TNA: Thanks so much for being here with us today, William. After reading Second Person, Possessive, I’m glad to be able to chat with you about the book.
TNA: What made you decide to share this particular chapter of your life with others?
WH: I didn’t set out to share this story with anyone other than Jay. It began as 100 one-page letters that I wrote during my 72-hour inpatient stay at St. Elizabeth’s in Brighton, Massachusetts. Only later did I think that there was a story inside the letters – and inside the experience – to share.
TNA: Was there any second guessing during the writing process about what should and shouldn’t go into the book?
WH: I wouldn’t say second-guessing as much as a need to prune. The first draft was 517 pages and included every moment from the year or so that the book covers (minus the time jump at the end). Inviting early readers to weigh in on the moments that they felt belonged and didn’t belong helped. I ended up excising moments and conversations that didn’t propel the story. There were only so many arguments about his drug use I needed to include in order for the reader to understand that it was a problem in the relationship, you know.
TNA: Are you afraid some readers might judge you harshly for the way that part of your life played out?
WH: I think that no one will judge me as harshly as I judged myself. I am not the only person to have an affair or come out after marrying a woman. I may, however, be the only person to do it so spectacularly.
TNA: Was there ever a point you asked yourself whether or not you should follow through with publishing the book?
WH: There were points when I wondered if anyone would care about my story, but I never questioned the need to publish it.
TNA: Was writing the book a cathartic experience for you? Were old feelings brought to the surface again, or were those feelings ones that have never really gone away?
WH: I wouldn’t call writing the memoir cathartic in any way. I found writing, re-writing, and re-writing again several parts of the story difficult – almost like I had to do it with my eyes closed. I guess I kept hoping for the story to turn out differently – not that Jay and I would end up together but that I had made better choices. And that’s part of why I feel the story needed to be told. You don’t know in the middle of things why you’re going through them or what they will cause to happen.
TNA: What would you say was the most difficult part of telling your story?
WH: The most difficult part of telling this story was deciding when it ended. I think the ends of things are subjective. I could argue that the story continues, since it informs who I am and how I approach relationships today.
TNA: Do you feel now as if you have some closure on the past, or do you feel like you’re still working on putting paid to it?
WH: I have as much closure as I’m going to get. I’ve emotionally moved on. I suppose I’ll always be nostalgic for him and for what being with him felt like – but it was more dopamine than domestic bliss
TNA: Holly’s support, strength and grace really shone throughout the telling of your story. Was she as supportive when you first told her you were thinking about writing a memoir of that time, or did it take some convincing on your part to bring her on board?
WH: I didn’t need to convince her. She thought it would help me process everything that had happened. I talked to her about how much of Avery to include, since he didn’t ask to get involved in this crazy-train of a situation. But I think she trusted me to be judicious with what I chose to and not to tell.
TNA: In the book you reveal you then suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder. With the gift of hindsight, are you now surprised it went undiagnosed for as long as it did?
WH: I am. I look back and see many times when it should have been clearer. I’ve been on medication since that hospitalization and cannot envision a time when I won’t take medication. I enjoy being stable – or more stable than I would otherwise be.
TNA: Are you currently in a relationship? If so, was your partner/spouse supportive of your need to tell your story?
WH: When my boyfriend and I started dating two years ago, I told him the highlights of my relationship with Jay. I also told him about Holly, since she and I were still married, albeit separated and working on divorcing. I let him read the book about 15 months into our relationship, only after I felt there were no surprises in there. I wanted him to know those parts of me organically and not by reading them. I don’t think he really had much of a choice to make – just like he wouldn’t have had a say if I was a banker or real estate agent or something other than a writer.
TNA: How do you think Jay felt about you deciding to tell your story?
WH: I don’t know how Jay felt about the book. He knew I was planning to write our story, and he gave me permission to do it. He stipulated that he wanted a copy of it before I published it. The day before the first excerpt from it appeared in a publication, I gave his roommate a copy of the book to give him. I don’t know if he read it or what he thought about it.
TNA: What’s the one thing you hope for readers to take away from the book?
WH: I hope readers take away the idea that everything happens for a reason, which may be a Pollyanna approach to life but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Blurb: After his affair with a man ended, William Henderson came out to his wife, tried twice to kill himself, and ended up at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, Massachusetts, where he completed a 72-hour inpatient stay. After putting back together the pieces of his life and redeveloping a friendship with his wife and partner of 12 years, he began learning how to be a single parent to his two-year-old son who didn’t understand why his parents no longer lived together, and figuring out why he was willing to throw everything away for an emotionally abusive man unapologetically addicted to drugs. Second Person, Possessive offers an intimate look at relationships and families, proving that families do not break – they simply untangle and rearrange.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt of the book with readers?
