It isn't that kind of anniversary; we've only been married five years. But eight years ago, today, you sent me an email. You'd visited Portland and seen an art show of mine and wanted to tell me how much you enjoyed my work. Living most of the country away from each other, we became great email friends. I was long-time alone, and you were long-time unhappily married. Over many months, we grew to be best friends, then infatuated, eventually lovers. And our lives joined up and turned.
Almost as soon as you moved here - to start a new life, a new life for both of us - you began a new novel. You'd been a writer your whole life, practically, and wanted to be really grown-up, serious published more than anything else. The new novel grew out of the story of your old life and how you came to leave it. With love and loving guidance, and work and work, your novel is done and about to begin its own journey. Because all the finishing and approvals and introductions aligned in just this way, you're sending it out on this particular day. A day - the first one, of eight years ago - that's even written into the story. And now your book is making its first professional contact. It may have many others; no one knows how this particular journey turns.
We've argued over the novel, sometimes. Mostly me being over-protective of what you'd already done, not understanding that the work of a novelist is to keep ripping the thing apart and putting it back together, the healing making the whole thing stronger. We've argued over the title, recently, when you really had to choose one. And then, you've been too concerned that what you'd written based on me and my life was too much real. But I don't care - or I decided not to care. Because after the first few weeks, trying to sift, confused at who is Stephen and who is the Michael in your pages, I said no, I shouldn't read this, I shouldn't be a part of the process; it's yours. So I've separated myself from the novel. As much as possible, anyway. I love your teacher and I love your writer friends, I love hearing the talk about your book and the admiration and respect you've earned. And I've sometimes scanned the stack of pages that wait to be taken to group on Thursdays - since I know that's alright with you - but then only rarely. So even though the growth of this work has been one of the most present and precious things in our life together, through near to exactly seven years now, I haven't read your book. I knew I could at any time, that you'd let me, that you'd welcome it, but I kept saying to myself not yet. Not yet.
This morning I'll have made you breakfast. I'll have gone off to my short day at work, leaving you to send the email. In the evening we'll open a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and toast this day, what it's meant and what it means. We'll eat "treats", and we'll watch a movie that thematically syncs with your book: something touching on the circus and/or the devil. Because this is what we do, the two of us. We try and celebrate all of these moments.
But I won't be there when you send your novel. I try to picture you when you hit "send". It almost hurts to think of detaching myself from you in that moment, though I'll be thinking of you, having that ache in my stomach and my chest, sending all my half-believed prayer toward God or energy or light or the Universe, that you'll have what you want out of all this, all this time and desire invested, that you'll get what you've earned. But it's perfect, really, that I have to be at work. Because it's so important that you do this alone. Whatever happens, this is your time, this blessed edge that you've worked so hard to reach. This is yours.
We have some people coming over. Actually, I think it might be G's parents; they must be visiting. In the last-minute tidying up, I go into the bathroom. I've been storing a finished painting in the toilet bowl. In the toilet bowl, submerged. It is understood that the painting has been there a while, and that the toilet has been in normal use the whole time. I recognize that it's a rather unusual idea, but it seems such a clever way to save space. And the painting gets washed clean with every flush, so what's to worry about?
I pull the painting out. [It's actually quite a bit larger than would really fit in the toilet; about 20x16, I'd guess.] I notice that the image is quite faded. It isn't as if the paint has been abraded or washed off. It's consistently faded, as though it's been bleached. I also notice that the wooden framework that supports the panel has gone all soft and spongy; at the mitered corners, the veneer pulls away at my touch. It has the texture of wet newspaper or soft putty. I carefully smooth down the corners, open the shower curtain, and lay the painting flat on the dry bottom of the tub. I quickly draw the shower curtain closed and think how the painting will thus be safely stored while, at the same time, no one will even know that it's there. I'll figure out what to do with it later.
Stephen O'Donnell, painter and singer/performer. A mid-career fine artist, I have been showing professionally since 1995. Married to author and graphic designer Gigi Little, with whom I occasionally perform a mother and daughter singing act, Madeleine and Penny Prévert.