Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with RjCook, author of The Road Behind Me: The Lie of Hannah
FQ: I give you great props for laying out your emotional struggles in seeking closure of your break up with Hannah. However, I have to ask how your current wife managed this?
RjCOOK: Patti (who is "Mattie" in the book) understands that my writing has always been from the heart and is as honest as the summer day is long. She knows the intricacies of the memories of a first love and has respected my willingness to not disguise with innuendos and symbolism such events that occurred before she entered my life.
FQ: Continuing the premise of the question above, a portion of your dedication is directed to your wife Mattie for her ‘...tolerance and support...’ Were there moments during your writing of your memoir that were particularly difficult for her? Are you able to share and how did the two of you overcome and move on?
RjCOOK: The tolerance and support is mostly in reference to just putting up with me as a husband and never questioning or challenging anything I put to paper.
FQ: Now that you have told your story and it is out there for the world to embrace, do you feel you have come to terms with your ‘love lost’ and you have ‘turned the page’?
RjCOOK: The Epilogue of the book is true-to-form in my finding closure I didn't even realize was needed. Meeting Hannah again after so much time, and then learning how erroneous was my perception of what occurred between us, how she actually felt about me so long ago, was a revelation that brought an entirely new perspective to the embedded memories and emotions I carried deep within me for most of my life. There was really no need to come to terms with anything, it evolved naturally into a state of subjective acceptance.
FQ: Have you spoken with Hannah since you’ve published The Road Behind Me? If so, what was her reaction to the story?
RjCOOK: At first Hannah was skeptical, reluctant to have such a personal time in her life exposed to so many, but after she read it she realized it was an homage to my long-ago love for her. Also, all the names and locations in the book have been changed and some of the events offering only a condensed view of what actually occurred; Hannah knew it would be nearly impossible for anyone to recognize that she is the Hannah of my book. Anyone who was a part of our lives back then has long moved on, some have even passed away.
FQ: Times are vastly different today in comparison to the ‘70’s’. What do you miss most from those days and why?
RjCOOK: I don't think I miss much, if anything at all. Maybe my youth, but who doesn't? I also miss going to concerts: Fillmore in NYC, Capitol Theater in Passaic, etc. The world had its problems but it was still a lot less terrifying then it is today. I was an active musician, playing with a variety of very talented people, something that I no longer have the opportunity to do. To me, the 1980's were a much more exciting time, music was new and creative again, there seemed to be less insanity in the world. It was tough getting through Reagan but we managed. The best part of the 1970's to me? Meeting Patti.
FQ: Of all the adventures you had while in California, what experience do you think shaped you the most and why?
RjCOOK: There were so many. The incident when the Anaheim riot squad showed up at my door while I was entertaining about 15-20 people, all stoned out of our minds, and somehow me bullshitting my way out of it comes to mind. Or the night I sat in the doorway of my 1970 Dodge van in the parking lot of the seedy motel where I lived and composed the poem, A Broken Heart, that appears in the book: I would have to say that was a turning point for me. I felt like I was beginning to find my voice in my writing, albeit still as yet immature, but the candor and the integrity of my words were coming to fruition. But in retrospect, the adventures I had hitch-hiking back home across the USA after my motorcycle died in Nevada were far more impactful on me than any event I lived through in California.
FQ: I’m curious as to the subtitle to The Road Behind Me (the Lie of Hannah). What is the ‘lie’?
RjCOOK: Actually, that is the question I want the reader to answer. Per the story, the "lie" I often told to my friends of missing Shelley when I meant Hannah, just to save face with them, is what most generally assume is what the sub-title refers to. In the Epilogue, when Hannah tells me what her "true feelings" were for me way back when, there is a hesitancy before her offering this information and it is in response to my revealing how I adored her when we were so young. Does that hesitation on her part indicate an honest reply? Or was she just placating me to conform with the moment?
FQ: Based on your experiences, do you have a formula for how you will nurture and guide your own children when (and if) they experience a similar ‘broken heart’?
RjCOOK: My children are all grown now, each one has already experienced their share of having a broken heart, and yes, my experience in such matters did prove useful when it was my turn to be the father who held them and with confidence told them everything was going to be all right, that the pain was not forever.
FQ: Do you feel as though you do have closure where Hannah is concerned and is it attributable to writing The Road Behind Me?
RjCOOK: Hannah was a buried memory, for all purposes forgotten, until I came across the check-out girl at a local market who resembled her. On a whim I searched for Hannah on social media, ultimately finding her. The book expands from there, leading to our eventual meeting for what was the very last time we were together. Closure was easy because I am content and happy with the life I was given. Neither Hannah or I ever considered our reunion as a "second chance", it was simply answering questions that were never asked. It allowed us for one brief afternoon to be young again.
FQ: Along the same lines, was it your idea to commit your experience to paper (or was it Mattie’s encouragement for you to do so) or perhaps a little of both?
RjCOOK: Here is the interesting part of my story: I chose not to relate any of the hard-core experiences of my youth to my children, simply because I wanted to be their father more than their friend and I felt they needed to choose their own paths without any undue influence ingrained in them from tales of my exploits. However, when they became young adults I wanted to let them know of my California experience so I put it to paper, but the original draft contained absolutely no reference to Hannah! Partly out of respect to their mother but mostly because, over the years, her memory became so buried that I wrote the story with no thought whatsoever of including Hannah. It was only after reacquainting with her did I realize that the events I wrote about were the result of having her in my life, so I re-wrote the story, this time in an honest rendition that became The Road Behind Me (the Lie of Hannah) .
FQ: Thank you for sharing your story. I commend you for bearing your soul across the pages of The Road Behind Me (the Lie of Hannah). Are you working on your next project and if so, would you care to share?
RjCOOK: I am and always have been a short-story writer. Short stories and poetry are where I feel the most comfortable, the most competent. Currently I am working on a collection of short-stories with the tentative title: Dream Lover and Other Tales. My time is currently at a premium so I can't offer any projected completion date, but all I can do is keep on writing when the moments are available.