Away From Me

After 18 years of writing a few hundred words for public consumption, once a week, I’ve got some process stories. Newspaper stories, although not exciting ones. Most of them have to do with headline writers, actually. If that makes your socks roll up and down.

In June of 2002, though, I wanted to write a column about my dad. It was Father’s Day, so I was inspired, and I wrote draft after draft, finally getting something I was happy with.

So happy that I felt a little ambitious, and sent off this piece to a few other newspapers, including the Seattle Times.

I heard back from the Times. An editor was impressed, and we worked on it and smoothed out some parts, and it was published the Friday before the big day. I’m not sure now what my inspiration was, other than the obvious, but Dad seemed moved and surprised that I’d actually paid attention to his stories. Of course I paid attention, but tell that to parents. Tell it to me. I’d be surprised, too.

A year later, he was facing a diagnosis of metastatic small-cell lung cancer, and he only lived another six months. I snuck in my piece under the wire, then, which is really the best you can hope for. Say it now.

Here’s my story, though. My weekly column would come out on Wednesday, followed by the Times reprint on Friday. I was looking forward to my father reading it, obviously. I called it Men Don’t Leave, and both newspapers kept my title (take that, headline writers), a reference to the 1990 film with Jessica Lange.

So you can probably imagine my reaction when, with all of this excitement and self-promotion, I checked the Beacon site on Wednesday and realized that I’d accidentally submitted one of my drafts.

It was the title. I thought of it almost immediately, so every draft had it. I just grabbed the wrong document and never thought twice. The Beacon staff was probably confused (it was shorter than usual, and rambled and wandered and didn’t really end) but went ahead and published it.

I was mortified, embarrassed, humiliated. What they published might easily have been titled Notes To Self.

My dad said he liked both versions. It was fine. At least I had a story.

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There are currently 947 columns archived on my various drives, here and there, although I think there are a few duplicates and other documents hidden in the folders; I’ve written about 900, if my math is correct.

Julie with her mom and brother, Gun Barrel City, TX (2015)

Julie with her mom and brother, Gun Barrel City, TX (2015)

It’s an unwieldy archive, nearly impossible to search, like a box of photos organized by year only. I have to take them out one at a time. I can drop into a year, just revisit parts of 2007 or 2002, see what was going on and try to remember, but finding a specific, barely-recalled column? Unlikely, harder than it should be, and not something I’m all that interested in.

It just occurred to me today that I’ve written a bunch of words about June, and how my wife gets out of school and heads out of town, always.

Not always. That’s kind of the point. It just feels like I write about this all the time. I probably blog about it more, and that could be it.

I usually make the comment that this is not a big change for us, meaning the men who don’t leave. Meaning us. John and I roll our eyes at comments we get from friends about eating pizza every night, etc. Julie is gone a lot during the school year. The biggest issue is probably the lack of a partner to absorb some of John’s energy and marathon conversations. I have to tell him to shut up, which makes him laugh and talk more. We manage.

For one thing, the house always gets neater, as one less human makes the job of cleaning up and keeping it clean much easier. My wife’s leftovers have been safely removed from the refrigerator, and it’s much easier to make the bed without her in it, stuff like that.

And she works all the time. The household is my responsibility and mostly always has been, anyway. My wife embraces clutter, doesn’t mind dust, and that bathroom would have to be pretty dirty for her to notice. I’ve always been a compulsive cleaner, enjoying the mindless aspect of wiping down counters while I think of something else.

We’re partners, in other words, even if convention leads to cliché and we get comments about pizza. It’s lopsided and always will be, and should be; there’s nothing I do around here that she couldn’t do better. It’s about preference and personalities, and as awkward as it was in the beginning to realize we were different people, there’s a joy in being complementary, and a secret to our success, I suspect.

And the reason, I guess, that I end up writing about her every June. It’s routine, expected, and not all that different, and every summer she goes away and every summer I miss her until she comes home. After 36 years, I’m calling that a marriage.

Chuck SigarsComment