When Life Gets in the Way

Marta ChauseeMarta Chausée‘s first full-length novel, Murder’s Last Resort, was a winner in the 2011 Dark Oak Mystery contest and her creative non-fiction and poetry have won various awards. She has been published in Carnival Literary Magazine, Left Coast Literary Review, MoSaiC Literary Review and Rind Magazine.

A Southern California native, Marta has been many things– junk mail envelope stuffer, foreign language teaching assistant, boutique owner, forensic document examiner, corporate wife, mother, mental health therapist and life coach. Put those experiences in a blender and see what you get.

Thank you for inviting me to guest blog for you, Lelia.  It’s been far too long since I blogged for anyone, including myself.  Do I still know how?

I’m outing my self-absorbed and maudlin self, but I’m going to tell you how my life turned to !@$#* just about a year ago.

At the start of 2013, I moved out of my beautiful little cottage in an enchanted college town, and became a vagrant couch surfer.  On February 5, I broke up with my beau of ten years.  Three weeks later, my godfather Dennis called from Renton, WA, to tell me he had broken his pelvis; he and my godmother, Hella, who suffers from advanced dementia, needed my help.

Filled with affection and noble duty, I trotted right up and helped out for a week.  Hella already had full-time, live-in care, but Dennis wanted me to drive him on errands, fix the occasional meal, listen to his stories, and, between caregiver shifts, help out with Hella.  He never said it, but I knew it– he also wanted me to know their patterns and routines, in case things went south.

His attitude toward me was lousy. I heard him dissing me long-distance, over the phone, to his sister in England.  His sister, my lifelong friend.  “Oh yes,” he said, looking at me with a frown on his face, “she’s here now.  She tries to help. She’s fine.  She’s all lumpy, dumpy looking, but she’s fine.”  HUH?  After he hung up, I said, “I’m right here.  I can hear you, you know.”  He crafted a blank expression and asked for tea.

Hella, meanwhile, sat in one corner of the breakfast room, running her hands over her face, lolling her head in circles like a parrot on an endless grooming loop, and refused to speak to Dennis, though she spoke to and smiled at everyone else in the house.  I was in the middle of a Sartre nightmare.

Marta Chausee ClydesdaleOne morning he yelled at me when I cooked the bacon wrong. He snapped at me when I couldn’t find his tax papers.  I was too clumsy, being the Clydesdale that I am, as I tried to balance over and around the stacks of magazines en route to the garage, where he wanted me to practice opening his safe.  On the way to the drugstore to pick up a prescription for him, I called my mom and hissed into my cell phone, “I am never coming back here again, as long as Dennis is alive.”

And of course, that was all it took; Dennis promptly died.  Since then, I have been to Renton, WA, at least five times, my stays varying in length from a few days to a few weeks. I have hauled furniture, photographs, mementos, housewares, paintings, even “the old style” incandescent lightbulbs and three vehicles down Highway 5 from the pines of Issaquah to the 405 South to the beach at Playa del Rey.  Soon, I’ll fly back up to grab the ashes, then scatter them in Sherwood Forest, from where Dennis hailed. He and his life have taken over mine in ways too frightening to properly recount in 1200 words.

Though kind neighbors took over the executorship of the estate, and placed Hella in a memory care facility, the trust was and is in my care.  The house, the attic crawl space, the garden shed, the covered storage patio, the garage, its rafters and their contents were for me to either dispose of or keep.  Examples:  if Dennis had one of anything, he had at least three of that thing.  Electric generators, lawn mowers, power tools, sleeping bags, blowdryers, catalogues, magazines, papers, papers, papers.  We must have tossed out 3000 razor blades.  Suicide, anyone?

An early version of Dennis’s will had a moving truck fill up all their possessions, and dump them in the front yard of my home in Claremont.  “Do your best with it all, Marta dear,” was scribbled in Dennis’s handwriting in the margin. Gratefully, he changed his mind in 2009.

Marta Chausee GunsDennis, the pack rat survivalist.  His safe room, the garage, was loaded with enough hand-guns, antique guns, Lugers, AK-47s, and rounds of ammo to outfit every person in his little community of modest homes. Twenty-five gas masks, and 4 huge cartons of EMRs were in place to feed everyone.  Giant backpacks leaned in one corner, at the ready, filled with ratty old clothes, gas masks, mosquito repellant, and waterproof matches for Hella and himself. There would be no fashion statements after the nuclear holocaust.

Dennis was a ham radio nut, a master carpenter, an oil painter, and a model plane builder and collector.  Inside the house, his hobbies spilled into every room.  The task of sifting through all the detritus of a mad genius hoarder’s life seemed insurmountable, but giant dumpsters were rented and filled.  Bonfires blazed.  Many hands helped.

Marta Chausee Dumpster

And the year had started out so well!  My first full-length novel, Murder’s Last Resort, was released by Oak Tree Press on February 8, after two years of brutal scrutiny by Sunny Frazier, the acquisitions editor.  Back in 2011 when we first met, she all but looked into my mouth to check out my teeth and gums, impressing upon me that anyone hoping to be published had to be healthy, fit, and prepared to devote the first year after a book’s release to full-time marketing and promotion.  I also had to fill out an extensive marketing plan. I wanted my book picked up, so I got right on the stick.  It was clear to me that the best marketing plan wins.

Poor Oak Tree Press!  They got exactly 90 days of feverish marketing out of me, before my body was snatched by ailing and dead octogenarians.

Murder's Last ResortWhat is the answer?  Pick younger authors?  I mean, it’s not my poor health that tanked my big marketing schemes.  It was the health and demise of some of those close to me.

I thought my second novel would be completed and ready for edits last November during NaNoWriMo.  Not so.  I think I squeezed out maybe 1500 new words.  Whoo hoo, not the stuff  of which prize-winning works are made.

I couldn’t even produce the annual dreaded Christmas letter this past December.  It’s so bad, that friends are writing to me, asking, “What gives?”

Nothing.  Nothing gives.  Except me.  I keep giving.  St. Marta, the Non-Writer, Non-Promoter, Non-Marketer.  I brought Hella to a home in Eagle Rock, where we often visit, or I should say, I stroke her hair while her head lolls.  I look back in joy and gratitude that I had two book launches in March and April of last year.  Who knew they would be “it” for me?

And it’s really not just this.  My life is a mess. I’m depleted.  Moody and living in boxes in my new place– darling but tiny.  I hate my life and what is happening to it.  I see my Clydesdale future before me– poor, fat, old, and involuntarily celibate.  They shoot horses, don’t they?