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January 4, 2024 49 mins

Maggie made a life for herself as a successful poet, wife, and proud mother of two. But after years of marriage, she sensed something to be terribly off. When her intuition led to a painful discovery, she could finally claim her truth and grow.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Family Secrets is a production of iHeartRadio. One afternoon, I
was listening to Derek DelGaudio, a master of sleight of hand,
on NPR. He talked about secrets, their weight, their heft.
He talked about how carrying them affects your breathing, your speech,

(00:23):
your movements. You have to remember who knows what. You
have to remember which versions of the stories you've told
and to whom and when. If you tell the truth,
there's nothing to keep straight, nothing to work at. The
truth isn't easy, but it's simple. What I wanted from

(00:45):
my husband was the truth. I asked for it, and
I waited for it, and eventually I stopped waiting. What
I was given was something different. It was shaped like,
It's not what you think. It held the weight of
You don't understand. How did I not see the heft?

(01:07):
How did I not hear it? The question I keep
asking myself is the same question we ask about someone
who's good at sleight of hand? How did he do that?
That's Maggie Smith, poet, writer, editor, and teacher. Maggie's is

(01:30):
a story about secrecy and betrayal, deep inner knowing, groundedness,
and grace. Ultimately, It's the story of a woman coming
into her own. This episode was recorded in front of
a live audience at the Miami Book Fair at Miami
Dade College in Miami, Florida. I'm Danny Shapiro, and this

(02:04):
is Family Secrets. The secrets that are kept from us,
the secrets we keep from others, and the secrets we
keep from ourselves. So much of your story has to
do with the secrets that we keep from ourselves. There
are other kinds of secrets within it, too, But that

(02:26):
feeling of knowing and yet not being able to apprehend,
not being able to quite touch what's really happening, because
it's too scary, it's too frightening, it's too dangerous. But
I want to start way back at the very beginning.
But the question that I always start with in Family Secrets,
which is tell me about the landscape of your childhood.

(02:50):
There's a line in your book which is, if you
opened me up, you'd find Ohio. It's true, Yeah, the
heart of it all, I'll live in my hometown. Basically,
I grew up in central Ohio, in the Columbus, Ohio area.
I'm the oldest of three girls. I have two younger

(03:13):
sisters each two years apart, so we're stairsteps. My parents
still live in the house I grew up in, and
I have Sunday dinner there every Sunday, except when I'm
at the Miami Book Fair and I won't make it
back in time for Sunday dinners. I had honestly a
really traditional, blissfully boring childhood. You know, I was born

(03:38):
in seventy seven. I'm a gen xer. I grew up
in the eighties, your parents being able to reach you
when you were out playing, so we would just sort
of leave on our bikes in the morning, come back
at meals kind of scuffed up, and that was pretty
much it. I was bookish, as you can probably imagine,
an introverted, and when I wasn't playing with my friends,

(04:02):
I was either reading, listening to music, or doing jigsaw
puzzles in my bedroom. I was not cool. It's so
much better to get cooler later, wasn't it. I mean, yeah,
I definitely did not peak early, let's just put it
that way. So when you were in that sort of

(04:22):
blissfully boring childhood and this very stable kind of extended
family family situation, how did the feeling of that stability
impact you as a child. Honestly, I think it was
just sort of the air I breathed and the water
I swam in, So I don't think I recognized it

(04:43):
as anything special. Now, as an adult, I realized there's
a sort of novelty to having almost my entire extended
family live in the same place, and to all get together,
and to have dinners thirteen people on the weekends. It's
not the norm. I think it's not very twenty first

(05:05):
century for sure, and maybe not very twentieth century in
a lot of ways. But at the time it didn't
seem strange to me, and in fact, it probably didn't
prepare me well for what my own adult life would
would look like. Did you ever think about leaving or
did you always know that you would stay in Ohio?

(05:26):
I tried. I guess I would like to be like, no,
I'm so rooted. I never wanted to leave. I did.
I considered MFA programs very far away from home, and
then a fellowship kept me, kept me in Columbus at
Ohio State, and since then, you know how it is.
You stay someplace and you meet someone, and then you

(05:48):
have kids, and then they're in school and then you
have a mortgage, and then your parents start aging, and
so I don't think when I was twenty, I didn't
really necessarily imagine my self living in Columbus, Ohio when
I was forty six, But here I am. I met
my husband at Ohio Wesleyan actually, which is where I

(06:12):
went to undergrad. I would have been nineteen or twenty,
and you were both in a creative writing workshop, that's right.
I think we had a couple of other classes together
in the English department before that class, but that was
the sort of smallest seminar, and that was around the
time that we became good friends. And did you both

(06:34):
know that you wanted futures as writers at that point?
I knew when I was in college that I always
wanted to write, and then I probably always would because
I had been doing it for, you know, five or
six years already, and it didn't seem like something I
could quit even if I wanted to. I didn't know

(06:55):
what my work would be, though, and in my mind
it was still pretty separate. I need to find a
job in the world eventually, and also I'm going to
be a writer, and it's still kind of strange to me.
That those things have braided together in the ways that
they have, and I don't know what he thought he
was going to do. It's interesting. I mean, being a

(07:17):
writer is something that we are, not something that we
aim for. It's not a career choice. I think. I
don't think there's a writer out there who would say,
you know, when they were a little kid, that they
knew that they were going to build their life toward that,
because how do you know how to do that? That
seems terribly impractical. I'm a Midwesterner. That's not something we do.

(07:42):
So in a way, it sounds like you initially replicate
that kind of solid family history by choosing the person
that you were going to be with very young, you know,
very young for your generation, and sticking sticking to him. Yeah.
I mean I really did think that what I was

(08:04):
building would end up looking a lot like what my
parents had in some ways and probably not in others,
because I'm not my mother. Tell me a little bit
about your mother. Oh my gosh, she's a firecracker. I
love my mom. My mom is someone I talked to
almost every day. She married my dad when she was

(08:28):
twenty had me at twenty four. My sister at twenty six,
my other sister at twenty eight. She was a stay
at home mom until we were old enough to get
off the school bus and get ourselves into the house,
and so she went back to work at some point,
but even then she was still the mom. So if

(08:51):
I was sick, she took care of me. If I
needed food, she made it, If there was laundry to
be done, Mom was the person you TalkTalk to. You
if you need a permission for something, you clear it
with Mom. She was sort of the CEO. And my
dad went to work every day and was sort of
probably blissfully unaware of most of what was going on.

(09:13):
And so if I wanted to do something I wasn't
supposed to do, I'd ask Dad, right like Mom probably
wouldn't say no because she knows, but Dad doesn't know,
so maybe Dad'll clear me for this. So he was,
I mean, hilarious and I'm very close to my dad,
but a very classic arrangement where the caretaking was very

(09:36):
much my mother's job and not my father's. Like I
don't think he changed a diaper until he had grandkids,
and that was a big deal when he finally did.
But when you say that you imagined a life that
was somewhat like your mom's but not But you're not
your mom. I think part of what we're talking about

(10:00):
here is that your mom really wanted That was what
she wanted. Yes, that was that she wanted to be
a wife and a mom and to raise this family.
And so there was nothing conflicted about that. No, nothing
conflicted at all. I mean, if you asked my mom today,
what did you want to be when you grew up,
she would say a mom and she got to do it.

(10:22):
So there wasn't that kind of push and pull. And
when she went back to work, it was because she
needed to and because we were at school all day.
But it wasn't because she had some grand design on
a career. You know, she's recently retired and is so
happy hanging out with her girlfriends during the day and
like traveling and doing all these things. And I wish
she had just been able to do more of that.

(10:43):
But yeah, I thought I could copy paste my childhood
into my home and have a completely different kind of career.
By the time my mom had three kids at twenty eight,
and I had just published my first book to finish
graduate school and didn't have kids and was just getting

(11:04):
married then. So the idea that I could just replicate
that template and sort of overlay it on my life
all these years later now seems a little naive, But
at the time I was like, sure, it can look
exactly like that, except I'll be doing all these other
things too. Right. Well, it's such a classic and such

(11:26):
a relatable story, I think that because how else do
we know, right, I mean, we can only know what
we were raised with and what our hopes and dreams
might be. And why can't we quote unquote have it all?
Have it all? Maggie and her husband embark on their
lives together. She finishes graduate school, he goes to law school.

(11:51):
Maggie's first book comes out, and they move into a
house painted the very optimistic color of Perrywinkle blue. I
just actually painted the house charcoal gray. It's not Perrywinkle anymore.
So it's like now it's sort of memorialized as a
Periwinkle house. There's a metaphor in there somewhere, isn't there. Yeah,

(12:12):
And there's a metaphor in everything. True. Tell me about
the search for the house, because you write about that
in this book, And there's something that's so lovely and
hopeful about looking for the place that you're going to
just start your life as a young adult. Yeah. I
think my daughter Violet was one when we were looking

(12:34):
for houses because we'd been renting and the woman we
were renting from was putting the house on the market
and we couldn't afford to buy that house. It was
big Victorian and German village in this historic neighborhood, and
so we thought, Okay, now we have to buy the
house in the school district where we think we're going
to send her to kindergarten, even though she's one, because
that's how you do it, right, you do the thing.

(12:55):
And I thought, well, I still want to live in
a walkable neighborhood because all these years we've lived in
neighborhoods we can walk to a bookstore, a coffee shop,
a post office. You know. I didn't want to replicate
that part of my childhood and be out in the
suburbs and have to get in the car to go anywhere.
And so it came down to two things. One, we

(13:16):
visited this house on this street, and the house is
a very beloved money pit that I continue to work
on year after year earmarking and moving things around, like
is it the bathroom year or the roof year. But
I was completely charmed by it because there are like
thirty four windows in my house. It's all glass. The

(13:40):
whole street is a tunnel of sycamores or London plane trees,
which are kind of cousins, and in the summer they
make this arch of green and so it looks like
you're driving down this tunnel of trees. And it seems like,
of course, such a poetic thing to do to buy
a money pit of a house on a street with

(14:01):
a tunnel of sycamore trees. But that's exactly what we did.
And we also chose that house because it's Caddy corner
across the street from one of my best friends. I
love the house. It's just home. It's a constant project,
but there's lots of light and lots of trees and
friendly dogs and then albino squirrel. And I know it

(14:26):
sounds like I'm snow white. It's not that ucolic. You know.
Things are constantly breaking, but I love it. We'll be
right back. Prior to this big hopeful move, Maggie and

(14:56):
her husband are still renting their home in German Village
when Violet is born. After Violet's birth, Maggie has an
extremely difficult time. She doesn't even realize what plagues her
postpartum depression until she has it for the second time
years later. I had pretty serious postpartum depression after Violet

(15:19):
was born, and we lived in the house in German
Village then, and I was just a shell of a
human being. I actually cut my maternity leave short because
I couldn't cope anymore. I actually chose to go back
and sit in a cubicle to just have a different
kind of day than I was having with a colicky

(15:42):
child feeling that bad. So I wonder, Maggie, you know,
is in not knowing, which I think is so true
of people who are suffering from something that they haven't
experienced before. The instinct is to think it's my baby's colloquy,
or I'm impatient, or there must be something wrong with

(16:02):
me that I'm not handling this better, and not to
go to the place of self compassion of maybe there
really is something going on that isn't my fault. Yeah,
I think that's right. I remember at one point, and
maybe it was my mother or one of my sisters said,
you don't talk about any of this with any joy.

(16:25):
You seem miserable and stressed out. And I mean, granted
I wasn't sleeping, but no parent sleeps, and a lot
of them still seem okay. And it didn't occur to
me that the way I was feeling was any different
from what anyone else was feeling. And one of them,
I remember, said to me, you need to go to
your doctor, like this isn't normal to feel this way,

(16:46):
and I remember saying something like there's no pill for
no sleep and a baby with acid reflux and colic
and a dairy allergy, like that's just my life and
there's nothing that anyone can do to make it any different.
But of course that was me speaking from a place
of not being well. And I know now that no,

(17:09):
those material aspects of my life would not have changed,
and probably if I had taken a bit of something
prescribed to me by a medical professional, I would have
been able to manage those bits better, because I then did.
When my son was born, and that was also a
year of not writing. It was a whole year of

