined, as I wrote this, what it would be like to swim in shit. I had to imagine it because I’ve never swum literally in shit [ooh, now there’s a unique verb form: swum, used correctly]. In my imagination, the shit was the consistency of chocolate pudding — thick and thick smelling. Think: Poop smoothie with a rotten egg aroma.
Well, I’m here to tell you: That’s not what it’s like. Shit in the metaphorical pool is more like the consistency of spinach soup with clumps of tapioca and a few kernels of corn. And in this vision, the spinach is toilet paper.
I’m not a plumber, so I can’t explain it in a technical sense, but a pump in our basement went to, well, shit and we encountered raw sewage this morning in a pool on the concrete floor of furnace room. Raw sewage, for the record, has a high water content which just makes all the more toxic and damaging — a little goes a long way.
We called Roto Rooter (I’m not generalizing on a brand name here — we really called the real Roto Rooter guy), and he replaced the pump by noon. But he left me with the pool of shit to clean up.
So I became more intimate with gallons of sewage than I’d ever imagine this afternoon. There was scooping and spraying and squatting (hey, I’m a tall woman and it’s a compact space) and wrenching and gagging and all kinds of gymnastics. Even the Roto Rooter guy had to return to the crime scene and tinker a bit.
In the end, the carpet cleaner performed the finishing touches on the clean-up (including sanitizing, thank God), and the basement is a bit damp but essentially as good as new.
So, the question remains: Did I exaggerate when I compared the messiness of relationship troubles in my first marriage to swimming in shit?
Nope. I’m pretty comfortable with the metaphor. Our problems were not catastrophic, but they were unappealing in an epic sense, whether medium was the consistency of a crap smoothie or poop soup. But the bottom line, as I write this freshly showered and hours from the horrors of the clean up: “It’s OK. I’m OK. It’s ancient history.”