Always the best at timing, I waited until the magical day of my mother’s colonoscopy appointment to breach the subject of my love life with her: “By the way mom, could you make another pound cake this Saturday?”
“Sure,” she answered, sitting opposite from me in a booth at Collegiate Grill, the small 1950s style diner in north Georgia that she loved, her reward for enduring Dr. Tarna’s pipe snake and two rounds of colon cleansing liquid. “Who is it for? That lady with cancer?”
“No,” I mused, trying to avoid a mound of French fries and stick to my bittersweet salad. “It’s for Zach.”
A pause. “I’ve been dating him the last few months.”
Without missing a beat, she started on her slaw drenched hamburger. “Oh, I see. He’s the one you’ve been spending the weekends with? Where does he live?”
A sip of chlorine filtered water and a nervous gulp. “Midtown.”
“Oh God. People get killed in Atlanta, Don. I hear about it all the time in the news… it’s a dangerous place.”
“People get killed everywhere,” I retorted.
“I don’t care. You are not a practical person. Wish I understood you. You’re very strange.”
I wondered what she meant by strange. I was an artist after all, an artist in a town where art was a dirty word. If she meant strange by the Deep South’s megachurch-on-every-corner standard, then yes, I was certainly strange. And there was no Confederate flag strapped to the back of my ragamuffin Honda.
After paying our bill, a sense of relief hit me. She knows, I thought as we walked out of the diner and traversed Gainesville’s historic square. She knows and she’s okay with the whole thing.
Maybe she always knew. Mothers tend to know far more than they let on. While growing up, one didn’t have to exactly be Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote to figure me out. I had two sisters with a Prince infatuation to help me along. And I had started out life as a tumor. At least that’s what mom claimed.
She had explained it many times over the years, about a trip to the doctor at the behest of severe pain.
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” the doctor had said. “You’re pregnant.”
“Pregnant!’ mom exclaimed. “How in the world can that be?!”
Often, she joked that aliens had touched down and impregnated her. “I don’t know where you came from,” she insisted. “You aren’t your father’s seed. I know that much.”
But I digress… Atlanta. Maybe her qualms about Atlanta stemmed not only from the daily news, but from the antics that had surrounded my first boyfriend, Steve. At the glorious wise age of nineteen, I met the wonderful inter-dimensional being known as Steve.
Shortly after Steve and I began dating, he and I had a horrible argument on the phone. It would be the first of many. The incident should’ve been the first clue that things weren’t going to end well, but with youth and naivety on my side, the relationship dredged unhappily on, well beyond its prime.
“Don, what’s wrong? Is Steve your boyfriend?” mom asked, worried, sitting up in bed late one evening.
I couldn’t bring myself to answer, even though she was about to cry. “I have to go,” I managed, before hopping into my car and enduring the long trek from Gainesville to Atlanta, where my argument with Steve could proceed in person.
At a certain point, Steve and I were living together. One afternoon, I needed to hang a picture, so I used a hammer from his kit that he kept in the hallway closet. When the task was finished, I put the hammer back and fell asleep. It had been a bad day at the bookstore where I worked at the time, an upscale place in the Buckhead area of Atlanta where Peachtree Street prima donnas delighted in making a hell of heaven.
“Don? Could you come here please?” Steve prodded with his typical Prairie Home Companion voice, hovering in my bedroom doorway, like some vapid creature from a David Cronenberg film.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Just come here.” I followed him into the hallway, where he opened the closet door. He gestured toward the toolbox. “Do you notice anything? Did you use my toolbox?”
“Yes,” I answered groggily. “What is this about?”
“You don’t notice anything wrong?”
I looked down at the toolbox again. “No, Steve. What are you talking about? I don’t see anything wrong.”
Frustrated, he sighed, bent down, and gave the toolbox a swift 180 degree flip. “You turned the toolbox the wrong way when you put it back in the closet.”
“How can the toolbox be turned the wrong way?”
“With the way that you put it down, somebody would have to open the toolbox from the opposite side, and it makes it hard to get the necessary tool out if you’re not wanting to completely take the toolbox out of the closet.”
I looked at the toolbox, then to him. His earnestness in the matter was very evident. “So, you woke me up after a long day at work to bring me in here and tell me that a toolbox was turned the wrong way?”
“It’s important. I want you to put things back the way they’re supposed to go.”
