Summer’s over, and grief is complicated. Some days I’ll sit at my desk and think I feel Tim curling up on the back of my chair, behind my neck. I reach back to touch him, but he’s not there. No one will every replace him, but now we have kittens. I’d like to introduce you to three new members of the family: Orion, Ivy, and Patrick.Read More
IT COULDN'T HAPPEN TO ME
I met him right after my mother died. We fell in love right away. In retrospect there were red flags, but I didn't know how to read them.
He had a hard luck story, an awful childhood. Hearing about it filled me with compassion and a desire to help him. Now, looking back, I don't know how much of it was real. Lying came with the package.
I saw the good at first. He was friendly, funny, interested in life. When I talked, he seemed to anticipate my next word, seemed to understand me better than I did myself. He listened to me talk about my mother's long death, and he'd hold me and tell me she was up in heaven. He meant it literally: puffy white clouds and angels with harps. This was new for me, a person who spoke of death in such simple, childlike ways, but I latched on and accepted the comforting image.
He also said, from our first night together, that we were Made in Heaven. "Heaven" came up frequently. I was a once madly devout child but had fallen away, and he was a serious Catholic, and I felt spellbound by the thought of my old faith, embodied by this man who said he loved me. We'd walk through the city and many walks included a stop in church. He'd light a candle and kneel, head bowed in deep prayer, and somehow that made my heart open a little more.
The beach; he did love the ocean, and so did I. We could spend hours walking the tideline in any weather, swimming when we could, lying on the beach and staring at the sky. He told me he loved surfing.
The courtship happened fast--a whirlwind romance--and lasted until we were married six weeks after meeting. (Not my first marriage.) Right after I said "I do" everything changed. He quit his job so I would support him, disappearing whenever he felt like it. He didn't speak to me so much as growl.
I was strong, "myself," at the beginning. But he wore me down. I was one way the day we married, and quite a different way by the time I finally left. My bones aren't broken, he never gave me a black eye. Yet his need for control depleted me terribly--to this day I'm shocked to think it happened at all.
When he yelled, his voice boomed so loud it reverberated through my bones. His eyes scared me. He raged at me. Or he'd go silent for days, not saying one word but giving off hateful energy, brushing past me hard enough to knock me aside. His physical changes were extreme and violent, frequently instantaneous; I felt I was watching Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde.
After a while we'd make up and he'd beg me to understand HIS pain, and not to leave. He could be so charming, seeming to love me. People on the outside saw a handsome, friendly man. Sometimes I saw him that way, too.
I had close women friends. I would confide in them. Some got sick of seeing me drain away; they must have felt frustrated to watch me be stuck in such a bad, destructive relationship. They would say something real to me, and I would agree, say that I had to leave. Then he'd be nice again, and I'd remember the harsh words my friend had spoken about him. Eventually my friends drifted away. Or I did.
Seeing the relationship was like looking through a prism: now it looks this way, now it's completely different. What is real?
His first wife is a great woman. We respected each other from the beginning and became good friends as we went along. She was one of the few people I could really open up to--because she got it. While pregnant with their child, she'd been hammered on the head by him, one night when he'd come home late from the grocery store where he worked. She still has skull pain and hearing loss from that beating.
He had gotten arrested for beating other women--after his first wife there were girlfriends, and incidents, and nights in jail. He learned not to use his fists. If you don't leave marks, you won't get arrested. He told me that he had once broken a woman's jaw in three places, the message being that he could do that to me.
Why did I stay with him?
Check out the Cycle of Violence diagram. That part when you decide to believe his explanations, is called the fantasy or honeymoon, and it happens over and over, and it's unbelievably destructive. Each time I decided to stay, it chipped away a little more of myself.
I used to drive past a domestic violence center in a nearby town, but I never entered--wasn't that for women who were bruised and bleeding?
Holidays became a time to brood and suffer. He'd brood, I'd suffer. Eventually we shut everyone out. He liked to sit in a big armchair, right in front of the fire, staring at the flames. If I interrupted his fire-watching, he'd glare as if he wanted to roast me. I spent many many hours feeling dread and fear. Paradoxically, he was big on sending out Christmas cards--it was all about the show, giving the appearance of a marriage. He kept a detailed list of people who would receive our cards each year. He wrote them out and addressed the envelopes. He'd sign them, "May your New Year be blessed!" He spoke about God and religion frequently, had prayer cards and rosary beads and miraculous medals and spiritual books. Meantime he wouldn't be speaking to me.
