Preview: The Wheels Fell Off My Wagon

Finally! I have a publication date for The Wheels Fell Off My Wagon!

August 26th is the big day. Sorry to keep you all waiting, but that date is sort of special to my family and it feels like the perfect day for this particular book to be released. To give you a little taste of it, I’m sharing a look at the first chapter. Please, let me know what you think!

The Wheels Fell Off My Wagon

It began, as so many catastrophes in my life do, with a plan. It was a good plan. A solid plan. It was one of those plans that I actually put a lot of effort into organizing right down to the final detail.  But because it involved my two oldest children, me, and my genetic inability to complete anything according to plan, it all fell apart with astonishing speed.

“We’re going to fingerpaint today,” I told my husband as he left for work.

“That’ll turn out well,” he snorted.

“Oh, ye of little faith,” I said airily. 

When he returned home later that day, he walked into chaos. Our daughter was using the dog’s tail to paint the walls green while the cat happily rubbed his wet blue coat against the living room furniture. Our son was wailing at the top of his lungs, most likely due to the paint-covered finger wedged firmly in his left nostril, apparently stuck in the process of trying to reach an itch on his frontal lobe. 

I wasn’t paying attention to any of the uproar because I was tearing apart the medicine cabinet in search of Benadryl as I struggled to come to terms with the horrifying realization that I had not, in fact, outgrown my childhood allergy to the dye pigments in certain types of paints. 

Our fingerpaints, for example. 

I was covered in hives. My eyes and throat were in a race to find out which could swell shut faster, and my tongue was roughly the size of a small Buick. 

“So,” the Big Guy ventured, after observing the chaos for a moment, “At what point –exactly — did the wheels fall off the wagon?”

In other words, at what point did I completely lose control of the situation?

During the course of our near quarter-century together, he asked that question a lot. So did I, actually. It sometimes seemed as though nothing in our lives was ever going to go according to plan. From our honeymoon–which included an outhouse museum and an encounter with an angry dog in a random Wisconsin parking lot–to the day we decided to end our marriage, our entire relationship was little more than a series of wheels falling off an ever-increasing stream of metaphorical wagons. 

Our house, to keep the metaphor going, was basically a hundred year-old, two-story wagon that shed wheels at an alarming rate. 

Buying the ramshackle old farmhouse seemed like a good idea. We had a plan, man. A good plan. A solid plan. The Big Guy had grown up on a farm and dreamed of owning land, while I was a romantic idiot with a fantasy of someday buying and renovating an old house; the dilapidated home on forty acres of wooded land less than fifteen minutes from the lakeshore seemed like it was the perfect thing to bring both our dreams to life. And the price was right. The realtor even told us that we were basically paying for the land and getting the house for free.

We should have known by then to pay attention when people said things like that.

We signed the papers in March and took possession of the house in May, shortly before our wedding. We planned on taking a few weeks to clean and organize, maybe start a few repairs, and then move in immediately following the honeymoon. Once again, we had a plan. A good plan. A solid plan. Right up until the wheels fell off the wagon.

Our plan didn’t  include Floyd.

Floyd was a former owner of the house who had somehow managed to move back into the downstairs bedroom somewhere between the time the family put the house on the market and the time we took ownership. Some people find hidden treasures or lost bits of history in their old homes, but not us. No, our home came with its very own old man. 

Floyd’s family kept insisting that they had a mobile home all ready for him on his son Mark’s property just around the corner. The problem, however, was that no one knew where Mark was. 

“We can’t find Mark,” they kept telling us. “He travels for work sometimes.”

“What kind of work does he do? How long is he usually gone when he travels? Can’t Floyd stay with one of you?” we wondered. 

“We can’t find Mark,” they repeated. 

And that’s how we ended up as homeless newlyweds making mortgage payments on a house we couldn’t live in. We finally decided that Floyd needed to go, with or without Mark’s help, so we contacted both a lawyer and Social Services to step in. At which point, we discovered that roughly 80% of the people on our street were related to Floyd — and Mark, apparently — and we had just pissed off every single one of them. 

Except Mark. We couldn’t find him in time to piss him off before moving in. 

The first thing we did when we moved in was tear off the nasty old plywood countertops in the kitchen. The cabinets, we soon discovered, were held together by nothing more than those nasty old plywood countertops, so they promptly collapsed. And as we hauled the remnants of the cabinets away from the walls, we made a shocking discovery. 

Bones.

Lots of bones.

“Oh, my God,” I gasped. “We just found Mark.”

“Those are chicken bones, Amy.”

“No, they’re Mark.”

“Only if Mark was a chicken.”

“So, did he sacrifice chickens in the kitchen or something? Oh, God, maybe Mark practiced some kind of Satanic rituals here.”

“Or maybe he was just really lazy about throwing away his garbage,” my husband suggested. “Look, there’s pork chop bones in there too. And beer tabs. And I think that’s a tampon.”

“Mark is a woman?”

He rubbed his face. “Is this what I have to look forward to being married to you? Conversations like this?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“Joy.”

Once we’d disposed of Mark’s chicken bones and tampons, we thought we had survived the worst the old house could throw at us. We were wrong. We were so, so wrong. 

