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Authors: Emily Arsenault

Miss Me When I'm Gone

BOOK: Miss Me When I'm Gone
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Miss Me When I’m Gone

EMILY ARSENAULT

Dedication

To my parents,

Jane Rastelli and Richard Arsenault

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

 

Acknowledgments

P.S.: Insights, Interviews & More . . .

       
About the author

       
About the book

       
Read on

Also by Emily Arsenault

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

Chapter 1

“I Still Believe in Fairy Tales”

Franklin Road

Nashville, Tennessee

This gem might be well known among seventies tabloid readers and longtime country music fans, but perhaps not to the general reader: Tammy Wynette once saved Burt Reynolds from drowning in a bubble bath. It was post–George Jones, a swinging-single period in Tammy’s life that I wish had lasted longer. She and Burt apparently had a friends-with-benefits thing going on in 1976.

And one night he came over feeling ill. She made him dinner and banana pudding and drew him a nice hot bubble bath. In the tub, he had what was later thought to be a hypoglycemic episode and lost consciousness. When Tammy knocked and he didn’t answer, she opened the door to find a mountain of bubbles—and no Burt! He had started to sink into the Vitabath.

Tammy rushed into the oversize bathtub fully clothed, struggled for several minutes to keep his head above the water, reach for a nearby phone (she lived pretty extravagantly at that time, remember—thus a phone in the bathroom within reach of one’s luxury bathtub), call 911, and eventually managed to pull him out and tug his jeans on to protect his modesty in case the
National Enquirer
arrived along with the ambulance. She claimed she was too panicked to think of simply yanking the stopper out to prevent Burt from drowning.

Besides, if she’d done that, she’d have robbed me of this precious mental picture: Tammy diving into the foam in a sequined gown, bouffant blond wig, false eyelashes, and full makeup—surfacing with the naked, excessively hairy-chested Burt Reynolds, his hair drenched, his thick mustache dotted with delicate bubbles.

Surely this is not what it looked like, but I like this picture of Tammy as a honky-tonk superwoman. Saving the sexy Burt not just for herself, per se, but for womankind.

Keeping in mind, of course, that taste in men, like cuisines, varies somewhat between the generations. The appeal of Burt Reynolds (even young Burt from films that predate my birth), like the appeal of a Jell-O mold, confounds me. He has nice eyebrows, I suppose, but I can’t get past the walrus mustache.

I can’t speak for Tammy’s taste in men—that’s a problem I can’t solve in a few pages, or perhaps a whole book. But I love the image of her rescuing the seventies’ sex cowboy from a sweetheart bathtub. She probably didn’t think she had it in her, this woman whose life and music were all about the romance that was supposed to save her from herself. But there she was, pulling this gritty, hairy man out of a warm, romantic bath of bubbles, back into life, back into cold, naked reality.

If only she could have done the same for herself.

 

—Gretchen Waters,
Tammyland

Chapter 2

BEST-SELLING AUTHOR DIES IN “SUSPICIOUS” FALL

Willingham, NH — Gretchen Waters, author of the popular memoir
Tammyland,
was found dead in the town center Tuesday night, after falling down concrete stairs near the Willingham Public Library parking lot.

Waters, 32, of Kingsley, Massachusetts, was in town giving a public reading at the library. An hour after she left the library, at around 10
P.M.
according to police, her body was found at the bottom of a ten-foot-high cement stairway connecting the library parking lot to the Greenfield Shopping Plaza.

“Looking at the steepness of these steps, it appears that Ms. Waters lost her footing and fell. An autopsy will be performed next week, but we believe that she died of blunt head trauma sustained during a fall,” said Willingham police sergeant John Polaski, who is leading the investigation.

A state police detective unit has also been assisting with the investigation. They closed off the library parking lot yesterday and appeared to be taking measurements.

“This is a very unfortunate event, and we’re doing our best to piece together what happened,” Sergeant Polaski said. “We’re looking into the possibility that a second party may have been involved. However, I can’t go into further detail at this point.”

Witnesses saw Waters leave the library at around 9
P.M.
But instead of getting into her car in the library parking lot, she walked down the concrete stairs to the nearby 7-Eleven store. After making a purchase, she must have fallen on the way back to her car, Sergeant Polaski said.

The death of a prominent author in the center of town has put many people on edge.

“It’s just devastating,” said Ruth Rowan, library events coordinator who arranged for Waters’s visit. “Just a terrible, terrible thing to have happened here. She was a lovely, articulate young woman and I can’t imagine how this is for her family.”

Waters’s nonfiction book
Tammyland,
published early last year, detailed her travels through the South, learning about the female country singers. She was busy working on her second book when she died, according to Rowan.

Waters’s family had been informed of her death, but could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Chapter 3

Gretchen sent me an e-mail two weeks before she died. Unfortunately, I didn’t answer it.

 

Hey Jamie,

 

How’s it going? How have you been feeling? Better, I hope. Do you think we could talk soon?

Lately, I’ve been thinking of something you said once, back at Forrester. I think we were sophomores. You said you’ve never been able to let go of anyone, not really. That’s why you had so many pen pals, etc. Do you remember that? Do you think it’s still true? Because now, working on this second book, I’m wondering if it’s true of me, too. I miss those talks we used to have. Remember how smart we thought we were?

 

Yours,

Gretchen

P.S. Also, in your days as a reporter, did you start to develop any skill for telling who is lying to you?