Driving ragefully: it got worse toward the end. Once we were heading to Woods Hole, and I said or did the "wrong" thing, and he told me he was going to kill us both, drive us into a tree. He sped up, onto the shoulder--I felt and heard that buzzing friction of pavement designed to let drivers know they're going off the road. I was terrified.
Sometimes there is an actual incident that tells you you've had enough. There is also a cumulation of everything that has happened all along. That day of road rage was the end for me--I told him I wanted a divorce, and this time I meant it. When his ex-wife's father heard, he called me and said, "He's left a lot of wreckage in his wake."
I went to that domestic violence center I'd passed so many times, and found loving support. The women there really helped me realize emotional battering is as bad as any other kind. I wish the courts and our society would recognize that emotional and psychological abuse leaves scars which, although you can't see them, are just as terrible and deep.
At one point I began writing a novel (writing has always saved me) about a woman who was married to a man with secrets. The husband was a white collar criminal, a banker who had committed fraud. Researching the character, I spoke to an FBI agent in the Oklahoma City field office. I told him the scenario, then told him about my own marriage. He told me I should try to talk to women he was involved in with before me, to see if he had treated him the same way.
I remembered one woman's name. I tracked S down and called.
"I've been waiting for your call," she said, when I identified myself.
She knew he wouldn't change. That is a pattern with abusers--the behavior continues on and on. She described his patterns--so familiar to me, his abuse, the way he had made her feel it was all her fault even while taking every single thing she had, sucking the life out of her. I loved her then, and I love her to this day, and am forever grateful to her for sharing with me. She came to court, to support me in the divorce. He went after everything I had, hired a lawyer who made sure the divorce would go on a long time--trying to wear me down--an abusive divorce to follow an abusive marriage. I will never forget the look on his face when he saw his old girlfriend, my new friend, walk into the courtroom.
Here's what I know: I'm strong and independent. I have wonderful friends and family, including his ex, and a life and career I love. Domestic violence can happen to anyone. To learn more about that, and to get help, I recommend reading Patricia Evans's powerful book The Verbally Abusive Relationship, and to visit websites such as The National Coalition for Domestic Violence and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
My own linked novels, Summer's Child and Summer of Roses, as well as Stone Heart, The Perfect Summer, and Little Night deal with domestic abuse. I am proud to be involved with the Domestic Violence Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center, headed up by Deborah Epstein. Law professors and students advocate for victims of abuse in Washington, DC. They take their cases to court and fight for them. Their work is extraordinary.
Good luck to anyone reading this--with love and support to you.
(The painting at the top of the page is Tea by Mary Cassatt.)
My novel LITTLE NIGHT deals with domestic violence and its devastation on the women in one family... Thank you to all the readers who've written me with their own stories. I am honored and grateful.
In the five years since Julia last visited her aunt and uncle’s home in Malibu, her life has been turned upside down by her daughter’s death. She expects to find nothing more than peace and solitude as she house-sits with only her dog, Bonnie, for company. But she finds herself drawn to the handsome man who oversees the lemon orchard. Roberto expertly tends the trees, using the money to support his extended Mexican family. What connection could these two people share?Read More
by "where i am right now" i don't mean geographically, although at this moment, in a micro-geographic sense, i'm typing on the bed with maisie curled up at my feet. a cat and a keyboard: who could need anything more? (except another cat; mae-mae is in the other room.) where i am right now might be summed up by the fact i'm collecting quotes about light. here are two:
"in order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present." ~sir francis bacon, philosopher, 1561-1626
"though my soul may be set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light, i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night." ~ from "the old astronomer to his pupil" by sarah williams, poet, 1837-1868
aren't they beautiful? and isn't light beautiful? i'm living in a place that's sunnier than what i've been used to for most of my life, and nearly every day i look out to see white light bouncing off the pacific, illuminating lemons in the trees, casting shadows on the mountain and canyon. but still i'm in touch with darkness, most of it inner--maybe all writers are? maybe all human beings are...
