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In a memoir of sometimes lacerating honesty, Spike ...
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In a memoir of sometimes lacerating honesty, Spike Gillespie tells us the story of her life with men -- a blunt, moving, and profoundly revealing account that asks all the hardest questions about love between the sexes. All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy isn't a memoir of abuse or tragedy. But it is about the lack of connection -- to family, to lovers, to the world -- that defines much of modern life. Most importantly, however (and here Henry comes in), Gillespie also tells us a story of hope and resolution, of reaching out to touch the world with the newest tools, the computer and the Internet -- and in the oldest way -- through one's children. And it's about the deepest mysteries -- how we love the ones we love, and how we stop loving them when they're destroying us.
Spike Gillespie first began chronicling her thirty-year adventure of love and heartbreak in a weekly online column, and within a few months she was being described by USA Today as the queen of the online confessional. Gillespie has continued to feed her stream-of-consciousness biography to thousands of readers via her website. After years of publishing to the online community, now she is ready to tell the whole tale. Gillespie is a natural storyteller, a writer with amarvelous ability to immerse her readers in a flesh-and-blood world of her lovers, her family, her friends...and above all, her son. This is a writer unafraid to tell the truth -- about human nature, men, family, and motherhood. The result is a memoir of unadorned and refreshing power from a woman on the most intimate terms with passion, anger, love -- and herself.
From Chapter Fourteen
On December 1, 1990, your daddy and I were sitting on the old sofa in the living room of our new place, an old duplex in a poor neighborhood in St. Louis. We were watching a staticy picture on the big, old, fake-wood console TV your grandpa gave us. The pictures were mostly red and green, but it was better than nothing. It was eleven o'clock at night and I felt this thing inside of me and I turned to your daddy and I said, "I think this is it."
We had decided -- well, I had decided -- to have your birth at home. Because that's how so many of my friends in Tennessee had their babies. And my friends in Tennessee were so wonderful the whole summer I was living there, carrying you inside. They were full of smart advice and generous with their good food and had given me comfortable places to sleep and any support I needed. I liked how they lived their lives. I wanted the same thing for us.
As soon as I knew it really was time, we called the midwife. She told us to get some sleep, because it was going to be a while before you came and I would need to be well rested for the hard work ahead of me. Your daddy fell right off -- he'd had some beers to help and besides, he never had much trouble sleeping. Me, I lay there, thinking a million things. Wondering what you would be like. Scared and excited and nervous and happy. I could not sleep. The harder I tried, the more awake I became.
I finally got up, sat in the kitchen all night trying to read, my mind too preoccupied to concentrate on anything long. Read a passage. Feel a contraction. Look at your daddy sleeping in the other room. This went on until 7 A.M. when, annoyed at him fut up and leave her alone so she can concentrate.
But I couldn't concentrate. Because down at my other end, the midwife and Lisa had set up camp and were pushing my legs up in the air, then back, over my shoulders, trying to fold me in half, pushing my ankles to my ears, me hollering the whole time.
The midwife started to get a little nervous by this point so she and your daddy went and had a smoke. I lay there with Lisa, crying. I wanted to leave, wanted them to find a way to finish the job without me. It had been fifteen hours and I was scared and tired.
The midwife came back and said we had to make a choice. You were being stubborn and we needed to decide if you could make it out here, in the house, or if we should get the whole show on the road and head on over to the hospital. I didn't want to go -- I hate hospitals. And she didn't want to send me.
They folded me in half again. I screamed some more. I wanted you out and I was tired of trying to act sane. I was not sane. I was crazy with the pain of it.
And then, her voice like mission control, the midwife said, "We have a problem." The technical term for it was "shoulder dystosia," which means your shoulders were too broad to fit past my pelvis. Not only that, but when she reached up inside of me to grab your arm and turn you to an easier position, it turns out your arms were wrapped up funny behind you. Which is to say you were stuck. She could not get ahold of you.
For a split second we had relief. Your head showed a little, and we thought maybe this would be it. Maybe you would come. But then you slipped right back in. We didn't know what to do. She could break your collarbone and sort of fold you up and pull you out. Or she coul d pull on your head, but that could mean brain damage. It was too late to take me in for a C-section. You were stuck. We were all stuck. And we panicked.
The midwife began to shout. She told me if I didn't find a way to push you out you were going to die, right there inside of me. That is exactly what she said, and I hated her with all my heart for saying it. And I hated myself, too. Because my brain said to my muscles PUSH PUSH PUSH, but my muscles wouldn't listen.
This was not the groovy, whale-music scenario described by my friends back in Tennessee. This was a circle of hell Dante could not have fathomed -- me pushing out a dead baby or her pulling out a brain-damaged one. Then something happened and I pushed and you turned and then, there you were.
