Saturday, August 23, 2014

What I Know About Broken Hearts

I'm a romance writer. One of the things romance writers peddle is broken hearts. In almost every book, if a heart isn't broken, someone isn't satisfied with the story. Isn't that what it's about? Broken hearts being mended? Unrequited love being satisfied? Those ties severed by illness, injury, death, infidelity, apathy, and neglect being repaired.

People look at me and think the same thing I used to think. I'm deep into a love of a lifetime. I've got two super-smart, well-educated kids who've done well for themselves. Nice cars, nice house, nice clothes, nice life. What could someone like me possibly know about broken hearts?

Turns out I know plenty.

My heart was broken a couple of times a week as I was growing up by kids who told me how ugly I was and didn't want me around. To make matters worse, I was painfully shy, still am, and I had trouble making friends. Part of that was due to the fact that my parents didn't have friends, so I had no social skills. Add to this the fact that every time I asked my mother, "Am I pretty?" her answer was, "There's nothing wrong with the way you look." Does that sound the same as "yes" to you? No, it didn't to me either. I headed into my teens already pretty brokenhearted and very alone.

And then I met my future husband. He didn't want me. I was convenient and I hung on him, did anything he wanted, went anywhere he wanted. I was fifteen. What did I know? Nothing, really. I drank my way through the last three years of high school. The guidance counselor called me in to talk to me about college - I was an honor grad - but my parents had made it clear that they wouldn't help me at all. With no idea how things worked in the real world, school seemed impossible. I told the guidance counselor that I'd be getting married.

I signed the papers on my first home the day after I graduated from high school, courtesy of a downpayment my parents gave him if he'd marry me and take me out of their household. Literally. I'm not kidding. We worked on it from sun up until sundown, trying to get it livable. And then the unthinkable happened.

My fifteen-year-old sister died. She died on Thursday, we buried her on Saturday, and I got married on Sunday. And through everything, my parents, my mother in particular, told me how I wasn't grieving correctly, corrected me every time I opened my mouth, and generally pushed me to the side. In reality, they were disappointed. The daughter they thought would finish college and marry a doctor or lawyer was dead. And they were stuck with the consolation prize. I was heartbroken because I had no sibling and my parents didn't want me.

My new husband treated me like shit. I was told that none of his friends wanted me around because I thought I was too good for them, so I learned to say "ain't" and use double negatives and redneck terms that made me sound more like them. Didn't matter. They still didn't want me around. Neither did he. And I got my heart broken a couple of times a week. I spent most of my time crying myself to sleep.

We finally divorced, but not before we'd had a child that he and his family would torment for years. I met a man who was completely different from him, and we married. We had a child. He spent years breaking my heart over and over, acting like he was twelve, and just generally being a pain in the ass. And he was gone most of the time, so I was alone. I held jobs where people misused me and mistreated me and said things to me that I'd now punch them in the face for. But I was young and I didn't think I had an option. So I got my heart broken at least once a week, more often if someone could manage.

My mother's house flooded and she, as usual, cleaned it out into mine because she couldn't bring herself to throw anything away. And in the rubble and detritus in the boxes she handed over, I found something: A certificate for a scholarship to a college. I'd never known that it existed. It came to my home and no one ever told me. I'd had a chance to go to college, me, the girl with an I.Q. of 151 whose parents had told her she'd never make it in college, and no one had even bothered to tell me. To this day, I feel the pain in my chest that I felt the day I pulled out that certificate and saw that. No one knows what that felt like. You can't even imagine. Their lack of love and care changed the course of my life.

Along the way, I was betrayed by more people than I can count. I wound up in a church where I was treated like a second-class citizen because we weren't rich. I studied and worked and volunteered and counseled. I was well-respected. I started a Sunday school class for women whose husbands wouldn't attend with them and built it from three people to about twenty. And just about the time that we were rolling along pretty well, the pastor's wife came along and decided she wanted to take my Sunday school class. And my heart got broken again.

So I went to another church and did the same thing, And once again, when I'd built a class that was good-sized and the women were bonding and having fun and learning to depend on each other, a woman came into the church and pretty much let them know that I was inadequate and she wanted my class. So again, I got my heart broken.

I spent days, weeks, and months working with a volunteer organization and, as soon as they had an opening, they gave it to someone else. Yep, you guessed it - broke my heart. I went back to school to get my degree and was promised a job, only to find out that no one was hiring instructors as anything but adjuncts and, for my money, I'd make about $10K a year. Something about that seemed wrong. And the promise of the job fell away, much to my brokenheartedness.