i'm thankful for that darkness. it's helped me understand the things people go through, the really painful stuff we all wish would just disappear, go away, or even better, never have existed at all. i'm writing about this now, because during the next few months i'm going to ask you to come on a journey with me.
the picture above shows me with two brilliant young filmmakers: rubie andersson and tamara edwards. when i'm not writing my new novel, i've been working with these young women to create a series of videos connected to little night.
the novel deals with a dark aspect of family life: domestic violence and how it affects everyone. i've experienced it myself, and know that healing is possible, that the dark night ends and daylight returns. little night is very much about how a woman wakes up from a nightmare--with the help of friends, family, and the right kind of love.
along the way, i've interviewed three women who've been affected--either themselves, or in one case, her daughter--by abuse. tamara and rubie have done such beautiful, sensitive filming; they're in the process of editing, and i can't wait to show you the results.
To celebrate spring, I’m sharing a sneak peek at the first few pages of my new novel, The Silver Boat. Since it comes out on April 5, it seems only fitting. Happy spring, everyone!Read More
I am hearing the Music of the Spheres this week before Christmas. On Tuesday there was a full moon, full lunar eclipse, and Winter Solstice, all at once. How could such events, especially during the holidays, fail to turn each of us into a mystic? Musica universalis--Pythagoras said "There is geometry in the humming of the strings. There is music in the spacing of the spheres." It's a harmonic philosophy regarding celestial bodies, space among the sun, moon, and planets.
Maybe it's because my mother told us that if we were very still and quiet on Christmas Eve, we could hear angels singing--the only night of the year that was possible. Of course that was a bold attempt to settle us down, wild with excitement for Christmas morning, but even as young children we felt the deeper meaning.
Everyone feels the holidays in their own way. For me Christmas is inseparable from my mother; after a very long illness, when she was constantly dying, the time finally came. Her final death started in mid-December. The doctor and a priest charged me with telling her what was happening. I remember sitting by my mother's bed at the nursing home, informing her that she was going to die.
She got really mad at me, and refused to speak to me for a week. I'd go see her, and she'd turn her head to the wall. I found a small tree and decorated it with lights and our family ornaments, irridescent balls decorated with twinkling snow, dating back to my grandmother's turn-of-the-century childhood. I brought her Scottish Terrier, Gelsey, to visit her. I introduced her to my new tiger kitten, Maggie.
Then, finally, one night I was sitting by her bed in the dark, with only the tree lights illuminating her small room. I looked over at her, and saw her staring at me--intensely, as if she was trying to memorize me. Her mouth moved--I read her lips: "I love you."
"I love you, too, Mom."
I held her hand, and we looked at each other for a long time. She slipped in and out, but talked to me when she could. The cold shoulder was forgotten. Having fought so hard for so long, she really didn't want to let go. It was a case of "blame the messenger," but that's okay. I understand, and am all the more grateful for our last few days together. She died soon afterwards, on January 2, 1995.
Music of the spheres.
Love the planet, love the moon, love the sky, love each other, love what is and not what you would have it to be, love music, love the beasts, love yourself. Peace on earth. Or as Peter Lehner of NRDC says, Peace With the Earth.
I have quoted this section from Shakespeare many times, on this site and in essays I have written--it speaks to me for so many reasons. Today, I'm hearing the "heavenly music" line...
From the Tempest, Act V, Scene I:
I have bedimm'd The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds, And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up The pine and cedar: graves at my command Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth By my so potent art. But this rough magic I here abjure, and, when I have required Some heavenly music, which even now I do, To work mine end upon their senses that This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff, Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, And deeper than did ever plummet sound I'll drown my book.
September is the most beautiful, still so full of summer, warm sands, salt water holding onto August heat. The humidity drops, the sky is clear. Bright blue, high clouds or no clouds. Achingly gorgeous sunsets, topaz, violet, and maroon. Sometimes hurricanes come in September. We'd ride them out at the beach, leaning into the wind. Waves would rise to cliff-height and crash down, seething white over the sand, across the boardwalk, into the boat basin. And then the weather would clear, and we'd clean up the branches and leaves and broken windows. My house was built in 1938, survived the famous hurricane that devastated our area, and all storms since.