Here is where, in the old movies, they slap the baby and the baby screams and someone says, "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" But none of those things happened. No one had time to tell me what I had delivered because you were already onto scary trick number two. Seems you decided, on the way out, to breathe in your own amniotic fluid. You were drowning in yourself, not breathing, just grunting and grunting, trying to live, your little body all bluish black.
"Breathe dammit!" the midwife yelled at you as she flicked the bottoms of your tiny feet over and over, trying to get a response, anything. And she started saying things to Lisa, all kinds of medical jargon, and Lisa -- I tell you that woman saved your life, son -- Lisa had the oxygen tank running and all this equipment prepped in two seconds flat.
As for me, well, I just laid there, quiet and stunned. I had fucked up so many things in my life and now, there you lay, my project of faith, m y baby in the face of two families thinking your daddy and me crazy, my proof to the world I was somebody and I could do something right -- there you lay near dead. Or maybe you were dead. I couldn't tell.
Your daddy called 911 and said, "Help! We need help!" And they sent help, but the wrong kind. These ambulance guys weren't trained to deal with newborn babies. And so they had to call different help. Meanwhile, it was a freezing day, ice everywhere, and every time one of them would run in or out of the door the midwife yelled some more. "Shut the door! Shut the door; you're going to kill him!" And I just kept lying there, still as I could be.
We waited some more for the right guys, and finally, in they raced, along with the wind. There I was, surrounded by blood-spattered walls and too too many uniformed men when all I had wanted was to have you away from such a fuss.
Some cops drove by, saw the flashing lights of the ambulances parked out front, and considered it like an invitation to a grand ball. They popped in, uninvited, and now the room was crawling like a cocktail-party fund-raiser for public servants. None of them had any idea what was going on -- that we had planned this birth in this house -- and all of them looked shocked. I began to groan and someone said, "Does she need to be transported?" and the midwife said, "No."
The pain that had exited my body along with you had suddenly returned. Jesus, not more. I moaned, again, this time louder. The midwife barely glanced at me, she was too busy with you. "Push," she said. Push? Again? And so I did. Then this thing, this thing I had forgotten about -- the placenta -- came shooting out of my body looking like some big bloody pudding pr oduct, some marketing fiasco by Jell-O. Everyone stopped. And all those cops and ambulance drivers, so unprepared for what they were seeing, just looked at me like I had given birth to your evil twin, to the Antichrist.
Jesus, how many minutes passed? I still didn't know if you were alive. And then you were gone. They took your little body, all hooked up to the oxygen, you barely breathing, and they loaded you and your daddy into the ambulance, and they sped away as fast as they safely could on those icy roads. And your daddy told me later he remembered two things.
First, no one would pull over and let the ambulance pass.
Second, he said, the driver of the ambulance turned to him. And he said to your daddy, "Is this your first baby?" like nothing was wrong. And your daddy said, "Yes."
And the ambulance driver said, "Well, congratulations!"
Copyright © 1999 by Spike Gillespie
Chapter Fifteen: Austin
Elaine and I embraced in the Austin airport, September 1991, then stood back and took inventory of each other. I was forty pounds heavier than the last time we'd met. And slung on my hip was Henry, now nine months old. Elaine, impossibly, was thinner and paler and more drawn than I had ever seen her in our near-decade of friendship.
In the two years since our wild-ass jaunt across the country, much had happened. For starters, Chris, that crazy boyfriend of hers, had killed himself. She'd called me on New Year's Day, 1990, to tell me she'd found him hanging in his studio. I had been more fortunate, suffering only through Henry's near-death crisis. It had passed, and we'd gotten away with no further medical complications.
Sometimes our letters were sporadic, but Elaine and I always stayed in touch. She'd moved to Austin, choosing the city on a whim -- we'd only visited it once together, for three days -- to try to escape the ghosts of Chris and her life on the edge with him in Florida. Time and again, she'd urged me to join her. Finally, sick of St. Louis and funded by the check for an extremely lucrative writing assignment that had fallen, accidentally, into my lap, I agreed.
I gave James little say in the matter, telling him, more than asking him, about relocating. He did not argue. He'd never had much interest in control. And what minimal grasp he did have on the reins of our family, I'd wrested from him months before, when I left him for three days because his drinking had become a serious problem for both of us.
Though he clearly adored Henry, James was, at best, more like a fun uncle than a responsible father. And though he was Headquarters O'Reilley that first week after the hospital nightmare. She and Neil gave us money for food, and then a large check -- a graduation gift when James finished college that winter -- to help us out until I could resume working. They doted on the baby. But our relationship, which started out decidedly civil and went downhill from there, was never really close.