Then, after four years of dating, my daughter and the young man I'd thought was going to be my son-in-law broke up abruptly. One day they were together and the next day they weren't. They broke up over the phone. He'd been there every birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, every occasion, and suddenly he was just gone. And I never got to say goodbye. I don't know what broke my heart more, never being able to say goodbye to him or no one thinking that my feelings about it mattered. It was painful. To this day, I think about it and cry. I love my son-in-law - he's a wonderful, wonderful man - but I found it difficult after that to connect with the significant others my children brought home because of the horror still in my heart. My son married and I loved his wife, but when they divorced, as painful as it was, I lived through it because I suppose a part of me will always be afraid to really, really love someone that another can decide doesn't belong in my life anymore, and I can be treated as though I don't matter. That's once when my heart was broken and has managed to stay that way.

Within weeks, I moved our daughter four and a half hours away, helped her find an apartment and get her utilities turned on, and drove away. I had to stop on the side of the interstate on my way home and wait until the breakdown I was experiencing calmed enough to let me drive. That was a heartbreak I'll always remember.

My old cat sickened and died. My father-in-law died suddenly. My dad lingered for years and then died. My mother-in-law died with cancer and I was responsible for her care in the end. But a little over a month after she died, our sixteen-year-old dog sickened in a two-day period and we had to make the decision to let her go peacefully. That was worse than any of the parents. My heart is permanently broken over old Fergie Sue, and I've got three more heartbreaks I'll experience when, one by one, the others will leave me. They bring you joy, and they break your heart.

I've had my heart broken a few times since then. There was the woman I thought was my friend and, when three of our four parents died, she never darkened the doors of the funeral home once. One young relative managed to break my heart so badly that our relationship will never be the same, and all because of what I do for a living. That's been horribly painful.

And just this week, someone I'd trusted for years broke that trust by attempting to perpetrate a criminal act in a way that could've hurt me, possibly even destroyed my career, had I not caught it and gone to the authorities. It was frightening. And I was reminded once again of something I've said for years: I can know you, know everything about you, know you inside and out, but when you walk into your home and close that door, I have absolutely no idea what you're doing. No clue. I have to trust that you're who you say you are and you're doing what you say you're doing. I also don't know what my husband is doing when he leaves our home. I want to trust him, but I also know that he could be doing anything and I wouldn't know it. But I've made peace with that, the unknown. Still, that betrayal broke my heart. I was sickened, frightened, and devastated.

And yet, I'll get back up, brush myself off, and keep going. Yeah, my heart's been broken before and it'll be broken again. But remember, the next time you look at someone like me and say to yourself, "What could she possibly know about being brokenhearted?"

Turns out I know a lot.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Reads: Seeing Red by Olivia Howe

I don’t read vampire books. I think I told all of you that before. I’m not a Twihard. I’m not even a Twicare. Sparkly vampires make me giggle, and not in a good way. So when I started this series, I was a little skeptical. You’ve heard from me on the first in this series, but now you can hear from me on the second. It’s Seeing Red, Olivia Howe’s sophomore offering in the Dark Love series. (Did you see how I worked in that high school reference? Pretty smooth, huh?)

This is one of those books that I have to be careful with, because just about anything I say will be a spoiler. And as you know, I don’t do spoilers. So let me see if I can bring you up to speed.

At the end of the first book, Nina’s sister has disappeared. I can’t say why, but know that Nina’s learned a lot of things about herself and her family, and really important things at that. When we pick up in Seeing Red, the vampires in Nina’s world are trying to protect her from the Sulivic brothers, another group of vampires who want to kill her. Why? Because she’s a healer and, to them, healing a vampire from being undead is tantamount to killing them. If they become human again, they’ll eventually die. That’s contrary to everything about being a vampire.

As time goes by, someone new is introduced – matter of fact, an entire family, and they are special in their abilities. I can’t say any more than that. Anyway, in the course of this book, the new family and their abilities are explored, someone shows up and pulls a terrible stunt, someone dies (I mean really, really dies, for good), someone returns, someone turns traitor, someone makes a surprise reappearance, and then something terrible happens to the heroine. Oh, she’s still there, but it’s . . . well, you’ll just have to read it. Frankly, the ending made me absolutely want to read the next book.

While the characters are all teenagers and the story centers around a high school, as in the first book, that didn’t turn me off at all. I think I would’ve liked it far more if it had been college, but that’s just me. I’m very curious about how all of the characters who were introduced in this book are going to play a role in the next one. And I want to know how the heroine’s “situation” gets resolved.

So what did I like about this book? I like Andrew, the male protagonist. He’s so gentlemanly and sweet. I like the complication for the female protagonist; it’s reminiscent of something caused by vampires’ abilities in True Blood, but I still liked it. And I like where the story is going. The last book has great potential if Miss Howe can pull it all together, and I have no doubt that she can.

If you’re sitting there and wishing you had something a little different to read, you might want to give Seeing Red a try. Get busy on the next book, Olivia – I’m waiting!