Monday, May 06, 2024

Escape Routes by Marsh Rose



It’s 1985 and pampered psychotherapist Lauren Olive loses her job, the love of her life to his hairdresser and is forced to move to a backwoods bungalow as a drug couselor in a rural jail.

Escape Routes

by Marsh Rose

Genre: Historical Women’s Fiction

It’s 1985 and psychotherapist Lauren Olive, a pampered Baby Boomer in the California wine country, has never owned a bank account, lived without a man, or seen the dark side of life. But after she loses her job, and then the love of her life abandons her for his hairdresser, she’s forced to move to a decrepit bungalow in the backwoods and accept work as a drug counselor in a rural jail.

At her new job, the inmates view her wide-eyed naivete with hilarity and her hardened coworkers resent her middle-class roots. Worse, the bungalow seems poised to collapse around her. If Lauren is going to survive financially, avoid going back to live with her parents, and regain normality, she’ll need to leave her little-girl ways behind. But success doesn’t come without struggle. Surrounded by her crusty landlord, the jail’s seasoned deputies, skeptical inmates and a new love interest, Lauren must confront challenges she never could have imagined in her comfortable city life.

Escape Routes is a tale of maturity under duress. It speaks to the emerging audience of readers who want stories of growth and accomplishment by strong women in compelling situations. Although it is a work of fiction, it offers a glimpse into rural American criminal justice during the 1980s, a time when addiction treatment for inmates was in its formative years. Its narrative captures genuine lifestyles, concerns, speech, and behavior without demonizing, demeaning, or glamorizing the characters on either side of the bars.

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Lies and Love in Alaska

by Marsh Rose

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance 

To stop the meddling of her matchmaker friends, divorcee Annalee fakes an affair with an Alaskan bush pilot whose profile she has seen in a magazine about bachelors in that rugged environment. The plan backfires when he appears in her small California town and lures her to his remote cabin with stories about the magnetic pull of the Last Frontier and the promise of lasting love.

In ways she never imagined, she finds herself falling for both the pilot and Alaska in spite of the bears, blizzards, peculiar neighbors, pyromaniac ex-girlfriend, stack of love letters hidden in a pantry and evident truth to what they say about single men in Alaska: the odds are good, but the goods are odd. Before Annalee can sever her ties in California and move north, a shocking telephone call from an unknown woman rocks her world and catapults her into a whole new way of life.

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Sunday, April 7, 1985:  “He gives you an allowance?  That’s reckless.”   -- My friend Bridget
            I would have never grown up if the love of my life hadn’t left me for his hairdresser.  In fact, there were a lot of things I never would have done: fixed a toilet, slept with a motorcycle racer, been arrested, learned to cook, bought a house or made peace with my parents. 

            I was always puzzled about what to call our relationship.  Today I’d say I was living with my significant other or my domestic partner but we didn’t have those words back then.   “Living with my boyfriend” would have sounded ridiculous given that I was nearly 30 when we met and he was 35.   
            My mom and dad called our arrangement “shacking up” but they said it with a smile.  That was important to me.  While I complained to my friends about my parents’ over-protectiveness, secretly I was never comfortable with a life choice until I knew they approved.  In fact I had been filled with trepidation in my first year with Aaron when I took him back to Philadelphia for Passover to meet them.  Although he was a JFK look-alike and a university professor and a psychologist, I feared they were disappointed in our lifestyle and they’d let it show.  We were, after all, living in sin in San Francisco, that malignant ganglion of sex and drugs.  But they met me at the airport with the usual volley of kisses and cheek-pinches, and at dinner my father accorded Aaron the seat of honor at the head of the Seder table even though Aaron was Irish and bewildered. 
I had been his teaching assistant in graduate school.  We hooked up the day he found me sobbing in the back row of his classroom, distraught over the end of an affair with a musician I swore would be the next Kris Kristofferson.  Aaron had long legs and a boyish grin and thick chestnut hair that fell disarmingly over one green eye, causing him to constantly flip it back in a graceful pas seul of wrist and neck.  He could have had his pick of arm candy among his worshipful students and admiring colleagues but he chose me, a diminutive, frizzy-haired, myopic daughter of Russian immigrants.   Ten years later we had become one of the rare couples in our generation whose relationship had survived the permissiveness and excesses of the recent past: free sex, open marriages, the whole suppurating end result of The Summer of Love. 
            By the early 1980s, Dr. Aaron Prentice was on a tenure track at the university.  I had survived the rigors of getting my psychotherapist’s license – a master’s degree and a lengthy internship – and was seeing clients at Changing Times, a non-profit counseling agency housed in an old Victorian on a side street in town.  I could have sought a more lucrative position in a psychiatric hospital with its endless chaos and demanding bureaucracy but I chose the lesser-paying quiet ambiance of a small local clinic.  My clients’ issues were typical of our middle-class, middle-aged population.  Loss of a parent, a cheating spouse, a wayward teenager.  No violent paranoid schizophrenics, no one thinking they were Mother Mary.  I enjoyed pleasant relationships with my colleagues and never thought about work on weekends. 
            Aaron and I bought an upscale townhouse in Santa Rosa, a city in the famed Sonoma County wine country north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  There, we lived the lives of established DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids) in the pre-Dot.Com era.  Good wine, good but not excessive food and sophisticated, well-read friends.  On Saturday nights his students dropped by for Merlot and Chardonnay, hors d’oeuvres and energetic debates.  Our décor was a meld of flea market chic, exotic gifts from travelers and carefully collected objets d’arte.  The academic tomes and literary classics on our living room bookcase kept company with ancient Native American artifacts and Austrian blown glass.  Our throw rugs were from the Andes. 
            Aaron did the grocery shopping and cooking.  His mother was a noted chef and cookbook author in Carmel and he was taught from an early age to be masterful in the handling of sauces and herbs.  He told me that some of the most vitriolic arguments he’d had with his wife throughout their disastrous brief marriage were about who controlled the kitchen.  In contrast I had segued from my parents’ house to the college dorm, back to my parents, then a mercifully brief span alone during which time I typically ate a full meal only on dates.  The rest of the time it was take-out standing over the kitchen sink.  By the time Aaron came along I was more accustomed to being fed than to feeding.  I was content to let Aaron take the helm at the stove.  Instead I did the laundry, dishes, and quite a bit of dusting.  All those objets d’arte. 
            Aaron with his full-time professor’s salary easily assumed responsibility for our bills.  My slim income went toward the little luxuries we both enjoyed; the best coffee, whale-watching at a bed and breakfast overlooking the sea.  I simply handed my paychecks over to Aaron.  If I needed money for some personal luxury – a hand-embroidered blouse from an artist in North Beach, some highlighting in my hair – Aaron gave back what I needed. 
            Bridget, my best friend and former college roommate, was not among the many who envied me.  “You have nothing in your own name?” she said.  “What if he gets hit by a truck?  And he gives you an allowance?  That’s reckless.” 
            But nothing would go wrong.  I was cherished and secure in the arms of a man everyone adored.  I wanted nothing more in life than to go on appreciating the bounty.   That was until Aaron announced he was leaving me for the beautician who did his hair.

Marsh Rose is a freelance writer, psychotherapist and college educator. Her short stories have appeared in a variety of publications including Cosmopolitan Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Carve Magazine, Hippocampus Magazine, and New Millennium Writings where she took first prize for creative nonfiction in 2018. This is her second novel. She lives in the north San Francisco Bay Area with her greyhound, Adin.

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1 comment:

Marcy Meyer said...

The excerpt sounds really interesting. Thanks for sharing.