Loving Zelda

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LOVING ZELDA, a Story of Change Reluctantly Told.

Challenge your emotions with this beautiful story that proves we all have a chance to be loved. Loving Zelda gives an unusual glimpse of the soft-as-cotton side of Wes DeMott.

This beautifully written novel explores the emotional pain and damage inflicted on a writer and his relationship with the woman he loves as she struggles with manic-depression. Through almost ten years of hardship he loves and cares for her with unwavering devotion, but when she marries another man he becomes a recluse on his sailboat, waiting for a chance to be together again in this or any world. Loving Zelda will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.

 
Scroll down for Chapter 1. 



Reviews
   
Great book club selection KNB (Virginia Beach, VA)
Loving Zelda takes the reader through a tortured relationship of love and passion. This is story about maintaining your own sanity as you love someone with bi-polar disorder. The lovers both reach heights of love and depths of dispair until you wonder if there's any chance they can survive the intensity of their relationship. Lots of topics for interesting discussion. I asked a friend to read it just so I'd have someone with whom to discuss it. Totally unlike the other books by DeMott. Only his smooth writing and surprise endings let you know it's the same author of the political thrillers.


Like taking a milion threads and creating a tapestry.
(RVC (Roanoke, VA)
"Reading this story is like taking a million threads and creating a tapestry" - Wanting to be loved like Zelda...in Roanoke, VA



 CHAPTER 1 - The Delivery

 

I feel no choice but to start with an apology, or at the minimum, point out that I never intended to reveal myself so completely slit open by events beginning on February 27th, 1995. So to be accurate it's probably the messy spectacle of who I was back then, and the necessarily painful journey to the person I am now, for which I apologize. You shouldn't have to witness it, but try as I might – and trust me, I tried everything short of lawsuits and suicide – I find it impossible to tell Ethan's gloriously troubled story any other way.

1995. God, it's taken me so long to finally get this hateful manuscript to the publisher. As I write these last honest words for the opening pages – words I could have never written when I actually began the book – I remember that it was snowing in New York City when Ethan sailed his boat away from the United States, a strong and resilient man who'd been badly beaten and very nearly broken. I thought we were close back then, but over the years that I've tortured myself because of this manuscript I've learned there was so much about him I didn't know, and even more I didn't know about myself.

It was on that comfortably chilly 27th that the post office delivered a cardboard box to my office in the city, the address in Ethan's handwriting but the box too large to be one of his manuscripts. After sitting at my desk and pondering it for several minutes, I finally assumed that the box contained a gift, and I was excited because I didn't get many gifts. I could give you lots of good reasons for that and possibly even convince you of their validity, but the brutal truth I now know is that I just didn't deserve them. Life is sometimes as simple as that.

At that time I'd been Ethan's literary agent for more than a decade, and over those years I'd sent him a few books and videos, but no real gifts and certainly nothing personal because that wouldn't have been professional. Back then I acted friendly to everyone I worked with, but always found it best to keep a safe distance. Writers, you see, always wanted more from me than I could afford to give, and editors could at any time hurt my career more than I could endure. So I quite proudly kept people at arm's length. But somehow, from the very moment we met on the dais at a writer's conference, Ethan made me feel that I could trust him, so perhaps I did on occasion get too personal. If so (and at these closing moments I won't even bother to deny it), I regret none of it.

I remember smiling as I tore into the package, a child's smile, it seems, full of hopeful expectation and – hard for me to look back and believe – even innocence. A smile made memorable by the long and almost painful stretch it caused in my cheeks, yet linked to a reason too long past to recall exactly. I did try because I thought it might be important, but eventually chalked my rare flash of happiness up to nothing more significant than my closing a book deal that morning, or reading a promising new writer among the graduate school clones or last-gasp seniors, both of whom tended to "write what they knew" by memorializing their lives, the young in dark vignettes and the old in tedious memoirs. Or maybe I'd actually found a unique new voice among the unstructured amateurs whose pitch letters proclaimed that "My friends all love my writing and this is sure to be a best-seller." I didn't have many reasons to smile back then, so the range of options was narrow.

