A couple of month's ago, my manager called to ask if I would be interested in submitting a romance story for an upcoming anthology on "military men and women."
Me: You know, I don't do romance unless there's death involved. Preferably death by human sacrifice and/or cannibalistic bunnies. Especially death during sex, as long as wolf shifters bust out and eat--
Manager: (interrupts) STOP. What is it with you and cannibalism?
Me: Cannibalism AND bunnies. You forgot the bunnies.
Manager: (long pause) Regardless, this is a good opportunity to reach out and try something new.
Me: Do you think I am in a funk?
Manager: I never said that.
Me: What? Not enough NYT bestseller listings to make you happy?
Manager: I never said that.
Me: Are my damn cripple hands not producing enough smut to supplement your overpriced sex life?
Manager: (growls) I never said that.
Me: Well, okay then. I'll give it a shot. How hard could it be to write a "normal" girl-boy romance?
Manager: Great, I'll send you the specs.
Me: Wait! Does BDSM count as normal? Spanking and light bondage are okay, right?
Strangely, the actual romance story was easy to write. Boy meets girl in sex club for a one night stand. Boy and girl go oversees to fight in Iraq, still dreaming of their one night stand. Girl comes back early, blind and emotionally paralyzed from PTSD. Boy finishes his tour of duty. He learns girl is injured, severely depressed, and refusing to leave her apartment. Boy kidnaps girl and makes her understand that "love conquers all."
A nice, normal, easy-to-write romance story.
Surprisingly, the hardest part was the research I conducted on veterans, military families and the impact of PTSD. I spoke with three families who have men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two returned home with debilitating physical injuries, and all had to be treated for PTSD. They opened up about their relationships with their husbands and wives. I discovered a common theme-- and this theme became the catalyst for healing the Girl, the Boy, and their own relationship.
Manager: Oh. My. God.
Me: What? Did you get the story?
Manager: Fucking brilliant. They want more.
Me: More what?
Manager: More EVERYTHING. What happens, after the HEA? ("happily ever after") How does Girl work around her blindness, become independent, no longer depend on Boy for happiness? The PTSD doesn't just magically disappear. Do they really live a long and happy life?
Me: (not really listening) Sure, why not, don't they always...um, you know...
Manager: Fucking brilliant. How much of the Girl is YOU?
Me: (suddenly listening) What are you talking about?
Manager: She's hurt. She's lonely. She's depressed. She misses normal TOUCH. What do you write? "He touches me as one human to another. I am no longer a subject, to be poked and prodded by doctors, nurses, therapists and even friends. His touch makes it clear-- in his mind, I am someone worth loving..."
Manager: Yeah, right, come on. This is too REAL. Your personality, your emotions are all over this character.
Me: Just because she is disabled--
Manager: (interrupts) Bullshit. Don't lie. This story reads like your journal. Or maybe your therapy sessions? Have you seen your Ex lately? Has he read this? What does he think?
Me: FICTION, FICTION, FICTION. I am not the Girl!
Manager: Fuck, I don't really care. They want a book, not a story for the anthology. Think you can get it done by December?
I get off the phone and re-read the story. The healing power of touch is nothing new in the recovery world . There are programs that provide learning credits and degrees in "healing touch." In my story, loving, caring, demanding, painful touch is the catalyst that brings the Girl out of her funk and into accepting a relationship with the Boy. Touch is the tool the Boy uses to push the Girl into accepting her circumstances, and his love. Corny, but it works in the story.
It also works in "real life." You know, those moments when you rest against another human being and your heart synchronizes with their heartbeat. You feel their chest move-- maybe a leg shift or a finger gently stroke-- and you would become overwhelmed with the intimacy of that moment in time. It's not sexual, medicinal or clinical. Rather, it is an intimate, simple, calm, reassuring touch that gives you the impetus to push through angst and enjoy life, with all of its wrinkles-and-crinkles.
When was the last time I had cuddled with another human being, skin-to-skin, ankle-to-ankle, chest-to-chest- lips-to-lips, forehead-to-forehead, hands-to-hands? Unknown. Perhaps missing, altogether, since the surgery. I've been working with the assumption that-- since I can't feel touch, and it may cause horrific pain-- I don't miss it.
Perhaps I've been wrong.