My first marriage was 18 years of bliss, followed by a few months of utter torture. When my husband and I moved to Virginia from California in 1983, I began working part-time as a hospital social worker, spending the rest of my time writing a novel. Writing was my hobby back then. It never occurred to me that I’d actually be able to sell the book I was working on. But, after many revisions, I found an agent who sold my book to a publisher in 1986. While it wouldn’t be published until 1989, I felt on my way to a career as a novelist and that was very exciting.
So, back to my 18 years of wedded bliss. My husband and I were an odd match. I was a bookish child who’d grown into a bookish adult, while he was an athletic soccer enthusiast. While we didn’t share each other’s passions, we both adored our two beloved golden retrievers, Ben and Chapel. We belonged to a dog- training club and spent many hours with our pups each week. Despite our differences, we were both easygoing types who got along well and never fought. When I say we never fought, I’m not exaggerating. We never fought—at least not until the end.
My social work job was in the adolescent medicine department of a large hospital in Washington, D.C. My work consisted mainly of counseling outpatient inner-city kids, and I loved working with them. Their lives were not easy, and I welcomed the challenge of helping them cope. They were referred to me by the department’s physicians for many reasons, but often because they had psychosomatic complaints—medical complaints for which no physical cause could be found.
Around this same time, while I was under contract for my second novel, I began experiencing strange pains in my hands, feet, arms and legs. The pain was a bone-deep dull ache that over-the-counter painkillers didn’t relieve. I finally went to my doctor who ran blood work and took X-rays. All test results came back normal, and though he never said the words, I could almost hear him thinking, “It’s all in your head.” I thought back to my patients who had been diagnosed with “so-called” psychosomatic disorders and thought, I guess I’m one of them.
“Every new RA symptom required more doctor appointments and more testing, always with the same answer: ‘There’s nothing wrong with you.’"
The pains were not my only physical problem. I’d had medical challenges since I was a little girl—but was told as a child it was “all in my head.” Every new RA symptom required more doctor appointments and more testing, always with the same answer: “There’s nothing wrong with you.” And I felt that in my marriage, too. Although my healthy husband never complained about my various physical problems, I knew he couldn’t relate to them and I learned to keep my worries about them to myself.
Despite living with the ups and downs of my physical pain–which I would later come to learn could be attributed to undiagnosed rheumatoid arthritis (or RA)–I had a desire to spend more time writing. I left my hospital position and opened a private psychotherapy practice working with teenagers so I could spend my mornings and weekends writing. By this time, I was under contract to write one book a year. The money was a tad better than it had been for my first novel, but only a tad, and I felt grateful that my husband was supportive of my fledgling career. Our marriage was solid.
I grew even more obsessed with my writing, spurred on by my love of it as well as by my success. Creating stories became my passion. My books were becoming deeper, more emotional, filled with twists and intrigue. But writing was also becoming my job as I now had deadlines to meet. I blamed stress for the pains in my hands and feet, and the other symptoms that still dogged me from time to time. I sometimes worried that I was neglecting my husband, although he reassured me he didn’t feel that way. He was very busy himself; his work involved a good deal of travel and, when he was home, he played soccer or spent time with the dogs while I wrote. As it grew more difficult for me to have both my writing career and my private practice, we agreed I should leave my practice to focus only on writing and he would financially support us both.
It was around this time—18 years of marriage—when everything changed. My fourth novel, “Keeper of the Light,” was soon to be published and, about a month before the release date, I received my author’s copies. I was excited, not only at holding my new book baby in my hands, but by the fact that I would finally be able to surprise my husband with my heartfelt dedication in the book: To my husband, for remaining now and always, my very best friend. His reaction was not what I’d expected. His smile seemed uncertain and, as he looked away from me, I wondered if maybe the emotional dedication embarrassed him. I was disappointed by his reaction, but shrugged it off.
A week or two later, after some idle talk about taking a short winter vacation, I checked my husband’s leather-bound calendar book to see if a trip was possible. This was when I discovered, tucked behind the pages, a photograph of a pretty woman in cycling gear standing next to a bike. In an instant, I realized my husband had a life separate from our marriage. An emotional, physical life that I was no part of. A life with this lovely, athletic woman. This healthy woman. The emotional pain and shock of that picture were enough to bring me to my knees.
Later, when he listed the reasons for ending our marriage, my health complaints were at the top. This was when I knew my life was about to change in ways I had never imagined.