Early September brought conflict, i.e. school. It required a complete alteration of mind and mood, a radical revision of self, to go from the beach's freedom to school's schedules. We learned a lot in both places. But to this day I know I was one person at the beach and another once school began.
Yesterday a friend and I walked through the city. We headed downtown from 23rd St. The day was hot. Tenth Avenue reflected the heat. We were on our way to a meeting. Business, like school, starts up after Labor Day. I wore loafers and real pants, not jeans. My teeshirt wasn't torn or gigantic or from Surfrider. It looked vaguely legit. I sat around a big table with bright, creative people who talked about exciting things. I had a coffee. My friend brought amazing cookies. We all partook as we discussed. I particularly enjoyed the carrot cake cookie. It felt good to be part of a whole--the way I always wanted school to feel. My desk, the cats notwithstanding, can feel lonely.
Have I mentioned I was a September baby? I, and other September children with whom I've spoken, always feel renewed this time of year. One dearest friend and I have birthdays separated by just a few days and for many years have managed to celebrate them together. She lives in LA and I live in New York but that never seems to matter.
On September will go. Soon I'll be heading east on the way to my niece's wedding. By dusk I'll be swimming in the Sound. I'll have a massively festive reunion with whomever we're lucky enough to see. The cottage is inhabited by ghosts, no joke, and we'll be glad for their company. One early morning I hope to walk the beach, through the marsh, up the hidden path.
The air will be warm but not as warm. I'll smell the leaves changing. The air will be spicy with rose hips and young grapes. The bay will flash silver with bait. I'll swim as often as there's time. My thoughts are already deeply with my niece, for whose wedding we'll be gathering. It's the main thing. Sometimes, with such a big, important event on the horizon, this one in particular because it's so dear, so incredibly tender, it's hard to imagine bothering with all the minutia of the days leading up.
But life being life, there's a lot to do before getting to that moment. It's a moving meditation, the way of September. Ineffable beauty. Deep dreams and memories. Things to do. Including swimming. Attempting to fathom the unfathomable. Attending a wedding. Celebrating Molly and Alex. And to quote my sister Maureen who was quoting someone else, "love, love, love."
Try to remember. Thank you, Jerry Orbach.
Family vacation, sisters on the beach, Misty of Chincoteague, obsession with jodhpurs, my secret childhood wish: all will be revealed. P.S. I still want a pony.
(Photo: Misty with her foal Stormy.)
The lives of one broken-hearted woman and her family are changed forever when one of her daughters brings back the man who left so many years ago to the family he’s always loved. Some things, like sandcastles, don’t survive the changing tides. But love, family, and friendship–just as fragile–have a way of standing against anything.Read More
Another perspective on Hubbard’s Point… There's No Place Like Home
By Luanne Rice
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that several years ago I bought the beach cottage where my family spent every summer; this proverb is that dear to my heart. A small grey-shingled house perched on a rocky ledge overlooking Long Island Sound, it is shaded by oaks and pines, smelling of salt and beach roses. After a long winter in New York City, I walk through the kitchen door, and a lifetime of memories floods over me.
My maternal grandparents built the house in 1938, just in time to withstand the brutal hurricane roaring up New England’s coast. My father’s family owned a cottage just up the road; he met my mother the summer after he returned from World War II. It was a rainy day, and he and his mother were sitting on the screen porch. As the family story goes, my mother went striding by (I love that they use that word—“striding”—I can just see her) in a yellow rain slicker, and my future grandmother urged her son to go after her in the car, and offer her a ride.
He did, and they got married, and my sisters and I were born. We lived inland during the winter, but every June we’d pack up the station wagon and head for the beach. My grandmother let us plant the window boxes; my mother gave us each a section of the herb garden to plant; my father taught us how to fish. My cousins would be a two-minute walk away at my grandfather’s cottage, and we’d all go swimming and crabbing together. We looked forward all year till the August meteor showers, when we’d lie on the beach and wish on shooting stars.
