When a book event ends up overflowing with fans of his partner Gary, Wade is left wondering: How come no one showed up to root for him? BY WADE ROUSE
On a recent book tour, I entered the lobby of an event venue where I was greeted by a large group of librarians. As I shook their hands, my husband Gary approached. Suddenly the group started to shriek as if Thunder from Down Under (Australia’s ultra-hot answer to Chippendales) was performing.
As they mobbed Gary, I looked around and wondered if the whole situation might be some sort of flash mob or practical joke. That’s when I noticed the entire group was outfitted in black t-shirts that read TEAM GARY in giant letters. The t-shirts also featured a monstrous photo of Gary’s face with a mischievous grin on it. Underneath that were the words, “I Want To Be A Centaurian!”
That line was from an essay I’d read to this group a year earlier when I was testing out new material. Gary had once told me that he wanted to live to be 100, but his exact words were: “I want to live long enough to be a centaurian.”
“So you want to live long enough to become half-man, half-horse?” I had asked.
The group handed Gary a matching t-shirt, which he immediately donned. People began taking pictures — with Gary gamely mimicking the expression on his shirt.
As I processed all this, I was ushered into the auditorium. In the midst of my speech, I reached for my water only to find that it was in a mug that read TEAM GARY. I did an actual spit-take.
After the presentation was finished, the librarians offered some explanation of the swag. “We love Gary!” they said.
“Where are the TEAM WADE shirts?” I asked. “And mugs.”
They looked at each other blankly. “We didn’t make any.”
With that, I sat down to sign books, already feeling a bit disheartened. “Can Gary sign, too?” some of the readers asked in line. “After all, he is the hero in your memoirs.”
As we drove home that night, I was unusually quiet. “I’m a little in a shock,” I finally said. “I know it might sound selfish, but there wasn’t a single TEAM WADE shirt anywhere. They didn’t even think about making one.”
“It was meant to be funny,” Gary said. “A tribute to your writing. Don’t take it personally. Take it as a compliment.”
I looked at him. “A compliment? It was like a cult. And you were Jim Jones.”
I woke up the next morning, my pride still hurt. I walked into the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee, sleepily pulling a mug from the cabinet. It was a one of the TEAM GARY mugs.
As I filled it and went to my writing studio, I was steaming almost as much as my coffee. I stared at Gary’s mug on the mug.
“Do readers like Gary more than me?” I wondered. “Do people like Gary more than me?
There was no doubt that I made myself the bad guy and Gary the good guy in my memoirs. It was intentional. I am hard on myself in my nonfiction, as I believe in being as brutally honest about my personal evolution — often including many steps backwards — in my books. I want readers to be able to see their own trials reflected in mine. And I do want them to root for Gary: the eternal optimist to my perpetual realist.
I looked at my memoirs on my desk, thinking about how Gary was an essential part of every one. Then my eyes wandered over to my novels and it realized that — though he was a real person — Gary had become as much a part of my work as any character I had created for my fiction.
Eventually, it dawned on me that here really was no TEAM GARY that existed in competition with TEAM WADE. There was one team and we were on it together. Some may call that codependent; I call it love. I may write the books, but Gary’s support allows me to. And why shouldn’t readers, by experiencing Gary through my eyes, come to love him as I do?
My chest began to swell, and soon my heart felt as if it might explode. I bent over my laptop and looked up the definition of “pride.” The definition described it as deep pleasure derived — not only from one’s own achievements — but also “from the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated or from qualities that are widely admired.”
“Yes,” I thought, smiling, “I have never felt so proud of another person in my life, and I am more than capable of finding pleasure when he is admired.”
When Gary got home, he found me wearing a TEAM GARY t-shirt and sipping coffee from a mug with his face on it.
“What’s going on?” Gary asked, a little skeptically.
“I think I’ve decided that I want to live to be centaurian, too,” I said. “As long as you’re around.”
Wade’s latest novel as Viola Shipman is The Recipe Box. To learn about both his novels and memoirs, visit waderouse.com.
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Last modified: October 15, 2018