i would like to pause.
because things have happened so slow and then so quick– slowly careening is how i’ve characterized it– and the book sold but there was no paperwork and it seemed like things were happening and there were public announcements shared publicly, but mostly i spent the last month wanting to feel excitement and waiting for everything to fall apart.
then, i had to read my own book multiple times. which, if you’ve never done this, it’s fun up to a point. for, like, maybe the first decade. and then. AND THEN. it is like not fun. like, really really not.
remember how my friend said it was like looking at a decade of facebook photos? that. times actually more when you’re shifting into the mode of “this will be put onto the page as it is for people to read for all of the rest of time.”
there’s a little more pressure involved in that scenario than in the hundreds of other times i’ve read this manuscript over the last 15 years.
come, let us pause within that broader pause and acknowledge that 15 years is a hell of a long time.
by now, every sentence has it’s own substratum of memories and autobiographical details. every sentence is full of ghosts.
there are words that have fallen away over the years that i’m shocked to see gone. whole scenes that have been deleted somewhere along the way and i’ve maybe not thought about them in five years, but now, with the threat of the whole thing attaining some level of permanence, all those murdered darlings have come flooding back.
where did that go? wasn’t that there? didn’t i say that? where are we going? what is happening? who even am i?!!!
i’m pretty sure the word for this would be mourning. which seems rather premature as my life with jackie is hardly over. it will, no doubt, continue through publication, at least! but we’re moving into a new phase– jackie and i, as tethered through this book.
the contract arrives, at long last, five days before my manuscript is due (lol). and there i am: Oline Eaton (“Author”).
that’s the thing that does it, actually. this:
that’s the thing that sends me reeling into one of my wobbles, one of my blue moods where my brain makes a nest in a zone best characterized as LIFE IS SO FRAGILE I HAVE NO WORDS I JUST WANT TO CRY AND KISS AND DANCE AND FUCK AND FLIRT.
this is more historical detail than you are likely wanting so feel free to skip to the end…
i remember i was wearing a suit, when i met melvin jones (RIP) for the first time. (i always signed his name in email as MJ and, consequently, only ever wrote about him as MJ so let’s roll with that here.) he’d brought me in to discuss a job. we met at the starbucks at the corner of kirby and poplar (RIP).
i wore a black suit my parents had bought me at dillards for interviews, after grad school. it cost something ridiculous, like $80 at half off in 2004 money. it had a four button blazer and what i guess can be generously described as a peplum pleated skirt.
i remember there was a conversation at dillards (RIP?), where we as a family agreed that those pleats would show i had some personality; that i wasn’t a drone. a hell of a lot of responsibility to put on some pleats, but oh well. it was the early 2000s.
i remember my parents and i discussed the types of blouses i might wear with this garment in order to lighten it up. i was 22, wearing a four-button blazered, black suit. there was no lightening that thing up. it looked funereal no matter what we did. and that is what i wore to the starbucks.
i remember i arrived early. (typical, because my whole life i’ve preferred to be the waiting person rather than the person waited on.) and, while i waited, i sat there, at a rounded table, on the side facing the window, and i edited my own book.
i don’t remember if this was before or after the saturday morning i came downstairs and announced to my parents that i’d finished the jackie book. (this is summer 2004, mind you, so big time LOL.) my best guess is it was probably a month or two before.
in my unhappiness and dislocation– having been driven from chicago after grad school by the fact i had literally $16.26 to my name– i was writing like it was my job. because writing was and is and has always, will likely always be, the only place i can ______. (<- this word does not yet exist.)
i remember MJ came in, in that highly caffeinated, zingy way he had. somehow there was always a patter to his movements; he was a man who, even seated and ostensibly still, nonetheless vibrated with ideas and unexpressed feeling and caffeine.
he asked what i was working on and i told him i was writing a book about jackie onassis.
i think he hired me because i’d spent a summer at cornell, and he was an alum. but i like to think that he was also impressed that i was working, even then, even while waiting for an interview to start.
i don’t know. maybe i made that up. i find it hard to know how much other people are paying attention.
the thing is, for all i talk about the people who rolled their eyes, there’ve been so many people along the way who didn’t, and who also didn’t laugh.
my parents didn’t laugh me out of the taco bell when i told them i wanted to collect jackie magazines. in grad school, croftie sighed oooooh that’s so cool, when i off-handedly mentioned that collection.
for all the rolled eyes, always, there were other people who took me seriously as a 22, 23, 30, 40-year-old strangely emotionally and intellectually invested in a thing.
people who have believed, all along, that this is a thing worth doing and that i can do it. people without whom i could not’ve.
heavens, this is cheesy, but let’s push on…
(also, on a superficial note: i’d like to observe that few things are quite so humbling as seeing how you’ve fucked with your eyebrows over the years.)
the job interview lasted forever. MJ had me drive back to the office and meet some white dude who had some role in the company that i do not remember. when he eventually called me with a job offer a month later and brought me in, that guy was gone, so apologies to that man, whoever he was.
i remember i was eager to get away because i was supposed to be doing…. something. helping donovan (RIP) set up his classroom, maybe. something else, anyway, something not this three hour long interview. and i thought this place was very weird.
i was 22. hell, yes, i wanted to work at a magazine but not necessarily in such close proximity to platinum plus (RIP).
this calls to mind another memory… in college. i’d won some award, and we were all invited over to some professor’s home for tiny sandwiches and sparkling water. and my parents were there. and we got talking, maybe to the medievalist– whose class i’d take the next spring, solely on the basis of this encounter and my father’s evaluation of him as “a real professor”– about my career path, and my father told him that i wanted to be an editor, like jackie onassis.