My Aunt Jan has a party every year, on the date of her father’s birthday. Pop died long ago, but the last weekend in August, his house and yard are alive with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Home” can encompass more than a dwelling—it can be a gathering, an activity, a state of mind—a moment that tells you who you are, where you come from. During last year’s party, I took my cousins’ children—twelve of them—for the time-honored Rice family tradition of blue crabbing in the swamp, at the far end of the beach. Armed with nets and drop lines, buckets and bait, we waited till the tide was right, and then trudged through the tall grass to the creek.
We lined the banks. Sun beat down on our heads. I remembered my father telling me to be still, that my shadow would scare the crabs away. I could almost feel my sisters beside me, our bare feet silver with silty mud, thrilled by the sight of blue shells skulking through the shallows.
Last summer, it all came back. Nothing can conjure childhood memories like hanging out by a tidal creek with twelve young cousins. I felt so happy to show them what I knew, to watch them catch and release more crabs than we could count. We took time out to watch egrets in the pond, to follow an osprey as it circled overhead. Two of the older kids went exploring, and found the Indian Grave that my sisters and I had often visited so many summers earlier.
Many of the people I loved so much are gone. My grandparents, my mother and father, some of my aunts and uncles and cousins. As often as memory makes me smile, it makes me sad for those I’ll never see again. I think that that is one of the secrets of life: to know that it all goes by so fast, that sometimes we have to let go of people we love before we are ready.
Ergo: the ruby slippers. Thank goodness we all have a pair. Your mother’s brownie recipe, your grandmother’s quilt, the picture of you and your sister at the State Fair. Click your heels three times…
My cottage has withstood many hurricanes since 1938. So have I, so has my family. I’ve lived in big cities and small towns, made more mistakes than I can count, roamed far and wide, lived a complicated life. One thing I can always count on is the feeling of peace that overtakes me when I climb the steps, up the hill to my cottage.
I see the 1938 penny my grandfather pressed into the step’s mortar; I smell the rosemary, thyme, and mint from my mother’s herb garden; I feel the salt breeze that has so often blown my troubles away, that has inspired me with countless stories…and I feel in my heart what I know to be true: there’s no place like home.
A legendary island steeped in the mystery and wisdom of centuries… A runaway heiress learning to trust life, and love…
A mother and daughter, separated for years, searching for a way to face the future together… Luanne tells a powerful story of love, family, and friendship through the lives of two women who reunite at a place where dreams begin.Read More
The story of a man and woman forced to choose between the past that haunts them and the love that won’t let them go...Jane Porter left the apple orchards of rural Twin Rivers, Rhode Island, years ago, fleeing memories that could tear two families apart. Now she has been unexpectedly drawn home to her mother and only sister.Read More
A powerful and complex portrait of family when one woman's homecoming becomes an emotional journey towards a new beginning...After fifteen years away, Nomadic archaeologist Maria Dark hopes that she can rediscover the joy and optimism of her youth in the arms of her family. But things have changed.Read More
Coolly sophisticated and steadfastly single, Caroline Renwick has always been the sister everyone could count on. As she and Clea and Skye gathered at Firefly Hill, their childhood home, Caroline thought that they had all put the past behind them. But as summer gets under way, a mysterious man arrives—a man who has the power to bring it all back...Read More
An entrancing story of love at first sight, the true meaning of family, and angels right here on earth. May’s own faith in true love was shattered when she was abandoned by the father of her child. Still, she finds joy in raising her daughter Kylie, a very special five-year-old who sees and hears things that others cannot. . .Read More
Old friendships--and love--make all things new again. Luanne takes us back to the seaside, delving into the heart of a once happy family facing troubled waters.Read More
It was just an argument, one of hundreds Daisy Tucker must have had with her teenage daughter, Sage, over the years. But this one had ended differently, with Sage gone from their Connecticut home the next morning, leaving behind only a brief note: “I have to go.”Read More
Is there any mystery greater than those we love the most? In this remarkable collaboration, Luanne Rice and Joseph Monninger combine their unique talents to create a powerfully moving novel of an estranged husband and wife through a series of searching, intimate letters.Read More
Beach Girls explores the complex and contradictory territories of love, family and friendship. Luanne's sensuous prose and unforgettably rich and textured characters guide us toward a truth that lies within and sometimes beyond our dreams—an enduring strength that we all must embrace to find our way home and into the hearts of those we cherish most.Read More