How To Turn A Real-Life Guy Into A Fictional Hero, Part 2
The process of transforming a real person — in this case, a former romantic interest — into a heroic, fictional character was quite interesting. As I noted in How To Turn A Real-Life Guy Into A Fictional Hero, Part One, memory can be a tricky mechanism. At first, when the floodgates burst open in my mind to overwhelm me with thoughts of the real guy and what had taken place sixteen years earlier — the way he’d treated me, the things he’d said, the way he’d looked, etc. — all I could think about were the good times, and all I could do was cry over what might have been.
I remembered our unusual meeting at the club, his initial attraction to my statuesque girlfriend and the means by which we ended up spending the night dancing and laughing until the 2 a.m. closing time. I cracked up reminiscing about going around the traffic circle to The Point Diner with him afterwards as a compromise, since I’d rebuffed several offers to go back his place for coffee (I didn’t write this dialogue in the novel, but I was apologetic, explaining that although he didn’t look dangerous, I couldn’t take a chance. He just sort of made a funny face in reply, prompting more laughter).
On and on these wonderful recollections went, moving into our first real kiss at the top of the Taj Mahal; a weekend spent going to a dinner theater on Saturday evening, followed by an Eagles game on Sunday; hanging out at his place looking through photo albums from his time in the US Navy; and of course, fighting the internal battle between physical attraction and fear, desire and morality.
And just like Madeline, I simply could not express in words what I was feeling. Thus, the occasions when I’d make him drive me back across the 9th Street Bridge from his bachelor townhouse in Somers Point to my family’s vacation home in Ocean City, where a houseful of people provided the comfort of knowing there would be no danger of caving in to temptation.
Then came the painful stuff: my mom’s uncharacteristic meddling in the relationship simply because the guy had not yet completed his undergraduate degree (to be discussed in a future post) which led me to write a Dear John letter in spite of the facts that I 1) wanted to continue the relationship; and 2) had the support of everyone else in my family.
Ken, after all, had a wonderful sense of humor, an infectious love of life, a quick-wit and obvious intelligence. Moreover, he was cute, romantic, manly and apparently enamored of me. In short, since he was the polar opposite of the jerk who’d dumped me over the phone a few months’ prior, I didn’t quite know how to handle his penchant for regularly telling me I was beautiful, and complimenting me on everything from the way I was dressed to the way I spoke in enthusiastic energy bursts (especially when the topic centered around the Eagles/NFL football and politics).
Then came anger. Anger at myself. Anger that, in spite of years of dating, I’d not yet found, nor married anyone who’d demonstrated the same sort of affection and respect.
Anger at him for also being human and for doing some hurtful and stupid things, like picking a fight with me one summer evening when I casually stated over the phone that I didn’t “care” what time he got off from work — that I would meet him whenever he was done for our date. What I’d meant was that I understood and did not hold against him the fact that he had to work a late shift, and although I perhaps could have stated it better, he did react immaturely. In the end, we made up at the same club where we’d originally met each other. And unlike the book, “Ken” and I danced to Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight that evening, whereas Madeline and Ken partake in a “dance” of a different sort while this song plays in the background in Chapter 34.
And — lest I forget — anger at him for standing me up for a ski date without so much as the courtesy of a phone call (to this day, I have no idea what really happened, but suspect he was already either living in Florida, or in the process of moving south); calling me out of the blue six months later to announce his relocation to The Sunshine State; and withholding the minor detail that his so-called “platonic female roommate” was actually his fiancée (not even coming clean after I’d finally declared my intention to make the move to Florida myself).
Was this payback for hurting him?
I’ll admit, I folded to imposed pressure, which led me to cancel out on attending both a family wedding and a work party as his date, then subsequently break up with him (before we got back together in a sense, a month or so later). So it’s fair to say that we each dished it out as much as we took it. Still, it hit me like a ton of bricks — notwithstanding women’s intuition — the day he showed up at my apartment and confirmed what I already knew in my heart to be true.
This particular portion of the memory reel was akin to watching a tragic movie in which — no matter how hard you might wish for a different ending — the hero succumbs to his illness, or dies valiantly in a dangerous rescue effort on the battlefield. Shedding my selective, 14+ year-old, self-imposed amnesia was not only painful and fruitless on a personal relationship level, it was also quite healing and inevitably useful in a professional sense, as it led to the creation of Water Signs. As I’ve said, writing is therapy. And when people actually like what you’ve written, it’s also unbelievably fulfilling.
While reliving the good, bad and the ugly, I realized that “Ken”, like all people, had his faults. He was not above pettiness, nor was he immune to the foibles of human nature. When his heart and ego were bruised, he responded by bruising back in kind. I doubt he ever expected me to work up the courage to uproot my life “up north” and relocate to a tropical paradise where my only known contacts aside from him were former schoolmates of my parents I’d never even met, but who nonetheless opened the doors of their home to me until I could secure my own living arrangements.
I can only imagine what must’ve gone through his mind as another woman’s betrothed, knowing that a former romantic interest would now be living in the vicinity, blissfully unaware of the truth. This is yet another example of something I had to completely fabricate in the novel — thus fictional Ken embarks on a lot of soul-searching in the wake of Maddy’s unsettling news, going so far as to meet his mother for a heart-to-heart at the Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier, during which he expresses his “torn between two lovers” dilemma.
Was this the case in real life? Did “Ken” experience an emotional tug-of-war, featuring conflicting feelings for two distinct women, or was it simply guilt for withholding important information from me?
Who knows for sure, although in another entry I will share some real-life events and conversations that transpired prior to the novel’s publication. We do not always receive clear, genuine answers to every life event and that has been the case for me with respect to this relationship. The best I could do was learn and retain whatever was helpful, uplifting and positive from the experience.
For me, that was creating an amazing network of friends and contacts in my adopted state, and writing my first novel.