Eleanor Henderson was returning from book tour for her second novel when she decided it was time to write about her own true story, the one about her marriage. Caring for her two sons and a chronically ill husband, “I didn’t really feel I had much room in my imagination for anything else,” Henderson said.
She began the first chapter as soon as she came home; a chapter about seeing her husband, Aaron, through another night of pain and torment. “It was a common occurrence to have a night like that,” Henderson said, and she wanted to acknowledge those nights, she added, “even to myself.”
“Everything I Have Is Yours: A Marriage” chronicles the couple’s life together; at its center is their struggle to understand and treat Aaron’s illnesses (ranging from addiction to undiagnosed psychological and physiological conditions). Aaron, to whom the book is dedicated, gave his blessing for Henderson to write the book, but has said he will likely not read it.
“I had become very comfortable editing and curating and presenting a kind of life that was true but I was omitting so much of the pain and struggle,” said Henderson, who teaches writing at Ithaca College. “I was tired of that. I longed for the truth.”
So far, she said, the reaction to the book has been “really gratifying.” Everyone, it seems, can relate to some aspect of having an undiagnosed illness, or caring for a loved one. Some want to diagnose: “I’ve already gotten a few e-mails from people who are pretty sure what’s wrong with my husband.”
Henderson said she hopes the book will portray what it’s like inside a long marriage. “I hope it resonates with [the reader’s] own experience of the complexities of trying to live alongside another person for decades,” she added. “I hope it will bring some empathy for people who live complicated lives.”
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.