(17:29):
not writing, and I think about that, I'm like, well,
no wonder I was depressed. I had a baby. It
didn't go the way I thought it would. I thought,
where's my bundle of joy? This child screams at me
all the time. I feel like screaming all the time,
but have the decency not to. The poems are not happening.
My husband is in law school, and that's very demanding

(17:53):
on his time. Even having family support, even being in
a place where I had lots of people checking on
me and coming over, bringing soup and doing all the things.
I couldn't get to a place where anything was cooking
up there for a year, which is a vicious cycle, right,
because I think for writers, for poets, that feeling of

(18:18):
It's one of my favorite quotes from Joan Didion in
her essay y I write, if I had the remotest
access to my own mind, I never would have become
a writer. I write in order to understand what I think,
what I feel, what I fear. And there's no other path,
there's no other way to get at that. So to
be feeling all that and not have the tool to

(18:41):
not be the instrument of being able to do that
kind of work is just a prescription for disaster. Yeah,
I think about that now. And I'm like, why wasn't
I even journaling through that time? And I really wasn't.
The only writing I think I even have to this
day from that first year are lists, like nerotic lists

(19:02):
of when she slept or didn't sleep, what she ate,
and how much the color of her poop, because this
is what we do with newborns, you know. I just
was sort of like looking for patterns in anything she did,
thinking that if I can just find this pattern that,

(19:23):
like if she eats this and this, then she'll sleep,
if she does this and this, if I do this
then this, looking for some way to make sense of
it all. And it was just lists and charts and
nothing of any import really. You know, in reading your book,
I was experiencing it as this kind of slow erosion

(19:48):
of identity, of intimacy, of both intimacy in your marriage
but intimacy with yourself. Yeah. So there's this, there's this
period of which you go through this postpartum depression. Then
you move into the Periwinkle House and you suffer two miscarriages. Yeah,

(20:11):
in trying to have another child and for Violet to
have a sibling. Yeah, And of course I didn't know
until after my son was born, and I had postpartum
depression again. I thought, what are the odds? And he
was colicky again and had asked reflux, and I thought,
what are the odds that lightning will strike twice? Surely

(20:33):
it will be different the second time. And it was not.
And I only found out later that, you know, miscarriage
is a huge sort of predisposing condition for postpartum because
of course it is. I mean, being pregnant three times
in a year and a half does pretty wild things

(20:54):
to your hormones and also your grieving and terrified, and
so the even the sort of joy of pregnancy of
even finally getting pregnant and thinking is this going to stick?
Is this going to happen? I never relaxed that entire
you know, ten months, I never relaxed. Every day I

(21:18):
woke up and thought, this is the day. There's not
going to be a heartbeat, this is the day. There's
going to be blood, this is the day. And so
it really it changed me in ways I probably can't
even articulate or understand myself. It made me a very
fearful person. I didn't trust my body, and I didn't

(21:38):
trust my mind. You know, I didn't know what kind
of mom I would be the second time around, because
I knew what happened the first time, and so when
rhet was born, it didn't take very long for things
to go downhill. And the difference was I went to
the doctor and it got better. And that also gave

(22:02):
me a little bit of regret I would say about
what didn't happen the first time, because I thought, God,
I didn't have to feel that way. I didn't have
to go through that. There's a point where you realize
that you become more mom than wife. And it was
also a period. You didn't write this, but it was

(22:22):
my sense that you became more mom than poet, more
mom than Maggie. Yes, that became my primary identity. And
I think there are probably people listening who can relate
to that sort of eclipsing of the self that happens,
particularly when your children are small and need you for everything,

(22:44):
including food, like you are the person keeping them alive,
and that kind of daily, ongoing responsibility sort of shoves
everything else into the margins of the page, I suppose,
And of course I think this happens in marriages. You
know some of the and I you know, I think

(23:08):
in general my writing and my children are the greatest
blessings of my life. I feel both of them are
sort of miraculous to me. I in some ways have
no idea how that all happened. I mean, I know
how it happened, but I really in some ways don't.
Like these human beings live here now in my house

(23:29):
and have their own personalities in their own lives, and
these pieces of writing like come to me, like occur
to me, and then grow and unfold, and all of
this still seems very much like magic to me. That
the greatest blessings of my life. And I think they're
also the things that were hardest on my partnership in

(23:52):
a lot of ways, and probably because of the demands
on my time right and not just but bandwidth. During
these years of young motherhood when Maggie's kids are little,
she has a job as an editor. Her husband is
working long hours as an associate in a law firm.