How a Clock Without Hands Tells Time
Had Jay simply texted The End I may not have understood any more than I did—than I do—but I would have given him props for the text message. Text after text after text, each more desperate than the one before it, each making promises I couldn’t really keep, and he, keeping me at arm’s length. At phone’s length.
Don’t call me. Don’t text me. We’re done. We’re over. We’re through.
My world collapsing, playing cards tossed out of a simple deck. Fifty-two pieces of shiny paper floating to the floor. Light as a feather, stiff as a board. Shards of glass where a window had been.
Splintered reflections where once I saw—
“What brings you here, Bill?”
I hate her already, because my name is not Bill.
This woman—Carrie, she said in introduction—is the fifth psychiatrist I’ve talked to since I signed myself into St. Elizabeth’s for a 72-hour inpatient observation. Talking to the first psychiatrist was difficult, the story still bottled in me. Messages tossed out to sea, adrift, waiting to be read. To be heard. Filled with secrets and mysteries. A lock waiting to be turned.
When I talked to her, I was still living the story.
I’m in a different story now.
“Bill,” Carrie asks, pulling me from my thoughts that won’t can’t don’t stop, despite my knowing that all I should do is silence the voices that tell me to wait and be patient and he’ll come around and everything will be OK.
“Will,” I say, probably more harshly than I should, “My name is Will.”
“Will,” Carrie says.
She makes a note of it on one of several pieces of paper she has in her lap.
Wonder what else has been written about me. And what my wife, Holly, is doing and if our son, Avery, knows he’ll see me later and what my boyfriend—ex-boyfriend—Jay is doing and what time it is.
Not allowed to know what time it is here. Measure days in terms of sleep, and I’m sleeping more than I usually sleep, so today could be Monday or Tuesday or Thursday next week. Time, slippery, fast for a while, then slow—my thoughts racing around, wild thoroughbreds intent on winning, then mares out to pasture.
Carrie. Probably in her late forties. A slight accent. She crosses her legs; the papers in her lap make the sound paper makes when it rubs against other sheets of paper.
“Can you tell me what brought you to St. Elizabeth’s?” Carrie asks.
St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, Massachusetts, a hospital once synonymous with mental health care for young adults. Somewhere in the hospital is a rusted iron lung and rooms where children met with therapists and psychiatrists and took pills to make them big and small and big again.
Chalkboards with faded fingerprints and window blinds hanging half open on dusty windows. Entire wings of the hospital shuttered and closed, forgotten. Stories of screams and screamers, forgotten. Closed.
My wife, Holly, brought me, I want to say.
Don’t be glib, Holly would say, if she were here.
I’m 33, and people have been calling me a faggot since I was 10, when I asked during sex education if two men could make a baby together. The rumors followed me from elementary school through middle school and again through high school and college. I couldn’t be gay, I said, since I was attracted to women, and dated them, albeit unsuccessfully. Didn’t stop the rumors and the name-calling and how some people wouldn’t walk on the same side of the hall with me in case I had AIDS. Learned to ignore the rumors, but couldn’t ignore the underlying message that who I am and what I wanted is wrong.
“Are you thinking about killing yourself today?” Carrie asks.
“Not today,” I say.
My thoughts shouldn’t be this twisted, not when I’m so far removed from what twisted them in the first place.
“Did you think about killing yourself yesterday?” she asks.
“Not yesterday, either,” I say.
“But last week you did,” Carrie says.
So today is Monday.
Five days ago, everything broke, when I felt like I was falling into a black hole. Going supernova. Exploding.
Multiple explosions since the text message from Jay ending our relationship, the text message that should have just said The End instead of all of the hateful things his text message said.
Five days since the text message and the pills.
Four days since the bridge.
Three days since Holly suggested I sign myself into St. Elizabeth’s. Since doing so, July turned to August.
Measure time in sleeps and moments and the number of hours between seeing and seeing again. Bats in the belfry and keys to his home and the side of his bed that he called my side of the bed. Made his bed before I left that last morning. Took him lunch during his break. Called him that night. And called and called. He didn’t pick up and eventually turned off his phone.
“Have you tried to kill yourself before?” Carrie asks.
“No,” I say.
“Did you want to die?”
I should tell her that I didn’t want to die, but I wanted to die.
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED