Why I “Took Out” My Ex-Boyfriends

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Photo Credit: “Cutting” by Lusi

This title’s a little misleading. I’m not talking about violence here, or the raging emotions of a woman scorned; rather, I mean making cuts to my memoir. You see, last week I inadvertently axed my ex-boyfriends from my manuscript when I deleted a chapter by mistake. Oops. While I was initially ticked, turns out this was one of the best things that could’ve happened.

You see, I was falling into that writer’s trap of wanting to put every “interesting” detail about my life into my story—but not every “interesting” detail belongs there.

At first it’s a hard reality to swallow. You’ve heard that analogy that likens cutting one’s writing to severing a limb. It’s true. But I’ve got good news: the more time and distance you put between yourself and your writing, the easier it gets. After awhile it becomes easier to see what really stinks and what doesn’t, or what actually fits and what are merely rabbit trails.

Accidentally cutting out my boyfriends, whom I’d slapped into a “junk” chapter that wasn’t quite fitting anywhere, freed me up to clarify the real players in my story: that’d be myself (obviously), my hubby, my family, and my immediate in-laws (I’m not sure they know this yet!). The story I’m telling is far advanced beyond the twenty-year-old version I imagined, when I was still hurting from love gone wrong with those unsuspecting exes. It picks up with my wedding day and the violent emotions that ceremony stirred up, and follows me through my twenties to unravel just what was so traumatizing about entering marriage.

The story’s not about my past dating failures; it’s about finding peace within myself, with, God, and with family. The only relevance the exes have to this story is that they became unfortunate pitfalls on my way to searching for the right kind of love, which I eventually found in my hubby, then in God, and finally, with other loved ones around me. Now I realize, thankfully, that a couple paragraphs is more than sufficient to treat those unfortunate detours in this journey.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m not saving those memories for a future story, or maybe even a piece of fiction! As I explained these manuscript developments to my hubby last night, along with how a memoirist sometimes must rearrange or compress events for narrative efficacy, we had fun laughing over what a composite of my past lovers would look like. Ready for this? I think I can protect identities here by squeezing them all into one. Macho, yet effeminate, hunter under house arrest for drug possession and Dad of three who likes to collage…who ultimately turns out to be gay. See? Interesting. But way too distracting for the story I’m trying to tell!

If you’re working on your memoirs, remember: focus, focus, focus! Keep the main story the main story, and don’t let yourself get distracted by every “interesting” detail. And now I’m back to work, excited to see what today’s writing session reveals!

 

 

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Playing the Stranger

I found this old dress, a relic from high school senior pics, a few days before traveling to Minnesota for my cousin's wedding. Though more than ten years old, it seemed appropriate to wear. The posture of this photo is one I took at the wedding: background.
I found this old dress, a relic from high school senior pics, a few days before traveling to Minnesota for my cousin’s wedding. Though more than ten years old, it seemed appropriate to wear. The posture of this photo is one I feel I took at the wedding: a faceless photographer–capable of participating only as outside observer.

I should have brought Kleenex. I always cry at weddings; I knew this. But I was not prepared for the emotions unleashed at my cousin’s wedding Saturday.

Not only the customary tears for a budding union, but I cried regretful tears for all that I had missed over the years. You see, I moved 1,000 miles away from all of this, and all of them, eight years ago.

Faces from my past swarming around me, coming at me in waves, breaking through some icy barrier I’d built. There were old classmates, old classmates’ parents, and even a former teacher. I wanted to cry just for seeing them. I did.

In the past, what had I imagined of such a reunion? In my teen years I was very conscious of at first having to hide things. Later on, when it would have been okay to share, I still mostly hid, out of habit. To the point that I disappeared from people’s lives.

Standing with two former friends at the wedding and hearing them banter like they were not just past, but present, friends, hit me in the gut.

“Yeah, next time on the fishing trip you’ll have to come with–and bring your brother, too.”

“Billy* couldn’t come to the wedding—we’ll have to see him next weekend.”

“So, there’s no alcohol at this wedding? You must have a flask stashed in your tux, huh?”

Soon I wasn’t even standing there. And I realized I had done it. I had erased myself from memory.

I excused myself for the bathroom. But then, selfishly, wondered if maybe, just maybe, they were talking about me.

Sad to say, I’m just beginning to realize how self-centered I’ve been all these years. Always thinking about my feelings—protecting myself.

The fewer people I’m close to, the fewer who can hurt me—was my unwritten, unspoken motto.

What have I done?

As I see faces from my past swimming at me, I now feel it was all a lie.

The face of an old teacher’s aide—from my first grade classroom, nonetheless—exclaiming, “Is this Lindsey?! She’s turned into such a beautiful young woman!” A mother of a classmate, gasping, exclaiming my name, and enfolding me in a hug.

My sixth grade teacher’s face lighting up as she asks, “Are you writing?” Yes. “Oh good; I always thought you should!” An ex-boyfriend’s mom even engaging in friendly talk as she never did while I dated her son.

My cousin’s, the groom’s, exclamation: “Lindsey, what an awesome surprise!” My old friends, C and T, who married each other, taking time to talk with me over an hour as if they had nothing better to do. “It’s so good to see you!” they say (and mean it, I think). It has been about eight years.

Another old friend looking in my eyes and, to my small talk, saying, “Being away from home must be the hardest part.” Understanding for the words I could not speak.

What have I done?

Desperately I snap pictures of my young cousins and their spouses and children, laughing and talking at neighboring reception tables. They too are familiar, comfortable, with one another. And like my classmates, they have passed through many of the same coming-of-age events as I, only together.

There’s something comforting about a shared heritage.

But I have refused to be comforted.

This visit has once again touched me where it hurts…still, thankfully, it has been different. Like the Minnesota snow I left behind last night, something in me is thawing.

As much as is possible from 1,000 miles away, in the future I’ll try to be less of a stranger.

The Decade the Music Died

Your parents divorce. Your boyfriend reveals he’s gay. You show up to work one day to find the place has shut down.

Some losses are instant and sock it to you in a single blow. Others take more time to unravel, so much so that you don’t even realize you’ve lost something until, one day, you run smack dab into that old thing—that you suddenly realize you no longer have.

I was browsing the clearance racks of Half Price Books last week when I came upon some old CDs I remembered owning growing up. Mostly Christian tunes from the 90s. A dollar apiece? Sure, why not.

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When I put on the old Ashton, Becker, and Dente CD while doing dishes later that night, felt the music swell and my heart tingle, I realized something: I miss this.

I guess I first became vaguely aware of my loss of music when my bff, Samantha, and I were road-tripping one-thousand miles to Minnesota some years back (we’re both transplants to Texas) and she wanted to sing and I didn’t.

Sam and I had grown up singing together, even comprising two-thirds of a Christian trio in our teens. I remember being sixteen, when we’d just been liberated with driver’s licenses, cruising the Podunk town of W, Minnesota, singing at the top of our lungs just because we could.

But now, when we were twenty-six, cruising Interstate 35, and she suggested, “Hey, let’s sing some of our old songs, want to?” all I could do was shrug.

She looked at me quizzically. “You don’t really like to sing anymore, do you, Linds?”

I had never really thought about it. But it was true.

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For that matter, I’m not fond of playing the piano anymore, either.

Not so for the first half of my life.

I started playing piano at age eight, or during the only year my parents pulled me out of public school to try an experiment. During the 1992-93 school year, our church started a “school” that boasted a whopping enrollment of six. My brother and I made up one-third of all students. My mom was the teacher.

Though I was angry that year for being separated from my public school friends, I found at least one redeeming factor in this arrangement: all the pianos.

Maybe it was because I was in rebellion from doing schoolwork—or maybe it was because God had a plan. But for whatever reason, I found myself drawn to those piano keys all year long. When our school enrollment was slashed to 50 percent at Christmas (one family with three kids moved away), I was only too ready to head back to public school. But by then, I’d heard the music, and for the next decade I would play and sing frequently for church, adding in the trumpet during sixth grade, which I would play in various school bands until graduation.

Of our family of four, I was the only one who played any instruments; but with my dad’s love of classic rock, southern gospel, and his growing collection of Christian tunes, our house was, all told, very musical. And it is my dad’s constant playing of music (on stereos and other sound systems) that brings us back to Ashton, Becker, and Dente, or where this journey started.

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One year not long before the family split, Dad enrolled our family in a music club. You know the kind. Before everything went digital, they used to send out sheets of little CD stickers. You could “Choose 12 for the price of 1!” and you literally cut and pasted your selections onto the order form.

Before, Dad had always chosen the soundtrack of our house. But with this membership, we all had a hand in picking the twelve CDs. Some of the CDs we picked are the same ones I found at Half Price Books: Ashton, Becker, and Dente; Point of Grace; Phillips, Craig, and Dean; Geoff Moore and the Distance; Sierra; and more.

Through that music club I was later introduced to some of the Christian artists I still have in my collection today: Jaci Velasquez, Cheri Keaggy, and Steven Curtis Chapman. Others stayed with Dad after Mom left and Kyle went to college and I followed Mom (later to move to Texas, of course).

And until I stumbled upon these relics at the bookstore, I plumb forgot about them. What’s more, I forgot about the happiness those CDs had brought to our home, because we had all chosen them together—one of our last “family projects.”

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Why did I forget? Why is it that ten years have passed largely without the sound of music in my home?

For years it’s like I’ve just shut out this part of my makeup, flat-out denied it was there.

But rediscovering those CDs was like finding old friends. And more than pain, the memories attached to them brought pleasure. This is what healing must be. Writing. Listening. (Playing?) to my roots.

To face my past I can’t avoid the bad memories that, unfortunately, usually flash out at me first. But as I keep going, God is faithful—He takes me back to where I’m meant to be. And little by little, He restores what was lost.

At the end of a quiet decade, regaining my love of music has started with a few old CDs.

Maybe in my thirties I’ll relearn my love of piano, too.