Inside Ethan's carton and carefully wrapped was a weathered wooden box about ten by fourteen inches, and five inches tall. It was made of oak and wonderfully crafted, probably a hundred years old and maybe twice that or more. Blotches of colors and smears of graphite seemed to testify that an artist, or perhaps a long legacy of artists, had carried paints, pencils, and brushes in it. They'd used it well over the years, and so I had no doubt at all as to why Ethan bought it. He needed, and perhaps it was a weakness, to keep things like that among artists, "even gutless writers" as he often panned himself "so that the inspirations of its former owners might have a decent chance at being passed along." It's funny to think of him that way now, but after a little too much wine and the accompanying slide from the tough guy persona he'd perfected through so many years of trading in unspeakable violence, that's exactly the kind of thing he would say.

I didn't allow myself to open the box for more than a minute, taking time to admire its exterior and imagining Ethan scouring dusty antique stores to find it. The latch was of a clever yet functional design. Silver plates protected the corners, and the dark smudges of carrying hands wrapped around the bottom and part way up the sides. I loved it, but as soon as I opened it any thoughts the box was a gift vanished. Even all this time that's passed has done nothing to dim my amazement over the box's contents, secrets I would never share if they'd belonged to me. Ethan had filled the box, probably over the span of several years, with personal keepsakes and intimate letters that completely exposed him as a passionately devoted man. And devoted to what? To a woman he loved, of course, but certainly not a woman who seemed to love him back.

The box was a wound. It was deep and fatal and festering with pain over that confused and sick woman who tortured this beautiful man and then left him for another. At least that's the way I saw it then, and although I've since been able to see some of the tremendous joy they shared so powerfully, there are still streaks of truth in that now blurry image.

I was soon to learn that Ethan had spent his last day in America absolutely alone, making notes on the photos and letters I held in my lap before writing an accompanying one to me. In it he explained his reasons, none of them valid, for abandoning everyone who loved him to live alone on his boat, sentencing himself to drift around the Caribbean and South America, making ports in places I'd heard him mention before, but only in passing.

The box also contained dozens of letters from the woman he loved – some of them wonderfully sweet, many others scrawled tearfully in the grip of anxiety or the well of depression – as well as photographs and keepsakes from a relationship that burned more feverishly than a junkie's addiction for all of those years, and is, I'm now sure, still smoldering and very much alive, hardened and purified into its final precious form by the enormous pressures against it.

I stayed in my office that entire night as I would never have been able to sleep anyway. I couldn't stop reading the letters and cards or staring at the photographs, finding the answers I'd always sought about the past Ethan kept such a secret, as well as hurtful insight into his life with this woman. I found myself attaching meaning to the trinkets they cherished, and squeezing significance from the hundreds of pictures of them together. Whether taken in 1986 or 1995 or any year in-between, nearly every photo captured them in a moment of undeniable happiness and unbreakable unity. He is always holding her close and she always has the arms of her tiny body wrapped tightly around him as if hanging onto something she loves as deeply as she needs.

I was so thankful for the photos, and could never have written this book without them because I needed their reassurance when strained or pleading letters spoke of the impossible challenges of their relationship, making me so skeptical I often thought their love was a lie they'd told themselves, and then convinced everyone around them to believe. But whenever I felt that way those photos – just one quick glance into the eyes of two people who loved each other so recklessly – proved how wrong I was.

As you'll learn in the pages that follow, I was several months into this project before I saw through the national legend that swirled and grew around Ethan and this woman as only a modern media frenzy can do. What I finally discovered was that although they seemed destined to canonization as one of the great romantic couples of our times, theirs wasn't anything close to a perfect love. Almost everyone I interviewed admired and envied them, but also knew their relationship was far from ideal, very difficult, and at times, impossible. What made it beautiful and rare was that through their amazing intimacy and her devastating sickness the two of them were unquestionably in love. It would be terribly difficult not to admire something that rare, and perhaps that alone makes this a story worth telling, the way it always has.

I confess that I didn't want to write this book for a very simple reason: At that time in my life I was probably the least likely person in New York to capture in words the incredible bond and devotion I gradually discovered between these two. I wasn't sure an attempt like that could ever be possible, but in their case it was even harder because so many of their letters were about difficult times they preferred to work through on paper, while dozens of cards and hundreds of photos showed they were too busy enjoying those great times to write about them.

What I found most compelling – incredible, really – was that as I did the research necessary to write Loving Zelda, I never once got the sense they ever thought they had hard times. Whether things were going great or terribly it was never hard because they always wanted to be with each other. They always had an absolute belief and expectation that things were going to work out and they would eventually find peace together. "Hard times," Ethan scribbled somewhere on the back of a photo, "are the ones that urge people to quit, to move on to some new partner who might be easier on the soul. That never happened to us. Even when we split up for ten months once, we never quit wanting each other, never gave up on our dream elusive. I'm sure we never will."

