This is a very long, detailed blog post that goes into some of my personal history (and by extension, Too Close’s). If you’re interested in the audiobook part of it only, skip down to the heading for the audiobook.
Three years ago, I was writing the most important book I’ve ever published. I spent hours working on it — writing, editing, getting input from beta readers… having panic attacks, nightmares, suicidal thoughts, Borderline Personality Disorder induced “episodes,” and feeling complete and utter despair. I didn’t understand why it was so hard to write a book. Sure, it was based on a relationship I’d had in the past, but it had been a decade before. The pain had to have passed enough for me to get through this in one piece, right?
But it hadn’t, and every day was a new nightmare. I woke up wanting to go back to sleep. Instead, I got up and braced myself for the day. I took care of our then four-year-old son, I did classwork for two online graduate-level classes, I took care of ducks, rabbits, and quail as well as our garden including getting 50 pound bags of feed for them and carrying those around, I made sure dinner was ready when my husband got home and even brought his plate to him, I did laundry and dishes, I did everything involved with the house, I was responsible for running errands (including picking up his liquor), I wrote for myself and edited for someone else, and I tried to keep myself sane by doing role play writing. All through that, I was taking long naps and fighting off panic attacks every time I had to leave the house.
I was, to put it nicely, miserable.
All the while, I thought the problem was that I was writing about a decade-old abusive relationship I’d been in back in high school/college. It had been physical and emotional, and it had left scars that I’d finally been pretty sure had healed. Writing the book, I suddenly wasn’t sure anymore. It got so hard to write, and in the meantime, my personal life continued to deteriorate.
My husband’s moods grew more and more erratic, he lost his temper over the smallest of things… and then there was the night of the election, which was the beginning of the end for me. I was heartsick and desperate when Hillary Clinton started to lose, and I was talking to people who understood how I felt. After many bitter arguments with J about politics and how I thought it was problematic that he didn’t care who would be leading our country, I didn’t talk to him about it until I got a flashback of a night when I’d been sexually assaulted. The memory I’d kept blocked out for so long came rearing its ugly head when I realized someone who had abused women might be the leader of our country.
I cried to him, and for once, I thought he understood. But as the night went on and I got more and more upset, we started to fight. That was nothing new. We fought all the time. But what was new was that he went outside and unhooked the line to the cable — to the internet, TV, and phone. (He’s a cable technician.) Our son was watching the iPad and trying to stay out of the chaos, and I was using the internet to stay even remotely sane.
When I confronted him about it, he told me he’d done it for my own good. I was getting too worked up, he said, and watching the election results was making it worse. We fought, more bitterly than we had in a while — which was saying something — and I told him I was leaving for the umpteenth time.
I went through the bedroom into the bathroom, pulling out a suitcase from the closet and starting to pack. He followed me, demanding to know what I was doing. Hysterical, I was shoving things in a bag even though I didn’t know where I was going to go and didn’t know what I was going to do because I had nothing. No money of my own, no job of my own, nothing. But in that moment, I didn’t care.
Then he blocked me in the bathroom and refused to let me out. He’s a big guy, and I’m small, and there was no way I was getting past him. He told me he’d move if I would just listen to him and calm down, that he’d let me leave if I still wanted to after I’d calmed down. This time, instead of letting him talk me down, I demanded that he move. This time, I didn’t back down. I told him I was going to call 9-1-1 if he didn’t move, and he dared me to.
He. Dared. Me. To.
For the first time ever, I did it. I got my cell phone out, called, hysterical, and all I could see was how calm and put together he was and how frantic I was… and about what? That my husband wouldn’t let me out of the bathroom? How stupid did that sound? I told the person on the other end of the line that it was nothing and hung up. I let J talk me down. He told me he’d show me how to reconnect the cable in case he ever did it again.
I seized upon the little things, the way he apologized and tried to make amends. I was uneasy about the “in case he did it again” because I knew the next time, he could just cut the cord instead of just unscrewing it. Meanwhile, my best friend was frantic because she knew we were fighting and she couldn’t get hold of me. She’d tell me later she’d have called 9-1-1 if she’d had my address (even from outside the country, however she had to do it), but that’s the thing about the internet, isn’t it?
That night, I should’ve left. I didn’t.
That’s where I was in November 2016.
I defended his behavior, dismissed it, and I minimized my own reactions. I didn’t even tell my therapist what had happened. I, for all intents and purposes, forgot it happened because I didn’t want to think about it. Never mind that he’d grown increasingly violent toward our surroundings, in front of our son, and more. He never hit me.
What he did do, in some ways, was worse. He held me down and refused to let me go. He wouldn’t let me pass when I needed to get by him. He’d grab me and hold me to him. He pushed me down and hushed me when I panicked instead of getting off of me. He took advantage of me, he hyper-sexualized me in front of our son. He called me names a four-year-old should never have heard his mother called. He touched me when I told him not to.
The word “no,” in our house, meant nothing.
The part that’s the hardest for me to admit is that he’d grab our son and hold him down, too. He’d “hug” him and refuse to let go, saying that was the only way he could get either of us to go near him and touch him — and no wonder. Our son didn’t even want to go home when his dad was there. He stayed by me and didn’t want anything to do with his dad. And I was too damn afraid to do anything. I tried to tell J to stop, but he never listened. I’d stand outside of our bedroom and sob because my son was screaming for me to help him. Three years later, I’m still ashamed and devastated because I didn’t do anything — because I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to call the police and tell them my husband wouldn’t stop hugging our child? What the hell was I going to say?