i always wanted to be an editor. because i couldn’t imagine a world in which i could write. honestly, even today, i prefer to be an editor. which is why i’m any sort of writer– because i can tear myself apart.
which is, come to think of it, maybe why i’m struggling to revisit this manuscript. it is, in some ways, a site of considerable violence. because life is violent. words are violent. and to tell someone else’s life seems an act of such extraordinary cheek, and gumption, and violence too.
when my father said that to the person i’m assuming was the medievalist, i was still with the man who was abusing me.
another memory: donovan– the man who rescued me from the abusive man– is in chicago.
when he dumped me in memphis, he’d mentioned the whole jackie thing. said it was weird to care about something that much. obsessive. strange. true story, he said i was like the jimmy fallon character in fever pitch.
this was like fourth or fifth in the list of things prompting our breakup, but it was there. the fact that i was writing a book about this woman.
that was 7 december 2005.
he was in chicago some time in 2006, spring or summer, and he asked to meet. we were not yet friends again and wouldn’t be for several years.
i don’t remember if we went to the zoo or were just wandering around lincoln park (my memory is that we were in a cave, but how can that even be?!!) when he apologized for having said that.
when he acknowledged that it was kind of a really impressive thing to have done, to have written this book.
this was 2006, mind you. i thought i was done. LOL, i was not.
this is the copy i had printed at office depot for everyone that christmas:
when he died, i was hyper aware of the fact i’d not told him i was planning to move to london, planning to get a phd.
this was THE big news! when we met before donovan’s memorial service, this is the first thing i told one of our mutual friends. everyone knew but him.
i didn’t tell him because i was acutely aware he was dying, and my moving to london was life. i was living. his life was ending, and mine was going to go right on happening.
i don’t know that it was guilt so much as kindness, that prevented me from telling him. i, honestly, didn’t want to be seen to be bragging about being alive.
the breakup with donovan prompted a move to chicago, but i continued to work for MJ remotely and continued to edit the magazine.
before i left– and my memory is hazy here… i know it was before i left because i know i took it with me, but i can’t remember if he took me out to lunch or how he gave me this gift.
i think my brain wants to blend two memories: one a lunch at a fancy french restaurant– probably paulette’s (still kicking!!)– in overton square, where MJ made some comment to the whole staff that they’d someday all be reading my writing in TIME magazine. and then some other moment when he must have given me this. that moment i do not remember.
what i know is that he gave me a marble nameplate that has followed me everywhere since that day sometime in winter 2006.
donovan died in september 2012. MJ died in november 2020.
this is the thing about reading my own book. it is so many moments, so many people, so many stray thoughts and feelings and smells and memories and hurts and hopes, twenty whole years of my life.
it actually physically hurts to read it right now.
which, again, is mourning. and grief and loss, all of which are elements of life we don’t talk nearly enough about. (which is maybe why they are the focus of nearly all my research.)
i want to be excited so terribly much. i want to feel joy. there it is, on my to do list. right between “printing” and “post office.” “sign contract.”
but i feel very little. it’s just me in my apartment alone, digitally signing a pdf on something called HelloSign.
i want parties and sequins and champagne and hope and hugs and cake and joy, and yes, yes, yes, that’ll come. it will come in due time.
but the thing i feel no one’s told me is that this is hella lonely. like, severely lonely.
the writing, yeah. writers know and accept that. it’s a solitary business.
but the bookselling, the business of putting out into the world the thing we’ve wrenched from our brains, it’s painful. and terribly lonely.
or maybe it’s just me, maybe i’m just overly sensitive and morose. (i do rather like the idea that the rest of you lot are just flippantly thrusting books out into the public sphere with jubilation and wild abandon and pure, undiluted joy.)
and, absolutely, a whole bunch of people are about to join this whole affair, probably to propose edits and titles and covers i loathe, so soon enough i’ll be all complainy about how crowded an experience this has become. but, for now, it’s pretty lonely.
which is ok.
it’s been me and jackie for a long, long time, but truly, i feel ready to move along and write about someone else. ready for this to be a book on my shelf that maybe every ten years or so i pull down and read.
because i’ve written the book i wanted to read but which did not yet exist. so, on one level, it is enjoyable.
just not right now. (this is a stunning sales pitch is it not?! my publisher will be so pleased!) because i am too close to it. to the story, its losses and rhythms.
a dear, dear friend– the only person currently alive allowed to call me by my dread first name– must’ve divined i would, inevitably, have a struggle, because she mailed me a torn out page from a book. a torn out page on the emotion involved in completing a book, complete with her marginalia.
and i don’t know when i was last so grateful for a thing. nor when i felt so cared for.
i’ve read it every night for the last five, like a prayer. often, i’ll be honest, i’ve found it bleeding into prayer.
the name my parents gave me is faith.
up until maybe first grade, hand on heart, i thought the F in FCE stood for favorite.
so faith has always felt both like a shock and a come down. and also quite a bit of pressure for a random little person.
i am reminded: MJ always signed his emails and texts with this: KEEP THE FAITH. which meant that, as the person who did his writing and sent his email, working for him i was constantly reminded of the same.
i do not care for endings, because the story is not yet over. the story goes on and on and on, beyond us, into whenever you are reading this, still, as i hope i’ve demonstrated here, even after we are done and gone, still the story unfurls into words on a page, a book on a shelf, a memory, a ghost, a feeling, a ……………..
this is the cheesiest thing ever but i realize it maybe actually is the ending:
my therapist said i need to trust that, as a writer, i’ve done my best and taken good care of jackie.
and without even thinking, my voice cracking, i add, and she’s taken good care of me.