Why did we go on that long trip? Were we running from our grief? That was part of our reason for going. Lately I started to understand the reasons better. Immediately after we returned, I wrote out the facts and events that happened along the way, but somehow it didn’t make sense. It seemed disconnected from the rest of the story about Diane’s life and mine, and her fate as dementia took over her life and ultimately owned her.
Because I wasn’t going deep enough. Because there really was a connection, as I made an effort to restore the links between past and present. I didn’t recognize that connection in the beginning. Only when I started to make the story coherent did I realize what that required of me. Every moment of that trip had a meaning tied to the rest of my life—my life with Diane, and Lauren’s life, and the life of our family going back generations. Now I am probing for the meaning. I feel confident about this new direction.
What was the story before, and what is it now? It was a four-part epic about a misguided girl gone straight—that was Diane’s early life. Then followed the long chronicle of our life together, powered by our mutual attraction and shared status as poorly-adjusted loners sticking together despite our missteps and misadventures. The featured segment, of Diane’s descent into dementia and the years I spent caring for her were followed by the loosely connected journey I made with Lauren to reestablish our life together.
After making many initial queries to agent and publishers I began to understand that the book was a difficult sell. It was too long, for starters. 120,000 words might work if I was a former highly-placed official with tales to tell about famous events and people. For a memoir, 80,000 words is about the limit. 60,000 is better. I rethought the concept, and realized I had material for two distinctly different books.
One book, driven by Diane’s laborious reconstruction of her tortuous history, would tell her story, from problem child in a dysfunctional family, through juvenile delinquency to ward of the state, to disastrous marriages and finally a stable marriage to me—a marriage with its problems, crises, moments of sheer joy and panic, like most marriages. Diane’s reflections on her life, and our time together, added perspective and deepened the reader’s understanding of what it was like to be us. The sheer excessive drama of her early life makes it a readable story, and I am confident it will stand on its own.
The other book, the one I am now revising, tells about how I cared for her as dementia overcame her, and how Lauren and I embarked on our journey to discover who we were after so much of our lives had changed. When I started writing about the journey, I was not clear about what it meant. Now I understand that it must integrate my thoughts and feelings during our travels with my own past and memories of our lives with Diane, plus our connections to the people and places we visited, as well as how that fits into our future lives. Every moment that passed on that journey had some connection to my history and that of my family. Every present moment is rooted in the past.