I’d tried to leave so many times, but J wouldn’t let me. He’d hide my keys, get in front of the door, talk to me until I was sure I was crazy, and tell me he wouldn’t be there when I got back. Over and over, I let myself be manipulated and forced to stay. The few friends I had who understood what was going on at home urged me to leave, but I didn’t know why I should. What was really wrong? He worked, he got a bit pissy, he had high expectations for me because he thought I could reach them (of course), and it only made sense that I took care of the house and our son while he did the hard work.
I’m open about all of these things, and I’ve told my story more than once. This is the first time I’ve really talked about the month leading up to my departure. Usually I talk about what finally got me to leave, but that’s another story.
That was November. I’ve written about December before, and I’ll probably write about it again, especially because this time of year is so hard for me and I have a lot to work through even now.
But for now… I want to skip ahead, because I’m still hurting. You see, I’ve had my ups and downs, but come January, I’ll have been gone for 3 years… and this book is a large part of why I left. Rereading it after I published it forced me to really look in the mirror and see that if it was so wrong for Tate to treat Skylar how he did, then it wasn’t okay for my own husband to treat me like he did. The situations weren’t exactly the same, but they were close enough. The book released at the end of December 2016. I left in the first few days of January.
It took me a long time to decide to put Too Close into audio. This book was hard for me to write, and the experiences were hard to live through. I was still uncertain about what parts were “really” abuse, were “really” domestic violence. After all, he never hit me. (Just held me down, shoved me against the wall, got on top of me and refused to move, touched me where I didn’t want to be touched and wouldn’t stop when I told him to, guilt-tripped me into sex and got angry if I refused, hit the wall around me, kicked things around when I made mistakes, slammed doors but threatened to take them off their hinges if I did the same… but he never hit me. So it wasn’t abuse, right?)
I listened to so many narrators, and not one of them seemed right. Then I was listening to TJ Klune’s Lightning-Struck Heart, and Michael Lesley’s voice just struck me as perfect for Skylar. I knew without a doubt that was who I wanted — someone who could narrate humor as well as drama, someone who could capture the essence of a book as well as the written words, someone who could truly perform instead of reading the words on a page. I contacted him, but the time wasn’t right for a long time.
It took another year for the stars to really align enough for us to get started on it. This wasn’t going to be an easy project, and we discovered that pretty quickly. This book was so close to my heart — some might say too close (yes, Skylar comes by his puns honestly) — that it needed to be perfect. This was something difficult for both of us, and we’ve spent the past few months communicating and working to make this meet both my vision and his.
When I got the final draft of the audio, I was terrified. I knew I’d have to listen to this book. I’d have to hear my own words and remember things I often want to forget. It was separate enough to be possible, but it was close enough to be difficult. I had a panic attack when I saw that the button had been pushed for final review and that it was ready for me.
I wasn’t ready for it.
But if I didn’t do it, I’d put it off forever, so I started to listen. It’s only about 5 1/2 hours long, but it took me about three days to listen to because I had to take such frequent breaks. Sometimes it was a couple pages, sometimes it was a couple paragraphs. Sometimes, I could only listen to a few sentences before I needed to stop and take a deep breath. I slept, and I took my anxiety medication as prescribed (I have a love-hate relationship with my anxiety meds, and I usually take them as little as possible).
I got next to nothing else done because this book got back inside my head and brought me back to a place I’ve been gone from for so long. See, leaving my husband didn’t instantly bring things to an end. It’s been a long, hard journey. It took a full year and a half to be able to get a divorce, for example, and we still haven’t sold our house even though that was court-ordered to be done months ago. We have to share custody of our son despite the things he did before and after I left — but again, another story for another day.
When I was finally done listening to this book, I breathed the biggest sigh of relief and sent off the minor corrections to Michael. Then it was time to wait again, but it wasn’t the same this time. This time, it was tense and hard because I knew it was really coming. It’s going to be out there in the world, and it’s going to be just as hard as it was the first time I released it. Three years after its release, Too Close will go from ebook, paperback, and Italian translation to audio. (It’s also due out in French, but it’s been pushed back.)
Tonight, I hit the final approval button, and I’m sitting here not sure how I feel. Sad, relieved, terrified… excited, because the audiobook means I can reach new readers who may need to hear Skylar’s story. I couldn’t possibly have found a better narrator than Michael. I just can’t even emphasize how much he brought to the table.
I expected something amazing after hearing his other recordings. I came away with something extraordinary, something that made me laugh and cry right alongside the characters — and hopefully the readers/listeners are just as affected because it means we really did do our job like we should have.
Now I’m just sort of rambling, but at the end of the day, I want to say thank you. To everyone who’s read the book, to everyone who’s reviewed it, to everyone who’s spoken to me about it… to everyone who reached out to me because of Skylar’s story and told me their own. There have been times when I’ve wondered just what I was thinking by writing and releasing this book, but every time someone thanked me for it, it only reinforced how important this was.
In a few short weeks, the audiobook will be out there for the world to listen to. My terror will rise again, and I’ll have left my heart in your hands. Until then, I wait, and I breathe, and I remind myself that writing this book saved my life.
It only stands to reason that the audio will unlock the door to another phase helping me move forward even more.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Skylar Orion’s life has been complicated ever since his mother abandoned him and his sister Evie. Making ends meet seemed impossible until Tate Chandler took them in — his knight in shining armor who promised to make life about more than just surviving. But Tate is not the man he seemed to be, and even his whispered I love yous and generous gifts do little to soothe the pain he causes. Knowing he can’t give his sister all that she deserves without Tate, Skylar stays with him, relying on bad puns and a worse sense of humor to keep up the charade.
He will do anything for his sister, even if that means acting the responsible adult and going back to his old high school to meet Dexter Weston, the hot math teacher who can make even algebra interesting. Sparks fly between the two of them, but with his dependence on Tate, Skylar isn’t free to follow his heart. He wants what is best for Evie, but can he pass up the chance to find love that heals instead of harms?