This post is inspired by Eric Klingenberg. In a recent post, he writes about how it is important to bare your soul before your readers to be able to really connect to them. At first I was terrified of this concept, in fact I still am, but I decided I would go ahead and type this post. If I ever get enough courage to publish it fantastic, if not then it will sit in my drafts for eternity. I would say I’d delete it, but I know that is not true. I can’t stand to completely give up on anything once I have put words to paper. In order to explain this concept, I am going to tell of when a book impacted my life. It should be fairly easy to draw the advice once you read the story.
On October 6th 2012, I said, “I do,” to my high school sweetheart. I was young, by todays standards, to get married, but I came from a town of less than 700 people, was serving in the military, and it was pretty much what my parents did. Marriage at 19 did not seem abnormal.
In July of 2013, I went to the McCrady Training Center in Eastover, South Carolina for Warrior Leadership Course. My wife stayed in Macomb, IL in our apartment, which we shared with my college roommate from my freshman year. The day before I graduated, I received a call from my roommate that my wife had attempted suicide. The cadre at my military school refused to let me leave in the middle of night; they were looking out for my safety. I struggled with sleep that night. Upon waking, I grabbed my documents for completing the course and drove 17 hours back to Illinois.
My wife was admitted to a mental hospital in Quincy by the time that I arrived. Her forearm was covered in a heavy white bandage. She seemed distant, and despite my concern, she never gave me a solid reason as to why she decided to attack herself. She was released about a week and half later.
Around the middle of October, I was sitting at my desk at COUNTRY Financial when my cellphone rang. It was my roommate again. He told me that my wife had swallowed a jar of pills and he was rushing her to the emergency room. I got in my car and drove the accelerator through the floorboard.
My wife and roommate were in the ER in the Macomb hospital when arrived. Soon, many of our friends were with us as well. Her reasoning for this suicide attempt was that she didn’t know what she was doing with her life. She had dropped out of college, due to a lack of financial resources, and for the most part, sat at home all day. We comforted her, but she was taken to the Illinois State Mental Hospital in Springfield.
She had been released a few weeks after this attempt. The day before Thanksgiving, I came home from work and found her sobbing in our bed. This was more hyperventilation than regular tears. I wrapped my arms around her and whispered, “It’s going to be okay.” She only cried harder.
This went on for about an hour when I finally said, “I can’t help you if you wont talk to me.”
“I can’t talk to you,” She replied in a whisper.
My body reacted as if it knew what was coming. Emotion sundered from my mind, my voice was about as warm as the howling wind outside. “Why?” I asked. Her sobs became more violent. Rather than comfort her, I pressed on. “Why can’t you talk to me? What is going on? Just freaking talk to me for Christ sake!”
“I’m having an affair.” She replied, tears streaming down her face.
I sat in silence. A Million different thoughts exploded in my head, until they cancelled each other out. My mind refused to function. Part of me didn’t acknowledge what she’d said; I wouldn’t have to deal with it. That isn’t how I handle things though. I wrapped myself in the safety of my emotionless void and asked, “With who?”
Eyes downcast she whispered, “Our roommate.”
I kicked the roommate out of our apartment, but decided to give the marriage a second chance. Marriage is supposed to be forever, and I couldn’t just give up. We went to consoling but it did not help. I began self-medicating by reading. I would try to rebuild my crumbling world by getting lost in a fantastical one. I devoured Patrick Rothfuss, George RR Martin, and Brandon Sanderson.
In May I had given up. I had found out that my wife was still involved with the affair, our marriage was essentially at an end, and my life was in rubble. I came home and sat on our bed. Well, my bed now, and drew one one of
our, my, steak knives across my left forearm. The sting of the blade did nothing to soothe the ache in my chest. The shimmering scarlet drops urged me further. I debated finishing it. I own a 1911 .45 ACP, and I knew that if I was going to do it then I wouldn’t fail at this like I had my marriage.
Two of my friends walked into my apartment. My wife had called them after seeing how upset I was. To this day, I have not thanked her for that act of kindness. They held me as silent tears poured from my eyes. If eyes are the windows to your soul, then my tears were the shattered slivers of that glass. I couldn’t speak to them what I had been playing. The shame of my thoughts was so strong, that even today it is hard to actually verbalize what I was going to do.
They stayed with me. After a few days of supervision, the immediate threat was gone. I made sure my firearms were outside of my reach, and would throw myself into either reading or work. My arm scabbed with the ugly reminders of what I thought had been the end of my life.
A few weeks later, I opened Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. The main character Kaladin was not the hero I had read about before. He was suicidal. He failed so many times in his life, that he felt that he did not have one. No matter what he did, it was not enough. The sorrowful melody of his story harmonized with my own. The pivotal scene in which he stood atop a chasm preparing to take his final step saved me. Syl, a small spirit of the wind, told him an oath in which men used to hold themselves to.
Life Before Death
Strength Before Weakness
Journey Before Destination
All men will die; it is how we live that matters. Before anyone can give into weakness, they must resist. Hold on to your strength. It was there first, and those moments of strength will define you. It does not matter where you end, only the road you take to get there.
After reading that section, I knew I would never cut myself again. I would never give in to the temptation of an easy way out. From that moment forward, I would put life before death. In order to commit to my promise, the next day I had Brandon Sanderson’s words tattooed onto my forearm. I’d rather be reminded by those words than the scars.
I do not know why Brandon Sanderson choose to make his character in that fashion, but by having his character experience something so powerful, I was able to connect to him on a level I have never done with any form of entertainment.
If I can resonate with one reader the way that Brandon Sanderson’s words resonated with me, then I do not care if I ever make a dime from my writing. Reading helped me through the hardest time of my life. Writing gave me a new one. Thanks for putting up with such a long post, since your reading it I obviously decided to let it see the light of day. I apologize it is so different from my normal style, but I thought this was the best way to show how a book can connect with a reader.