And then there was the incident at the waterpark in Florida. Steve and I, along with a few of his friends, made a pilgrimage to Universal Studios. Along the way, one of his buddies noticed a large waterpark by the interstate. “Can we stop?!” the friend pleaded. “Oh man, can we!?”
As we made the impromptu stop, dread filled me. Around that time, I had gained a lot of weight. I rarely took my shirt off on a good day at the beach, much less to prance around a massive waterpark with three guys that didn’t have an ounce of body fat on them. After entering, we stopped at a locker station, where Steve and the others quickly stripped off their shirts.
“Aren’t you taking yours off?” Steve asked, looking at me like I was committing a grave crime.
He seemed to have forgotten an incident that had occurred the previous week at our apartment. One night, while he and I were getting ready for bed, he kept giving me odd looks. He had been very quiet.
“Something wrong?” I finally asked.
As if summoned for a necessary duty, Steve walked over to me and put his hand at my waist. “You’re okay from here, down.” Then he put his hand at my neck. “And from here, up.” Next, he put one hand at my neck and the other at my waist again. “But in-between here and here, you need some work.”
Lovely, I thought. As if the mirror didn’t point it out to me.
The waterpark was the culmination. Eventually, we came to a large waterslide. For that particular ride, all guests had to remove their tops. Steve’s friends ran ahead, bursting with excitement. Steve turned to me. “I hope you know how silly you’re being.”
Three months and one mental breakdown later, I agreed with him to the umpteenth degree. I was being silly. Silly for dating him to begin with. After the Collegiate, as mom and I made our way to the local Kroger (the first of three grocery store stops that day), a barrage of thoughts struck me: Maybe it’s not mom. Maybe I don’t want to ever put her through any sort of Steve drama again. What does Zach see in me? What could he possibly? Anything can go wrong. Anything. Nothing is guaranteed. But he’s sweet. And he told me that he understands. And he–
“Sure he wants a pound cake?” she asked as we navigated the bake aisle, an up-tempo Laura Branigan tune blaring from the store’s Muzak station. “I could make a peanut butter one… or something else.”
I grasped her hand and smiled. “Mom, whatever you make is fine.”
Rejection letters are inevitable. Over the last couple of months, while searching for an agent and publisher for my literary fiction novel, I've received a grand total of three. Anne Rice, a favorite author of mine, received seven for Interview with the Vampire. One of her letters read (paraphrasing): "I don't know what this is." Her reply (again paraphrasing–and I don't know if she actually sent this to the editor in question or simply thought it to herself): "Well, if you don't know what this project is, then obviously you're not the right publisher for the book." About a month ago, I ran into a former professor who told me that one of her friends sent out roughly 140 query letters before finding a publisher. So, with three rejections under my belt, maybe I'm not doing so bad. I allowed the first two rejections to sit in my e-mail inbox for a few days before deleting them. The first letter was pretty much: "Good luck with that one." The second featured no greeting or closing signature and was very bare bones. It went something like: "I'll pass. I was engaged, but not as engaged as I would've liked." Eventually, the letters went into the digital trash bin. Finally, I realized something. It's just the opinion of one person. Not that their opinion isn't valid... it likely just means that it wasn't the right match, for whatever reason.
Alas, the third and most recent letter is the nicest rejection that I've received thus far (and I'm not being facetious... this letter really is sweet): "Dear Mr. Gaddis, Thank you for sending us your query regarding your work. Unfortunately, you have come to us at a time when we are inundated with requests for assistance and representation. The need to allocate our time effectively forces us to decline participation in many worthy projects, and we regret that must be the decision in the case of this project as well.
We do appreciate your thinking of us, and wish you the best of luck with your book.
Best wishes." *Sigh. Why can't they all be so graceful? Regardless, I'll continue to move forward. The right match will come along. Hopefully, it won't be 140 attempts from now. And even if it is, so what? The important thing is for it to happen.
“Stay busy… it’s not cancer,” I tell myself
As I fade from day to day,
Moving nowhere; selfishly clinging
To a sliver of a crumb of a fragment of hope
That something will change.
“This is just for now… not forever,” I remind myself
As life takes and takes and takes,
Giving nothing in return; leaving happiness
To a sliver of a crumb of a fragment of hope
That someone will care.
“Do my best.”
The thought fuels each heartbeat; every breath,
But fails to free me from the HERE, the NOW, and the KNOWLEDGE
That I belong somewhere else.