It is the summer of 2008 and Joshua Chamberlain lives half of his life in a love story, the other half in an adventure.
Joshua Chamberlain is a lot like me. We’re both Southern California bred, are roughly the same age, we married our high school sweethearts, and each became nationwide traveling wedding photographers – successful ones at that. The only difference is this: I am real and Joshua, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his camera work during September Eleventh, is not.
But he might as well be real. I know Joshua all too well. I know all about the subconscious torments that drive him out the door each weekend, to wherever his work commute delivers him, and the woman whom he so desperately lives to please, despite the irony of a dysfunctional lifestyle that physically distances them. I myself spent the first decade of the twenty-first century traveling the United States as that very wedding photographer.
It was an honor and a privilege really, living out an unwritten Walt Whitman poem and becoming intimate with this great Republic of ours as I photographed the anthropology of brides and grooms from shore to distant shore, Maine to Alaska, Hawaii to Puerto Rico, and everywhere in-between, dozens of times over. Still, with all war stories come battle scars, and a cost. But I’ll get to that in a second.
I can’t even begin to recount how many nights I slept roadside, just as Joshua has, curled up in the trunk of my rental car alone to my thoughts, or riding the 1, 2, 3 train back and forth from the Bronx to Brooklyn with my camera bag for a pillow, or a regular regurgitated memory, sleazy hotels where paying customers seemed to come and go on the other side of paper-thin walls, and the bed board almost always pulsated against my skull. I’ll never forget talking to a neighboring prostitute late one night in the front of my motel (in-between customers) as that cigarette she was sucking on illuminated charcoal eyes and a scar that dominated her left nostril with shades of crimson red.
To strike up a conversation with someone who so freely granted all of her, physically speaking, and yet built impenetrable turrets around her deepest guarded emotions never left my minds-eye. It’s a scene that ended up towards the beginning of my first book, Wrong Flight Home, and so very important to the overall arching plot.
As a writer I’m not so concerned with black and white morality, where storytelling is concerned, as I am with the gray matter in-between; the close encounters and the war stories. And that’s where I am determined to send Joshua, in pursuit of the Holy Grail as it resides between the temptations and trenches of his soul. I am speaking about the sort of men who love a woman, one woman (as Joshua does); who desire nothing more than a monogamous end, and yet struggle to find a sense of identity in their spiritual faith while simultaneously swimming so endlessly against the current of moral depravity that dominates the freedoms associated with the open road. It’s like Arthur and his knights, one of them anyways, only this setting isn’t the pursuit of chivalry in long-lost Camelot. It’s in our own time and backyard, America being the mythology.
I’ve since retired from wedding photography – and travel, but not because I’m rich or anything. It was a fun ride, and I could have gone on like that forever, if I were single. Being absent from home sixty percent of the year doesn’t exactly promote ties that bind. There was that fork in the road, and anyways….. I saw it on the horizon, hung up the camera strap, and chose my family in the end. I say family because it’s not just that cute blond-headed girl that I met so long ago in high school who dominates my love and attention now, but the beautiful twin sons she only last month delivered at home in our bed. I often think about the possibilities, what might have been had I gambled my life for a much greater unforeseen prize, but lying at home in bed with the mother of my children, whom I once watched blossom into a woman, holding our two infant twin sons, I can’t even imagine a better outcome. Truth is truly greater than fiction.
It’s something Joshua would have done in a heartbeat, giving up his pursuit for the great white whale. Unfortunately for him that fork sprung up a little sooner than expected. That’s where Wrong Flight Home really takes off, when Joshua returns home after an east coast gig to learn that his wife, who’s working towards her doctorate in psychology, is tired of his absence (his emotional desertion, as she rightfully labels it) and leaves him for another man. It’s a nightmare for sure, one that dominated my dreams in those final months on the road, bed board penetrating paper-thin walls and pulsating against my skull. But it’s also a place I always knew I had to go with Joshua. It’s the springboard which drives a dimensional wedge in our existences, his and mine. But it’s not going to end there. Don’t count on it.
Wrong Flight Home is only the beginning of a much larger journey, with Goodnight Sometimes Means Goodbye being the recent second entry in the continuing series, and the Other Girl currently being written. Trust me, there’s a blueprint, and the master plan is coming together. Joshua is a survivor, and though our paths may have been dimensionally severed by unfortunate circumstances, perhaps even beyond my own control, they’ll meet up again in one way or another somewhere down the road. I’m positive of it. He’ll swim through the nightmare. How deep that nightmarish well of water goes, I can’t rightfully say at the moment, but he’ll come up on the other end a better man for having taken the journey. I swear to it, if I have my way, redemption will come for Joshua Chamberlain. Before this is over our paths will meet again.
Noel J. Hadley
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About the Author
Noel J Hadley is the author of the Wrong Flight Home series and several books of poetry, including Diagnosing a Dream and A Holy Intermission. As a wedding photographer, he spent the first decade of the twentieth century traveling the United States, sleeping on subways, in the back seat or trunks of rental cars, and often sleazy roadside hotels, taking lengthy pains to document the American wedding culture in both its diverse and universally intimate detail. He currently lives with his wife, twin sons, and dog in Long Beach, California. Find out more at his website www.noelhadley.com and find him on Facebook.