Also, the splinter of Cleveland never stopped festering in my heart. Distrustful of more than one member of James's family, I was less than motivated to try to bridge the distance that had opened so wide between us during my gloomily received pregnancy.
Finally, nothing of significance was happening for me in St. Louis. Yes, there was an occasional writing assignment, but most of these were for magazines or papers far away. It felt good that I had finally found the discipline to fashion acceptable pieces. But, realistically, I could continue to write such pieces anywhere. Ditto my day job. It wasn't like St. Louis had cornered the market on restaurants.
So, I opted for the old history-repeats routine: When in need of a change, I always had to make it a big one, preferably moving a thousand miles or further. I knew better than to think I could run away from problems and unhappiness, but I'd also learned that starting over offers certain clean-slate benefits.
I'd spent a total of forty-eight hours in the capital city of Texas and had almost no memory of the place, but fueled by conversations with Elaine and a desire to go somewhere, anywhere new, I created a fantasy. No job, no apartment, no plan: no problem. Austin would be my Promised Land.
I would find a stunning place to live, and learn to miraculously budget myself. The t wo thousand I had left after moving expenses would last indefinitely. James would spend the month finishing out our lease in St. Louis, tidying up the place, getting a grip on his drinking, and realizing how much he missed Henry and me, how much he wanted to be a dedicated partner and father. Thus inspired, he would drive our latest ancient car to Austin, where we would all embrace happily, and forge ahead successfully, soberly, and without any further obstacles in our lives.
Okay, so what if Elaine insisted we pick up a twelve-pack on the way back to her place that first afternoon in my new town? No big deal, just a little celebration. Henry crawled around her very non-baby-proofed apartment, reaching for electrical outlets, terrified cats, and fragile knickknacks, while my friend and I put on a good midday buzz and eagerly discussed how different things were going to be from now on.
Within the week, noting rental prices (which I had failed to research), I gave up the first dream of a wonderful, sunny little cottage. Instead, I took the two-window cave of an apartment next door to Elaine, in a hellish, motel-style complex. Never mind the darkness and the shit-brown carpeting. We would be outside most of the time anyway, I rationalized.
Within a month, panic and disappointment set in. James arrived, but was far from the newly enthusiastic man I hoped for. He was having a hard time finding work, and I recoiled at the thought of taking on yet another restaurant gig to support us. I wanted to stay home with Henry, to work on my writing, which I had finally proved was worth something. Depressed to the point that I actually started to miss St. Louis, I drank more and more, James and Elaine eager to join me or, more likely, to initiate happy hour in the late afternoon.
Eventually, I hit upon a plan. To augment the pittance James began to bring in when he picked up a part-time graveyard shift at a newspaper plant, I would tap into a guaranteed source of income. Austin is home to numerous colleges, and more than a hundred thousand students. I would tutor.
The ad I placed in the University of Texas student newspaper did, in fact, net me a few calls. But I quickly learned that most students who contacted me had no interest in tutoring. Once they scrutinized me and determined I wasn't a narc, they laid it flat out: Here is some cash; write me a paper.
I was so good, so fast, and so stupid -- having no idea how much to charge, I charged far too little -- that word spread quickly. Soon, I was buried under a heap of assignments. The ethics may have stunk, but the results were undeniable.
Not only did I bring in enough to support us, as I toiled through the nights writing freshman-level theses on John Locke, William Shakespeare, and Dante, I was drinking less. I had no choice. I bought fewer six-packs of beer and more six-packs of Diet Coke to provide caffeine-induced semialertness (all that was really necessary for my trade).
Better, because I worked mostly at night, I could spend my days strolling with Henry over to the little park nearby, situated in the heart of yuppieville. Compared to the vast majority of the other mothers -- with their snappy diaper bags, clean clothes, and healthy snacks -- I felt like an alien. I was disheveled at all times, hungover often enough, my son rarely clad in more than a drooping diaper.
I didn't necessarily dislike these other women I encountered. I just had so little to say to them. I simply did not find discussions on parenting techniques and sundry baby products engaging. I needed more. I needed Grace.
The first day we met, Grace was pushing her baby in a swing. I placed Henry in the next swing over. We got to talking and I was delighted to learn we had more to discuss than functioning reproductive systems, seemingly my only common denominator with the other mothers. The conversation revealed a number of similarities between us. She was unmarried, politically liberal, a home-birther, and my age. Unbelievably, her son's name was JohnHenry. Further beyond belief was this: The babies shared a birthday, her son just hours older than mine.
Finally, a new friend in my new city. She came at the most perfect time. Elaine and James were pairing off more and more as drinking partners, and I had been feeling left out. Even if I'd wanted to stay up all night and get drunk and watch TV with them, I had far less opportunity to do so. I had papers to write and a child to deal with.