(24:15):
There's not a lot of time for her real work,
which is writing poems. She writes whenever she can grab
the time, in coffee shops, late at night, in the
school pickup line, the car. One day, when Violet and
Redd are seven and three, Maggie writes a poem titled
good Bones, and that poem changes everything. I had a

(24:40):
preschooler who was going off to part time preschool a
couple days a week where I could get a little
writing done, and I think I was in either kindergarten
or first grade at that point, so she was gone
all day so I could get a little bit more done.
I was working from home. I had quit my job
and was freelancing, so I was still working as an editor,

(25:02):
but I was doing it from my house, so as
long as Rhett was at preschool, I had a little
bit of space. And that's around the time that I
wrote Good Bones. It also strikes me that good Bones,
as is true of other of your poems, is about
being a mother. It was the gift of being a

(25:24):
mother meets the gift of being a poet. I couldn't
have written that poem without them. Really, anything I've written
since they were born, I couldn't have written without them,
in part because some of it's actually collaborative work, like
they will give me the idea, they will give me
a line of dialogue or a metaphor. But also they've
changed who I am as a person. So the work

(25:47):
that comes out of me since they've been in the
world is work that they made possible, which is pretty
wild to think about. Yeah, it is and beautiful. Thanks kids,
I'll forgive you that colic. Yeah, they're like, where's our allowance?
Where are the residuals? Mom? Good Bones was published online

(26:11):
in June of twenty sixteen. I had submitted it the
year before it was rejected a few places. A journal
named Waxwing picked it up, and then they did what
journals do, which is slated for later publication. So I
don't even think I knew exactly when it was coming out.
It was just like spring or summer of next year,

(26:31):
so I forgot about it. It came out that week
in June, and that was the week of the Pulse
nightclub massacre, and that same week in England Brexit madness
was picking up, and a member of Parliament, Joe Cox,
who was a young mother of young children herself, was

(26:55):
murdered in northern England that same week, and so the
poem was published online, not in a print magazine. And
because it was published online the week that two terrible
things happened and two different continents, people started sharing it
and I it just absolutely caught and took off in

(27:20):
ways that I mean. I was pushing a stroller around
my neighborhood and the BBC was reaching out. I didn't
have an agent, I didn't have media training. I just
had a cell phone, and like a non napping three
year old, I really didn't know what to do with it.

(27:41):
It was the strangest lightning strike still really of my life,
and it just kept building and building. At one point,
you're told that Meryl Streep read it at a benefit. Yeah.
I found that out because my now friend say Joe tweeted, like, Yo, Maggie,

(28:05):
Meryl Streep just read good Bones at the Academy of
American Poets gala at Lincoln Center. And I had walked
into my house and looked at my phone and thought,
I'm sorry, who did what? I'm sure actually that was
a lot more colorful language that was used, but I
was like, I'm sorry, my words were in MARYL. Streep's

(28:26):
perfect mouth, in that voice. I mean again, I'm a poet,
working a regular job, parenting two kids, living in Central Ohio. Like,
I just can't stress enough how outside of the literary
world I felt it was incredibly bizarre and then it

(28:49):
was on Madam's Secretary, Right, Yeah, I mean it was
just it took on a life of its own. It
took on a life of its own, and I would
meet people and they would say, oh my gosh, I
love your poem, and I had the sense not to
say which one, but it became. I mean, I joke
now that it's hard to give a reading and not

(29:11):
read Good Bones because it's kind of my free bird. Right.
What was it like in your marriage during that time?
You do at one point write that your marriage was
never the same after that, meaning after the viral sensation

(29:33):
of Good Bones. Yeah, that poem changed my life in
both beautiful and terrible ways, which is funny because the
poem itself is about the world being sort of equal
parts beautiful and terrible, and the impact that that poem
had on my life was equal parts beautiful and terrible.
It had a beautiful impact on my writing life and