As the weather warmed up, a horrible smell emanating from the crawlspace led to the discovery of a rotted pipe under the house. A pipe that led from the toilet to the septic tank. Well, in theory, anyway. In reality, we learned that several years’ worth of sewage hadn’t quite made it all the way to said septic tank. 

“I wanna sell the house,” I told my husband when he came out of the crawlspace in his shit-encrusted coveralls.

“I can fix this,” he said. 

“We can live with my aunts. Or my sister. My sister is nice.”

“I can fix it,” he insisted. “I’ll need you to wash my coveralls, though.”

“I’d rather burn them.”

“It’s just a little shit, Amy. I’ve dealt with worse. I’m a maintenance man, remember?”

“It’s still shit,” I told him. “Other people’s shit. Shit is shit, Ken.”

“Can you please stop saying ‘shit’?”

That was only the beginning of a downward spiral that involved a leaky roof, collapsed ceilings, a bat infestation, and so very much more. Meanwhile, I lost my job shortly after our entire savings were wiped out thanks to the IRS and Ken’s first wife. I got pregnant. His truck got repossessed. I got pregnant again. We totalled my little car. We had another baby ten years after the first two, and then I crushed my neck and shattered my spine  in a freak car accident. One expensive development after another, and our dream of renovating the house soon turned into a nightmare of quick fixes and patch-up jobs that barely kept the house from falling in around us. 

We struggled just as much to keep our marriage from collapsing as well. Quick fixes and patch-up jobs don’t work as well on people, however, and the Big Guy and I drifted. He fell in love with someone else, and I spent money we didn’t have on things we didn’t need. We both screwed up. There was no villain, no “bad guy” in our situation, except maybe the house. 

God, I hated that house. 

When we agreed to split up, I let him keep the house. We owed more than it was worth at that point. Besides, it was his dream house. His acreage. His barn with the “man cave.”  I didn’t want any of it. I was overjoyed to drive away from it the last time. I may or may not have flipped it off a few times as I drove past on my way to and from work over the next few years. 

We never got around to actually getting a divorce. There was really no need to, since we finally figured out how to get along with each other once we stopped living together. So when he died suddenly four years after our split, I was still on the deed and the mortgage. 

That is how I became the sole owner of a hundred year-old, two-story metaphorical wagon that I hated with every ounce of my being.

And that, folks, is when the wheels really fell off my wagon.

 

Wagon Wheels

 

The Wheels Fell off My Wagon is done and with my editor right now. I am hoping to have revisions and rewrites finished soon, but in the meantime I want to share a little bit about it.

This is the most personal thing I’ve ever written. It’s a bit of a departure for me, and I’m rather nervous. Let me explain.

This book will be the fourth in my Goode For A Laugh series; it was written in the same spirit as the others and is the natural progression in the story, but it’s different at the same time. Unlike the first three, the story told here is a bit more linear, with a slightly more unified tale from beginning to end.  And unlike the others, this one touches on life after the death of my kids’ dad.

Not exactly material for a comedy, you say? Maybe not. Stay with me here.

The Big Guy — Ken — was indeed a big man, with an even bigger heart and a sense of humor as endless as the sky. We clashed as spouses but made a perfect team as co-parents and friends; he was the best almost-ex-husband any woman could have asked for.

It could have been awkward. It should have been awkward. In a town of just over 500, everyone knew us and it seemed like everyone wanted to take sides. We still went to school events together and carpooled to family birthdays and such, and confused the hell out of everyone because we refused to take sides.

Sometimes it felt like the people around us wanted us to be at each other’s throats. Sure, we had some ugly moments. I’m fairly certain he probably wanted to toss me off a roof almost as many times as I fought back an urge to kick him in the balls while wearing steel-toed stilettos. But … it worked for us. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why. It just did.

And no matter what, we never stopped laughing. Sometimes we laughed at each other more than we laughed with each other — usually during the aforementioned ball-kicking-roof-tossing moments — but we always found reasons to laugh.

That’s who we were.

At his funeral, one of his co-workers stood up and performed an original blues ballad about him, complete with harmonica, dark glasses, and black beret. And we laughed. All of us. Because laughter at a funeral was such a Ken thing. We laughed and we cried, and no one questioned whether the tears were caused by our laughter or our grief.

Because that’s who he was.

And that’s how I want to remember him.

There was a lot of anger after he died. A lot of ugliness. Some folks saw me as the villain, a bad guy of sorts. The evil ex-wife who had no business at the hospital or at his funeral; I was the ex who wasn’t really an ex, and it was easier to judge me than to try to understand. I shouldn’t have let it hurt me, but I did.

I wrote this book because I don’t want to feel hurt or betrayed or angry any more. It seems disrespectful to him, somehow, to associate any of those feelings with him. Memories of Ken should bring smiles, laughter, warmth. Okay, maybe a little sadness because he’s not with us any more, but none of the other negative stuff. He deserves better.

The Wheels Fell off My Wagon isn’t about Ken’s death. It’s not a tragedy. It’s about celebrating life and healing and recovering from unimaginable loss and grief. It’s about the kids and me using humor to move on without him, rebuilding our home as we’ve rebuilt our lives. It’s about hope.

This one’s for you, Ken. Miss you, Big Guy.