On Writing with a Shaky Hand
May 21, 2013 § 8 Comments
Sarah Wells discusses the roots of her essay “Field Guide to Resisting Temptation,” found in the latest issue of Brevity:
I wrote this essay after it occurred to me for the first time that I could be the one to screw up my marriage. Even though my husband and I had talked about temptation abstractly, about bar scenes and dinners out when he’s on the road for work, I thought we were talking about him and his temptations. Not me. I felt infidelity-proof. This could never happen to me; I love him too much to ever be tempted, and who would be attracted to me anyway?
So when the circumstances of this essay came to pass, I was surprised by how easy it could be. How fast. How immediately painless. How could this happen to me? I was stunned and pleasantly surprised that someone besides my husband found me—three c-sectioned mom, married, average intelligence, occasionally humorous, recently leaner and healthier but still so not attractive—desirable. I wanted to keep hearing these things.
What scared me the most was that my husband and I had just come back from an amazing weekend away, a weekend of laughter, relaxation, vulnerability, and intimacy. We spent the weekend reminiscing over career changes, our three children, the future, the bright and uncertain and beautiful future we imagined always with us together. Married. Forever. We were in about as solid a place as we had been in the nine years we’d been married.
Even this contented, even this satisfied in my marriage, I could be the one to drive us into a guardrail.
But this didn’t just “happen” to me. I had let it happen, and I was making a choice by allowing it to continue, the flirting and the compliments and the texts, I was letting them arrive, I was receiving them. I was a threat.
I didn’t realize at first that I had a choice, that I had the power to say yes or say no, to protect my marriage or maim it beyond recognition to the point that reconstructive surgery or, God forbid, amputation might be necessary. I could turn one way, or I could run the other. I could choose to let it keep playing and wrecking my heart, or I could turn it off even though it was crazy ridiculous hard, the kind of hard that shamed me because I felt so weak against it.
Out of that realization, out of that place of shame and weakness, I wrote myself this essay. I wrote down the things my best friend had said to me and the things I needed to tell myself in those moments of insecurity when I felt ugly and undesirable or just temporarily lonely and wanted a quick fix. I had to write myself a way out. I had to write down what I was choosing into and what I was choosing out of. I don’t have to give in or just let this happen as if I have no control over my emotions or my fate or what pain or joy I inflict or deliver. I have a choice.
Writing this essay was shaky hand, racing heart, peeling skin back kind of work. And when I sent it to my husband, it was shaky hand, racing heart, peeling skin back kind of work. But after he read what I had said out loud to him in far fewer words, he heard me, and that confession shrunk my Goliath down to the puny little monster he is. It handed me a few stones and a slingshot.
“Field Guide to Resisting Temptation” empowered me to look for ways to protect my marriage, to own up to the truth underneath the desires, to realize that “it isn’t the full story, it’s only a moment, this moment when you are small and insecure,” and to face those insecurities head-on. Through bearing witness to my weaknesses, I found strength.
Sarah M. Wells is the author of Pruning Burning Bushes and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award. Her essays have appeared in Ascent, Relief, River Teeth and elsewhere. Poems by Wells are happily floating about in all sorts of places. Sarah’s poetry has been honored with two Pushcart Prize nominations. Her essay in Ascent, “Those Summers, These Days” was named a notable essay in the Best American Essays 2012. Sarah serves as the Administrative Director for the Ashland University MFA Program and Managing Editor for Ashland Poetry Press and River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative.