Dear V., Founder/Editor:
I sent ten dollars to the open call for essays about LOVE, but I submitted the wrong story. I’d recycled a tale from a local slam competition called Marriage in the Mountains I performed one spring a few years ago. I hadn’t placed at that event, a loud warning I chose to ignore. The woman who’d had a teratoma at 23 and then walked her way into a job she wasn’t qualified for in Tanzania went first. None of us wanted to follow her.
I apologize. The story slam actually featured elements I’d lifted from the original Marriage in the Mountains I produced for Jill: A Magazine for Today’s Woman, a glossy supplement for the largest newspaper in my northern New York community, back in February 2010—the Valentine’s Day issue. I wrote for Jill when I thought tragedy happened to other people. Book reviews and parenting tips flowed easily and quickly. I’d laugh at myself and infuse lightness, knitting a silver lining, into every piece. Marriage was one of those I wrote after our friends’ summer wedding on a hilltop estate; they’d vowed to love each other’s aging bodies. The hardest thing I’d endured up until that point was an extended power outage, and oh, look…we can drink wine and play Scrabble by the woodstove!
I'd told you the truth about falling for my first-aid instructor. If the person's heart isn't pumping, pump it for them. Our first date in New York City on a windy November day over two decades ago: Strand Bookstore for three hours, a French-Italian drama at the Film Forum, silky hot chocolate before our Thai dinner.
I'd told you about the house we bought—a shell really—spanning 5,000 square feet. I'd composed a line about how my beloved said he could renovate everything in five or six years and I laughed in his face, yet married him anyway. I showed you the new bedroom he built for us in time for our 18th wedding anniversary with the custom-made windows for a view of our expansive field. The field lights up when the full moon rises above the tamaracks and balsams, glinting off the birches to spotlight the flat-topped boulder along the path. That path heads out to the lean-to my husband and our boys made with cedar logs. Every June, bedded down in a patch of woods, the whip-poor-will signals the beginning of summer.
I told you I didn’t want to live in the country nor a fixer-upper. I wanted Brooklyn and a brownstone.
I wish I’d taken you along the walkway and down to the patio. My husband transformed pallets of hefty russet bricks, surplus pavers from Ohio, stamped Granite Akron and Metropolitan Canton, to gently wind around the front of the house to the fire pit and gardens out back. The landscaping/craft beer store manager said the Lucifer plant wasn't supposed to survive in this climate. It isn't a perennial, but she liked to sell it anyway and wished me luck. The towering green reedy leaves emerge first, and then scarlet berries burst in droopy fans—so far—year after year.
You said you understood you were depositing a small disappointment in my mailbox. You told me you know the sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach that comes with having work turned away, and how discouraging that can be. You wanted to let me know that just because my submission did not make the editorial cut this time around…. the bottleneck is pretty thin.
I wish I’d been brave enough to tell you about the marriage that came later. The one that arrived when the giant pruning shears, all legs and one-hundred percent nightmare, jumped off the garage wall and ran shrieking into our copse to slice a perfectly healthy branch. The blade worked efficiently and precisely on a late September evening. Then the damn thing skulked back to its shelf.
Our son chose to die.
When the police called and we readied ourselves for the long drive, there was the familiarity of checking the stove, turning out lights, locking up. A weekend getaway thrown together at the last minute, but that was a different movie. The rain that pounded the windshield as we merged onto the highway wasn't the rom-com rain. It was the when-will-it-stop-raining? kind.
Before the call, the drive, and the rain, my husband had been working on the last empty space in our home. He climbed down from the scaffolding and closed the door to that vast and vacant room at the end of the hall.
There are fifteen glass windows on the door we didn't open until three years into our after. He came up with the idea to make our own molding with the leftover ceiling planks. A project that saved us $400 and he'd said would take two hours, but took a bit more when you include the careful transfer of the boards through the second floor window to pile on the front lawn. My job was to balance and hold the long pieces straight as they came through the table saw. He adjusted the angle of the blade, donned the orange ear protection, and loudly reviewed the steps. Then, after the first successful run, steady encouragement.
We thought we'd like Benjamin Moore's Revere Pewter, but it looked like sheetrock. We decided on Solitude.
You sandwiched the deflating news between positive feedback, something adept teachers often do. It was a form letter, personalizing the last line, imploring me to keep on with my wonderful work. You’re compassionate and inclusive that way. You’re a writer, too, after all.
I hope you’ll reopen for subs again soon. I’ve written a new essay. I’ll admit, it’s not a complete overhaul. It's always had a strong foundation.
Lauren McGovern lives in the Adirondacks. She is a teacher at North Country School in Lake Placid, NY. Her writing has appeared in Greater Good Science Center Magazine, What's Your Grief, The Brooklyn Review, Indelible Lit, Coffee + Crumbs, and Oh Reader. Visit laurenmcgovern.online.