This was Gretchen’s version of a drunk dial: a garbled e-mail full of cryptic, vaguely sentimental insights without much context. (And with a little practical bit at the end, to make it all seem casual.) I imagined her typing this up in a sleepy after-dinner haze, probably after one too many of her favorite eighties songs, and at least a couple of glasses of wine. Yes, this was the old Gretchen—who’d always make it clear she was laying her heart at your feet, but in a box so layered in wrappings and tightly knotted strings that you were never sure if opening it was worth the effort she demanded.

I’d truly missed that Gretchen. We’d lost contact for a few months. And that night, I was too tired to try to untangle Gretchen’s message. I thought of calling her, but put it off. I even thought of suggesting she come visit, but I couldn’t figure on when I’d feel up to scrubbing the house to overnight-guest-quality cleanliness in the future. And you know how e-mail is—if you don’t answer it the day you get it, the chances you’ll get to it promptly go down significantly.

I’m sure I would have answered it eventually—because I always do. Before I’d had a chance, I got the call from Gretchen’s younger brother.

Gretchen passed away yesterday,
he told me quietly.
My mother has asked me to contact her friends.

And it seemed in the first thirty seconds that it was a wrong number—this polite young man I hadn’t seen since Gretchen’s wedding, calling and telling me someone had
passed away.
Did he mean some Great-Aunt Gretchen who’d slipped away in the night, or in a hospital bed? Because women in their early thirties did not simply
pass away.

There’s been an accident,
he’d continued, and then I knew it was real—it was
Gretchen.

 

That night, still in shock from the news, I’d opened her e-mail and stared at it for an hour. It hurt physically to read it, but I did so over and over again, to punish myself for not having answered it. I could remember the conversation to which she referred, but preferred not to think of it—not that night.

I thought of writing a response—just sending a note to Gretchen into the Internet ether, for what it was worth.

Then I thought about Gretchen’s e-mail box receiving the message. What happens to the e-mail accounts of the deceased? I wondered. Do they sit around in the air, forever collecting spam? If an e-mail account is never closed but never opened again, does it still really exist? It was a tree-falls-in-the-forest sort of question, of the morbidly silly sort that Gretchen would have asked.

I pictured Gretchen standing with me on an early March day of our senior year at Forrester College. We were huddled together outside, taking a break from a long study session in the library because I’d wanted a cigarette. Neither of us had majors that required a senior thesis. But both of us had ambitiously taken one on in hopes of graduating with the highest possible honors. It was still freezing cold, but Gretchen was inappropriately dressed—a jersey dress, panty hose, and a plaid flannel shirt, with no coat. She shivered madly and gripped her paper coffee cup for warmth. We were huddled by the iron-gated grave of the college’s founder, Anne Townsend Winthrop.

I think that guy Adam has a little crush on you,
I’d said.
He was asking about you again.

Hmm. I’m not sure about him,
she’d replied.
He enunciates his swear words too much.

I shrugged and let the subject drop. I imagine we complained for the remaining duration of my smoke, although none of the details was memorable to me later. What I do remember is that as I took my final puff, Gretchen uncapped her paper cup and tossed the remains of her cold coffee sideways into Winthrop’s grave site.

She caught my look of surprise, and my immediate, self-conscious glance around us for witnesses. As jaded as I was about Forrester College, I’d never have thought of taking it out on the memorial of an illustrious nineteenth-century feminist.

In some cultures,
Gretchen had informed me,
they put bottles of water or even soda on a person’s grave. For the long journey ahead. It’s a common thing, giving the dead something to drink.

I’d squinted at Gretchen.
Not this culture, though.

What is
this
culture, Jamie? Anyways, if she’s gotta be caged up here for eternity, listening to us all whine and deconstruct and dichotomize all day—if that’s what her life’s work has come to here, then pouring mochachino on her grave is about as honest a tribute as she’ll ever get.

The words were grasping and snide, but the most memorable of them now was
anyways.
The
s
at the end made it a word a little girl would use. Words like that slipped into her speech when we were alone together—when she wasn’t in the presence of professors or the more intellectually competitive of our classmates.

Now the memory of that girlish
anyways
unfroze a tiny hole in my shock, and I sobbed till Sam came upstairs.

“What’s going on?” He put his arms around me and folded his hands on my big belly. “Oh my God. It seems bigger than yesterday.”

“Thanks,” I mumbled, snuffling. “I had three peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches yesterday, so you’re probably right about that.”

“I’ve been wondering about those sandwiches of yours. Isn’t that what Elvis liked to eat?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I figure if I eat enough of them, the kid might just come out singing ‘In the Ghetto.’ ”

Sam was deadpan. “Do we want that, though?”

I giggled and almost answered, but then teared up again, angry at myself for forgetting Gretchen for a moment. Sam wiped my cheeks and came away with black thumbs. I’d forgotten that I hadn’t washed my makeup off yet.

“What’ve you been doing up here?” Sam asked.

“Thinking about Gretchen. What else would I be doing? Reading her old e-mails.”

“Oh.” Sam nodded solemnly.

“What’ve
you
been up to?” I mopped my eyes with the sleeve of my sweater.

“Just watching the game,” Sam said. “I’m sorry. I should have been up here with you.”

“It’s okay. It wouldn’t have made much difference.”

It was kind of a mean thing to say, but I’d found it easy to say mean things to Sam lately. He hadn’t shot back in months. It was starting to feel like an experiment, to see when he’d break. I was beginning to wish he would.

“I mean, just, under the circumstances,” I backpedaled. “I probably needed to be by myself and just let the shock wear off.”

Sam didn’t reply. He took my hands in his, pulled me out of my office chair, and put me to bed.

BOOK: Miss Me When I'm Gone
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