I read the following essay in the New York Times about why so many readers think novels are really autobiographies, which prompted this recollection of my own fiction attempt.
I wrote a novel once. (The very messy first draft still sits in a box on a shelf.) The only consciously autobiographical aspect is the setting, where I lived at age 12 in 1954 West Haven, Connecticut. One element of the plot involves the mother of a 12-year-old girl having an affair with the man who lives across the road. At some point I wondered whether I was "remembering" something — so I asked my mother whether she'd ever had an affair when we lived in Connecticut. There was a long pause, until she mused, "Not in Connecticut." You can imagine my astonishment. My rather prim mother, apparently admitting to an affair! I pressed her for details. It seems that around 1960 a couple they had been friends with since they'd all been young marrieds in the early 1940s were visiting (we were living in a Philadelphia suburb at that point), and the male half of the other couple said they'd done so many things together, but there was one thing they'd never done, and that was have sex with each other. My father wasn't so eager at first (he was even more prim), but eventually agreed, and there were maybe two or three episodes of "wife-swapping." Then that was over — and a few years later, my father decided the other man had given him bad investment advice, and they never spoke again. I can't help thinking the wife-swapping also played a part in my father's withdrawal.
There's so much I didn't ask my mother about this, but I couldn't get past the child's inability to consider the parents’ sex life. But my mother did once mention that my father had a "low sex drive." Did that have something to do with the couples' estrangement? Did my mother want to try some tricks she'd learned from the other man? Did my father find this disturbing? Did he feel his marital-bed-authority challenged? Was this one more little piece that nudged my mother to leave my father years later, when they were in their 60s? They are both long dead now, so I can only make it up. Another messy first draft?
I’m participating in the 14th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 16 of the 31-day challenge. It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about. Join in!