ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife

Book One, Part Two, Chapter 51: Obsession and Possession

Canyon Combs and Rock Montgomery are Ernie’s main characters in his mystery/thriller Missing Faces.

Canyon’s the sheriff and Rock’s her deputy in Neon, the mountain town in Eastern Kentucky where both grew up. They were high-school sweethearts, she a cheerleader and he a basketball player. After graduation, Canyon leaves Neon to pursue her dream of being a big-city police detective. She returns only to keep the promise she made to her dying father: to fill out his term as sheriff.

Rock wants Canyon back, but she keeps resisting him. In the end, he resigns and leaves town, headed to Florida. Only then does she realize: my Rock is gone.

“Will Rock come back, Ernie?” I asked after we finished the manuscript’s final edit.

“I don’t know, Ernestina. I’ll have to write a sequel to find that out.”

It comes to me now that Rock and Canyon resemble Ernie and me. Running off is what I did. Pursuing and hanging on is what Ernie did. Or Ernie ran off — to his writing or to the track— and I’d help him or follow him or wait for him, needing him back, often pacing or looking out the window or listening for the phone. We were each other’s obsession and possession.

Sometimes I forget Ernie’s not here. I’m reading or writing or eating or sleeping, but when I come out of the trance and look up, and Ernie’s not here to see, to talk to, to be with, I feel the ache of missing him and wanting him all over again.

My rock is gone.

My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 3-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.