At this point I feel obligated to make my second confession – God, I feel like I'm back in therapy: "Hi, I'm Molly and I confess to being here at gunpoint" – and admit that I'd never worked on a love story before Loving Zelda, and to apologize for finding myself the unlikely narrator of this one. Writing about love, whatever the hell that might mean to me or you or the couple ignoring each other at the next table, is not a topic that usually interests me. Even when Ethan would craft a nicely written love scene in a thriller he was writing I would cringe and write "yuck" in the margin, insulting him in a way I didn't understand at the time. Only after opening the box did I discover how highly developed his sense of love was, so either I wasn't paying attention all those years of being his agent or I wasn't capable of understanding. For the person I was back then, those love scenes were as out of place in his thrillers as they were in the hectic pace of my life, although I deeply regret that now.

From the first words I ever read of Ethan's, his writing has intrigued me, whether they were e-mails, notes, or silly dedications from book signings: quick but thoughtful scribblings that always hinted at some kind of friendship with the book buyer. Ethan always took time to make everyone feel they were friends, and at first I thought it was just smart marketing, the way a salesman might cajole a receptionist. But I eventually came to understand that he needed their friendships, as if trying to tame some insecurity deeply rooted in the family's constant moving during his youth. Sometimes at a major signing like BookExpo I'd urge him to hurry before people got tired of waiting in line, but he never listened. He would spend half a minute talking and kidding with the buyer in front of him until he learned something he could use to write a personal note.

I remember one woman named Edna who had to be forty years older than Ethan, buying his latest book for John, her husband. Ethan asked, "Does John have a sense of humor?" Edna, poised and dignified, her white hair perfectly in place, said he was an incurable practical joker, so Ethan wrote in the book: Dear John, Edna and I had a wonderful evening. Her company is delightful, all the more so after a few drinks (I'm sure you know that). I want to thank you for trusting her with me.

Oh, yeah, John, I hope you enjoy the book. Beats a t-shirt. Ethan Ross.

Edna blushed and grinned and looked like she could have skipped away. She showed the inscription to her friend and the two of them giggled like a couple of schoolgirls, looking back and, I swear to you, flirting with Ethan.

He could have that kind of wonderful, disarming effect on the people who nervously came to meet the hard and much tested "shooter" for the United States Government, a man who thinly fictionalized his own career into big-arena thrillers. I told him often how much fun he was to work with, and how much I liked his writing, and that I saved all of it. So I guess that's why he sent the box to me.

Over the ten years since Ethan sailed away we've written and e-mailed back and forth as we worked on new books and movie projects. Occasionally (and in my mind I saw these events taking place at lonely anchorages with no other people for hundreds of miles) he would slip into hopeful melancholy and write about his enduring love for this woman who hurt him terribly, and his own mistakes he would always hope to undo. They were wonderfully sad writings that accepted his situation yet never abandoned the dream that they'd be together again, making those letters among the most inspired and honest things I ever got a chance to read. They made me grieve for Ethan, even more than they made me want to track him down and force him to understand that it was over between them and long past time for him to move on – although I had no reason to believe in my ability to make that clear to him.

The genesis of this book was the contents of the box I received so many years ago. Either directly or indirectly, the pages that follow chronicle Ethan's story, based on his request that I organize his letters and messages into some logical sequence. My intimacy with this project has unfortunately included me in the vaguest elements of a plot line, and while I never would have dreamed I'd include my own painful epiphany in this telling, not only does it now seem to make sense, it also seems essential and honest. In order to write their complicated story of loss I had to understand it, and to understand it required me to take incredible risks. To keep my personal experience secret would have cheated both him and you, so I'm taking a deep breath as I expose to you the emotional corset in which I'd chosen to live. The selflessness of this writing is the hardest and best thing I've ever done, but through the terror and tears of my own honesty – an honesty I'm quite sure will make you hate me – I hope to shine their devotion onto you. Love is like a mirror, Ethan wrote in one of his books years ago. All it can do is reflect the love you show. Your choice; it's always your choice. Reflecting Ethan's bold love required a similar courage from me, so please – and I've never pleaded before in my life – judge me gently as you read.

