"If you jump I'll break your fall.
Lift you up and fly away with you into the night.
If you need to fall apart, I can mend a broken heart.
If you need to crash, then crash and burn you're not
alone.” Crash and Burn – Savagegarden
It was tough sometimes to hang in with Sunshine. Her emotions were all over the place. Tough for me because I always felt there was a rug with my name on it that was about to be pulled out from under my emotional feet...and Sunshine had pulled it out from under me a few times early on.
I understand why...I mean, she's a married woman, right? She's made a vow, invested years of her life in the marriage, has a couple of kids, and everything in her life is a known quantity. She'd had thoughts of leaving her husband before over the years but I gave her the first real opportunity/reason/excuse to actually leave. But Sunshine's path to leaving was blocked by one thing:
Sunshine was scared of the unknown.
Scared of unknown questions that didn't have answers till she walked away from her marriage. Questions like: Would I want a woman with so much baggage? Was I too good to be true or would I be just another man who let her down? Did she dare trust a man again? Would her kids be traumatized and stygmatized? How would she support herself without her husband's income? What would her family her friends, her church think of her getting divorced? How would they react...would they support or condemn?
Though I had never been married, though I had never faced the issues she was staring right in the eyes, I'd had enough women friends who had gone through divorce and experienced similar feelings/doubts/concerns/fears. Though none of those women had an easy time going through their divorces, they all survived it. The world didn't come to an end. I knew Sunshine would survive and be better off for ditching her husband but it's a lot easier for me to feel that way when it's not my life. Sunshine's fear threatened to keep us apart as she tried to push me away when the fear got too overwhelming.
It became clear that I had to pour my belief, my willpower, my confidence into Sunshine. Two ways I did that - I let her pour out her fear to me and I sang to her. Sang "Crash and Burn" to her. I told her over and over that if she took that leap I would not let her fall. And I was absolutely serious. After all the years of isolation, of feeling ugly and unlovable, I was not going to let Sunshine's fear stop me from being with the woman I had waited my entire life to be with. Whatever she was lacking in confidence or strength or belief or courage, I would give her mine. I would empty myself if I had to so she knew that leaving her husband for me wasn't a risk. I listened, poured, supported and then did it some more, all while showing I was everything her husband wasn't and would never be.
I just never knew how big that leap would be for her or how pouring so much of myself into Sunshine would leave me so drained for what was to come. Leaving her husband was the easy part. Getting away from him was nearly-impossible. In fact, it almost killed her. Or, more accurately, he almost killed her.
See how it all started in Sunshine: Diary of An Affair http://amzn.to/11K07iD
And I'd give up forever to touch you
'Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be
And I don't want to go home right now.
Many songs provided a soundtrack for my relationship with Sunshine and "Iris" from the Goo Goo Dolls is at the front. Until Sunshine I never let a woman get close enough to me to know who I truly was underneath. Relationships were something I wasn't ever good at...hell, forget relationships, getting a date was almost impossible. Difficult to get a date when I could never find the magic words when asking a woman out. My askings were awkward, clumsy, painful and unsuccessful. On those rare occasions I did get a yes, one date was all I got. For as clumsy, painful, and awkward as my invitations were, apparently, the dates were too. That doesn't even count all the times I got stood up. To make my self-esteem nosedive even more, it seemed as though everyone I knew was either married or in a committed relationship. What was it about me that was so horrible that no woman wanted to be with me?
As I entered my 30s, it seemed as though I'd never get married while everyone around me kept asking me when I was going to settle down. My heart felt like it was punctured by a knife every time the question got asked. The only response I could come up with that I was focused on my career and didn't have time for a relationship. Career became a mantra to hide my embarrassment, hurt, and shame as someone who seemed to be invisible to women. And owould always be so.
As Sunshine and I got to know each other, it became clear I was not invisible to her. The attraction between us was undeniable yet unspoken. As our friendship deepened, so did my frustration. Sunshine was just the kind of woman I'd been looking to settle down with but she was already married, just not happily. Over time I got the sense she wanted more from me but held back because of that ring on her finger. The more that time went on I had to listen to her actions because that was where the truth could be found. Though her actions brought her closer to me, it was her words that put distance between us. Her inner conflict was not difficult to see but it was tough to handle because I didn't have any doubts I wanted to be with her.
What was also tough for me to handle was my struggle with finding this woman who wanted to know me on a deeper level than any other woman ever had who I couldn't have because she married the wrong man. After the years of being alone feeling ugly and like there wasn't a woman in existence who could love me, I wasn't going to let something like her wedding ring to keep us apart. The song "Iris" became my new mantra because I knew I would give up anything for Sunshine. Just never knew how much "anything" would cost me. Or her.
Writing the Sunshine Affair series was one of the most difficult undertakings I've had as a writer. Now, writing isn't new to me but writing the type of story that fell in front of my keyboard was. As a writer the three things I look for in any story are realism, a compelling plot, and the main character(s) motivation. When Eric came to me and said, "Here. I think you're the person to tell my story" all three of those elements and more were suddenly in front of me. What Eric had given to me out of the blue were the journals he kept during a secret affair he had over the course of years. This was an affair of which no one knew.
I read Eric's journals. Page after page of his handwritten jotting revealed his thoughts, feelings, and actions...some of which were shocking to me. He put everything is exquisitely defined detail, making me feel as though I were standing next to him as everything unfolded. I felt as though I was finding out what was happening the same moment he was. It took me almost a year to read the secret life he led. During this time I had to decide if I could write the story or if Eric's belief in my writing abilities had been misplaced. It didn't take me long to decide. This was a story I could not pass up telling. I told Eric I would do my best to do his and Tina's story justice.
As much as I loved writing the series, it was not without its challenges. Now, Eric made made task much easier because of his painstaking detail, especially the dialog. 95% of what you read in the Sunshine series actually happened or said. I didn't have to make up the conversations because what Eric recorded in his writings was far better than most writers could make up. The candidness and vivid specifics stood up on their own. My challenge was to not just throw in quotation after quotation of conversation but to really set the scene around those conversations. It's important for the readers to not only be part of the conversation but to put them in the room with Eric and Tina by including facial expressions, body language, and mannerisms.
My strategy in writing the Sunshine Affair series was to stay as true as I could to the diary format to help move the relationship and readers through time as smoothly as possible. The diary format was also used as a tool for people to get in Eric's head and provide a perspective so that we're learning as he's learning, we're surprised as he's surprised, and so on. And that's where I got and stayed awhile - in Eric's head. And it was tougher to get out of than I thought.
We've all had moments when we've wanted to get in someone's head and find out what they're really thinking at a given moment, to know what makes them tick. Prepping and writing the Sunshine Affair series put me squarely in Eric's head. It wasn't that the story sucked me in and wouldn't let go, it was the pondering of why Eric would throw away his entire belief system for Tina, why he did so many things he had told me for years he would never do, how he could keep all of this inside him for so long and not tell anyone. I've never asked Eric directly because part of me doesn't want to know and part of me thinks Eric still doesn't know.
What I can tell you is the Sunshine Affair series is some of the best writing I've ever done and one of the most compelling stories I've ever heard, read, or written about. My hope is that, in the end, I have done Eric and Tina's story justice. But that's not for me to decide.
I invite you to get in Eric's head by checking out book one: Sunshine: Diary of An Affair by clicking on the link. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B29ALUC
- E.J. Caulder
Eric Simmons is one of the two essential figures of the Sunshine Affair series. Simmons gave his journals to E.J. Caulder to turn his real-life experiences into a novelized version of the events Simmons lived. Both men to provide their insight on the Sunshine Affair series from their unique perspectives.