(29:55):
a pretty terrible impact on my personal life. Maybe it's
just that the sudden attention and the sort of invitation
or opportunity to lean into my writing life and to
spend more time on writing, and maybe that was the crux.
You know, suddenly I can come to a book festival.
Suddenly I'm getting invited to go to a university to

(30:18):
give a reading or teach for a week someplace. Suddenly
I had a lecture agent, you know, who would help
get me speaking engagements or send me around the country
or the world to get to be a writer in
the world, not just at my local Starbucks between naps.
It was such a blessing, but it also meant as

(30:41):
a primary caregiver, not being available all the time, right,
and needing to kind of recalibrate some things in my
relationship to say, like, hey, okay, kind of like my
mom was a stay at home mom for a while, right,
and then eventually she went back to work. But she
did that by choice because we weren't sort of in

(31:01):
her hair as much anymore. I still had at least
one child who was very young at the time and
who was not in full time daycare, and so getting
away was a lot of a kind of a logistical
nightmare for me Personally. You were going to be the
primary caregiver and write your poems on the side, and

(31:26):
you know, this was sort of the shape of your
life that suddenly got disrupted. Yeah, this wasn't the deal, right,
This wasn't the deal, Like the deal was one of
us goes to work and the other one works but
also manages the children. And if that's not happening, then
that's not the deal. And I think that's part of

(31:47):
the strain. And yet when I think about it, if
I'm really honest with myself and I do try, I
do try to be I think, Okay, well, what if
I had traveled for pharmaceutical sales. What if it had
been incredibly lucrative, which frankly, poetry isn't. What if it
had taken me out of my home on a regular

(32:08):
basis but had nothing to do with art making, had
nothing to do with writing, It had nothing to do
with like being on stage or signing books or doing
anything that seemed fun or attention seeking. Maybe it still
would have been a problem because it would have been
an inconvenience that I don't think it would have been
the same kind of problem. I think it was the

(32:29):
perfect storm of a dream being realized and not being
able to sort of hold up my end of the
bargain quote unquote as far as how much caregiving I
could do on a daily basis. We'll be back in

(32:50):
a moment with more family secrets. Maggie's husband isn't prepared

(33:12):
to do some of the caretaking without her. Once, when
she's at a book festival, he calls to tell her
she needs to come home. Rhet has a fever. Maggie,
more mom than poet, tries to get a last minute
flight home, but she can't. Her husband is left to
muddle through this one on his own. This is just
one instance in which the rift between Maggie and her

(33:35):
husband deepens. Something's in the air, something's not right. A
while later, when Maggie is back home, her family is
asleep and she's awake. Downstairs, she sees her husband's briefcase
just sitting there. He's just come home from a business trip.
She's never done this before, but something tells her to

(33:57):
go over to that briefcase and take a look, so
she does. I hate that I did that. It's hard
to admit that you snooped into someone else's personal belongings
that didn't belong to you. Although I don't know, I
suppose if I had an open bag in my house,

(34:19):
which I often do now, my kids would probably be
rifling through it for gum or post it notes. Or something.
So maybe there's not quite the expectation of privacy in
a home where you have stuff lying around all the time.
But you know what, snooping makes such an appearance on
this podcast in so many as in life, so many episodes,

(34:44):
to the point where I had to at a certain
point thing to myself, why is this constantly coming up?
Does everyone just simply snoop? Do? Is it to snoop?
You know, to be human as to snoop? I actually
think when there is a secret that's somewhere in in
the atmosphere, that's lurking somewhere, we know it without being

(35:05):
able to sink it, and it's almost a self protective
thing to do. I'm not going to find this out,
this thing that I don't even know what it is.
I just know that there's something that I need to know,
and that seems to be the impulse. Yeah, I mean
it's sort of like Spidey sense, you know, like there's

(35:28):
just some kind of prickle that tells you something's off.
Like I don't know what it is, but something feels off,
and likely there's no answer to the offness in this bag,
but it's here, So I'm going to look and see
if there's an answer to the offness. There was, and
there was. There was an answer to the offness in

(35:50):
the bag. So what did you find in the bag?
I found a postcard addressed to a woman's name with
an address, so it had not been sent, like it
was ready to mail, but it had not been sent
in my husband's handwriting, addressed to a woman's name in