Ethan's reckless and violent life, which I think most people would agree was self-destructive, always reminded me of Ernest Hemingway's, a writer adventurous who either disguised or expunged his past in his stories. But Ethan's favorite author was actually F. Scott Fitzgerald. He loved Fitzgerald's writing while at the same time admired the intense and difficult love between him and his wife, Zelda. I vaguely remember a long ago e-mail where Ethan wrote, "This day some years back Fitz lost his great and true love to a fire at the asylum. How could he write after that, and why would he bother?"

I never understood that the two writers were tortured by the same un-winnable challenge until I read Ethan's letters in the box. He signed many of them Scotty or Fitz, and the more I learned about his own love the more I understood the significance. I think I'm safe in believing it was Ethan who nicknamed his partially crazy and totally wonderful lover Zelda, and so it seems appropriate to use that name for her as I write.  I think both of them would like it.

As anyone who follows the news is no doubt aware, six months before the date of this writing Ethan sailed out of Nassau, Bahamas and into the teeth of a Category Four hurricane. I got an email just before he left that said the weather was worsening and not to worry, that only a fool would venture out into those seas. I called the dock master as soon as they fixed the phone lines and learned that despite his promise to stay in port, Ethan left shortly after writing me. I haven't heard from him since, and his boat, Waiting, hasn't shown up yet in any marina I've checked. But I like to think he's still alive.

Ethan's life is, or was, a quest for true love and a conscious rejection of all that's accepted so easily in its place. Finding that kind of love was something he had to have, a safe center in his erratic life, almost like the calm eye of a lethal hurricane. While most people seem content to settle for anything that comes close, Ethan never had a moment's doubt that perfect love was possible. Even if it escaped him in the end – and at this point I'd be the last person on earth to say it did – he saw the years he and Zelda not only survived, but often flourished against incredible odds, as absolute proof of its existence.

While working on this story, I've witnessed the amazing way their tragic yet inspired love touched dozens of their friends, and even people who met them only once. I think those people admired Ethan and Zelda because they needed a reason to continue their own faith in each other, and a more inspirational couple would be hard to find, perhaps even impossible.

Ethan would be proud to know that after all I've learned, I consider him an utter fool for love.

Perhaps we should all be so lucky.

 

*****

 

After the editor hired me to ghostwrite this story, I found myself miserably confused over how to best show the intensity, understanding, and passion the publisher wanted its readers to feel. Over the course of those months – and with lots of unappreciated interferences – I grudgingly began to understand that Ethan and Zelda came close, painfully close, to sharing life's most amazing experience, and just like spirituality, peace, or happiness, love was impossible to either see or prove.

That created the dilemma that eventually led to this unusual telling: How could I even attempt to show something so mystical? The best evidence I could hope to provide was the effect it had on the two of them, but I couldn't use either one as proof. I had the letters, sure, but I barely knew Zelda. And Ethan, God, he was far too secretive about himself. Although he was constantly making small talk and jokes, he'd spent his life using casual words to build a wall to hide behind, convincing people that he'd said everything on his mind when quite the opposite was true. On the few occasions when that didn't work and someone kept pressing him for details, he totally avoided self-exposure with a line that's been famous among his friends for years: "Sorry, but it's not my story to tell." Even if it clearly was his story.  

This book became my crash course in the unfortunate ways that kind of self-protection and fear can conspire to make love impossible. I learned more working on this project than I have in twenty-seven years of denial and enumerable tries at therapy. Maybe it was nothing more than lucky timing, or because I was given no choice but to learn – the pressure to write requiring me to examine things I would normally choose to overlook.

Or maybe, just maybe, Ethan and Zelda gave me an unseen helping hand, an emotional crib sheet of what they'd learned through such a difficult relationship. I don't know, really, but as you'll discover in your reading I'm far different now from the person who wrote the next chapter – what was originally, in a much different form, the opening chapter for this book. I've finally managed to understand Ethan and Zelda's love for myself, and have reluctantly decided that the only way I could show it to you was through their effect on me. That required me to expose the bitter way I lived at the very beginning of this project that's now, thank God, at an end. It's shameful, sad, and perhaps even interesting to see how unhappy I was, especially since I didn't even realize it.

As I'm sure you can imagine, I'm nervous as hell about this. But here goes.

Molly Edwards – New York, NY

January 21, 2008


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