Slowly, I began to confide in Grace. Scared of being judged for my filthy apartment, my alcoholic partner, and my own still-too-frequent excessive-drinking episodes, I preferred to paint a prettier picture for her, opted to meet her at the park or a restaurant rather than invite her over to the reality of my life.
But as things deteriorated between James and me, as Elaine grew moodier, I revealed more and more to Grace. Trained extensively in social work -- in fact, just mere credits shy of a Ph.D. -- she offered support and insights. I appreciated the advice, but within my own limits. Sometimes, what felt like psychobabble annoyed me. If I allowed myself to listen too inten tly to her, then I would be forced to admit my life was more than just a little fucked up. And I was not yet ready -- not even close -- to face the steady deterioration of my relationship with James, not ready to acknowledge the injustices I knew, in my heart, I was doing my son.
Even when I did begin to flirt with the idea that I needed to make some serious changes, I ignored obvious signs of the true problem (a trash can ever overflowing with beer cans), deciding something else was at the root of our unhappiness. First, I blamed James, almost exclusively, for all that was wrong. I chastised him for sleeping all day and neglecting Henry and me. But he was so passive, his lack of response was maddening. He could look at me, agree things were his fault, then walk over to the fridge and extract another tallboy.
Needing another, more responsive culprit -- one I could change on my own -- I next decided my business was the real source of aggravation. Writing all those term papers, staying up late so many nights -- that must be what was getting to me.
Ditching all but the smallest handful of steady clients, I leaped back into the world of waitressing. I got a job at the Old Oak Cafe, where I moved quickly up the ranks from hostess to waitress to assistant manager. James and Elaine, on my recommendation, soon came on board. And when a house opened for rent around the block, despite the fact it was a bona fide piece of shit, a hazard to human occupants, and run by landlords Hitler would have loved, I convinced them that we should all move in together.
Forgetting my months-before vow to never work in restaurants again, I was ecstatic to be back to slinging hash and all that food service entailed. No longer isolated for days alone with a one-year-old and nights alone with either a stack of papers to write or a quiet, drunk man, I thrived on the camaraderie of my new cohorts. They were smart, funny, irreverent, and eager to befriend.
Given our close proximity to the Old Oak, and the fact that the place was open twenty-four hours a day, our house became party central. Someone was always just getting off a shift, always popping by with a six-pack or a twelve-pack, to add to whatever was already in the fridge. Convincing myself I was disciplined and responsible, I usually waited until after Henry was sound asleep before indulging in the final fifth or sixth beer, the one that sent me from buzzed to drunk.
I thrived on the chaos at first, glad for the distraction of so many people to block out the ongoing deterioration of James and me. But a summer trip with Henry and sans James back to Jersey was a catalyst. A week of sobriety, of being able to actually focus 100 percent on this funny little child was like getting poked with a cattle prod. Henry, so even-keeled and good-natured, adored me. He had no idea how confused I was; he just loved me.
I took him to the beach, the boardwalk, wore him out with my enthusiasm. Then, I would lie beside this boy, all pink from the sun, and watch him sleep hard and peaceful. Wildwood was far, far away from the turmoil back in Texas and Henry made it further still.
I returned to Austin and resumed my crazy, booze-filled life, but I could not shake the thing I had felt that summer. I was evidently a good mother -- my child was thriving and people stopped me all the time to compliment both of us. But I was not the best mother I could be. Not even close.
By No vember, I could no longer bear the sight of James. He would return home from work and retreat to a corner of the living room with a book and a beer, and then another beer, and then another. We no longer argued much anymore. In fact, we barely spoke at all.
One night, my stomach twisted, I sat down across from him as he prepared, once again, to undertake his evening ritual. "James," I said, "I think you need to move out."
He didn't protest, as part of me hoped he would. He never exploded with fury or refused to leave his son or even insisted that he would make everything all better. That was not who James was. He was nonconfrontational. And he was vanishing, a sweet, loving man lost in alcoholism. A week later, one month shy of Henry's second birthday, he moved into a place up the street, and continued drinking quietly, usually alone.
Copyright © 1999 by Spike Gillespie
Posted November 7, 2001
I found this book to be human, with all of humanities faults, with all our fears, and most of all our courage. I read a previous review which appalled me. A college student (I can only guess a freshman) trashed the book as being 'self-absorbed'. Well really, what would an auto-biographical book involve if not a little self-absorption? As a result of reading this review I have begun to doubt the process involved ¿ and thus doubting the reviews I have read for other books. When faced with life, either in reality or through the written word, it¿s messy. This book reveled all of the sadness, hope, expectations, and delusions that we face.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.