(36:11):
the place he had just visited and had been visiting
frequently for work. And then I kept looking because I thought, well,
maybe there's more glutton for punishment. And I do this.
I keep a book in my bag. I like to
have a notebook, and so did he. And so I

(36:33):
opened the blank book and sort of flipping through the pages,
and I flipped to the last entry and read basically
a kind of journal entry about taking a walk with
this particular person and being in her house. And so
I thought, okay, this is actually happening. And at first

(36:56):
I was telling myself, maybe these are ideas for like
a piece of writing, you know, like maybe it's a
novel start or a play, or this is a short story.
Of course it was not a short story. And there
was also a pine cone that he had brought back
with him for your kids. Yeah, so Rhet likes to

(37:19):
collect nature treasures. So on his last business trip, he
had brought a pine cone home as a souvenir, and
the postcard and the entry both referenced the pine cone,
and so then I knew that the pine cone was
actually something picked up with this other individual and then
brought home to our house. So in that moment, what

(37:45):
did it feel like in your body? I don't know
that I was in my body. Honestly, I have such
a hazy recollection. I mean I remember standing there, I
remember finding it, I remember going upstairs like I have
almost sort of polaroid or you know, like flashes, almost

(38:05):
like jump cuts in a film, but nothing I could
actually stitch together. And I'm sure that is just protective,
like we're just not gonna catalog all of that in
great detail for reasons that make perfect sense. So in
that state, you went upstairs and you woke him up,

(38:26):
and what did you share with him in that moment?
I think I just yelled something like who is fill
in name on postcard? I brought up the postcard that night,
but did not tell him that I had looked in
the notebook, in part because I just really what I

(38:47):
wanted was for him to tell me the truth. And
so I kind of held that back and thought, i'll
know if he's telling me the truth if he discloses,
because now I can ask questions based on what I
know from these page and if he doesn't tell me
the truth, I'll know. I mean, I watch a lot
of true crime, so I just thought, now i'll know,

(39:10):
like I'm going to know if I'm being if there's
some gas lighting here, if there's some something else going
on here. And so I didn't bring up the journal,
and he didn't bring up the journal, and so then
I just thought, you know, we'll get to that eventually.
But the next day I did the same thing. I
repeated my actions. I went back into the bag. The

(39:31):
postcard was gone. Who knows, maybe it was mailed. I
really don't know. I don't know whatever happened to that.
And when I opened the pages of the journal, I
flipped to the last entry, and the pages were gone,
like you could see where there had been pages, and
they had been not ripped out, but like surgically removed,
like with the exact o knife. Now it's Maggie who

(39:56):
is keeping a secret. She doesn't tell her husband she's
seen those pages that she knows, she doesn't say anything
at all. The temperature at home is chili. Whenever they
do communicate, it's about the kids. They go to couple's therapy,
but even there they refrain from talking about the enormous

(40:16):
elephant in the room. Maggie does not tell the couple's
therapist what she's found out. This might be the most
logical space for an issue like this to surface, but
still it remains buried. Instead, with their therapist, they discuss
all the rudimentary baseline marital tension, which Maggie's husband believes

(40:37):
to be effectively her fault. We go to counseling because
I found these things. And then in counseling we talk
about that he's unhappy because my career is taking up
too much space, and I don't bring up the fact
that we're actually there for this other reason, and we

(40:58):
don't talk about it at all. So what really struck
me about that? I'm asking because I'm just like, that's absurd,
like the doubleness of the secret keeping here. So you
discover a secret in the form of this postcard and
this journal entry, and then you keep the secret your husband,

(41:21):
and you don't speak about it. You don't tell your mother,
who you're very close to, You barely tell any friends.
You certainly don't tell your children, and you don't tell
the therapist. No, what were you waiting for? Or maybe
another way of putting it is, when we don't speak
of something of that magnitude, usually thrumbing underneath that is fear. Fear. Yeah,

(41:48):
I think I was trying to keep it intact, and
so if I didn't tell my mother what was going on,
then she would never find out what had happened. And therefore,
when I I fixed it, because I could fix it,
I could fix it and then she'd never have to
know and it would never affect their relationship. Because I

(42:08):
really thought I could fix it by fixing my own behavior.
And if I fixed it by fixing my own behavior,
then no one would ever have to know, and it
wouldn't ripple, and we could just go back to life
being fine, and then no one would have any hard
feelings or ill will. I didn't tell the counselor because

(42:31):
I thought it would anger him, my ex husband. I
just remember thinking, I feel like I'm holding this live
grenade of all of this knowledge, and if I speak up,
it's like pulling the pin. And if I just stay
small and be as agreeable as possible, it breaks my

(42:56):
heart to say it now, Like if I just make
myself very sack small and acquiesced it as much as
humanly possible and basically bargain away everything that feels essential
to me as a human being, then maybe we can
make it work and then no one has to know.
But the thing about secrets is they won't stay. No,

(43:19):
they won't. Another guest on the podcast said something that
I thought was just so perfect about what it is
to keep a secret, which is when you bury a secret,
you bury it alive, right, And this thing was alive
and wasn't going to go away. No it was not.
I mean I did get to a point where eventually

(43:40):
I realized that all of the acquiescing wasn't getting me anywhere,
Like it wasn't actually like canceling speaking engagements and agreeing
not to travel and being kind and cooking meals and
taking the kids out like it didn't matter. I could
be the sort of best version of myself, or not
the best version of myself, but the best version of myself.

(44:02):
I thought that he wanted, and it actually didn't change
his behavior toward me, And so I thought, why am
I doing all of this for nothing? Like it just
feels pointless. And it struck me eventually that it wasn't
going to be enough. And I think I also came
around to the idea that if your partner would happily

(44:25):
let you let go of things that matter a lot
to you, then probably it's not worth salvaging anyway. And
so I talked to my mom and then finally I
just unloaded one day and counseling and just said, by
the way, I don't know why we're this is a
total charade. That therapist must have been dumbfounded. Why have

(44:49):
you been coming in here for months taking the blame
and acting like it's all about that you're not enough
of a stay at home parent. That the charade is
over and done with, so is the marriage. After a
lengthy separation, Maggie's soon to be ex husband moves in
with the address see of the postcard. He communicates with

(45:13):
Maggie only by email updates. In one of these, he
lets her know that he will be moving five hundred
miles away. This is so much a story of the
coming hole and these sharp fragments and this sort of

(45:35):
puzzle like structure of trying to come to an understanding
of what happened. My friend Andrea Debuse a bunch of
years ago, Andrea is talking about memoir, and he said,
the question in memoir is not what happened. The question
in memoir is what the fuck happened? I like him already. Yeah,

(45:59):
And you're asking yourself that question, right, And in asking
yourself that question again and again, you're doing the hard
and profound work of knitting together all of yourselves over time.
This is the work that we all have to do.
Hopefully we do it, you know, until we take our
last breath. Is we're reconciling ourselves with all of the

(46:22):
different selves we've ever been. So that twenty year old
who met that, you know, that young woman who wanted
to replicate her life, and then the woman that you became,
and the mother and the wife, and the poet and
the grown ass woman you know who's actually just putting
together a life of meaning. And there's so much in

(46:43):
this book about making meaning that I think is really extraordinary.
Here's Maddie reading one of her poems. This one is
titled Bride. How long have I been wed to myself?

(47:04):
Calling myself darling, dressing for my own pleasure each morning,
choosing perfume to turn me on? How long have I
been alone in this house? But not alone? Married less
to the man than to the woman silvering with the mirror.

(47:26):
I know the kind of wife I need, and I
become her, the one who will leave this earth. At
the same instant I do, I am my own bride.
Lifting the veil to see my face, Darling, I say,
I have waited for you all my life. Thank you,

(47:52):
Thank you. Family Secrets is a production of iHeartRadio. Molly
Zacre is the story editor and Dylan Fagan is the

(48:13):
executive producer. This episode was recorded in front of a
live audience at the Miami Book Fair. The interview was
engineered by Mitch Mormon. If you have a family secret
you'd like to share, please leave us a voicemail and
your story could appear on an upcoming episode. Our number
is one eight eight eight Secret zero. That's the number zero.

(48:34):
You can also find me on Instagram at Danny Rider.
And if you'd like to know more about the story
that inspired this podcast, check out my memoir Inheritance. For

(48:59):
more podcasts us from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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