I finished Happens Every Day by Isabel Gilles last night and I am still reeling and trying to process it. As a married mother with three children, I found the book absolutely terrifying, and intense, and honest, and heart-breaking. I read Isabel Gillies’ second memoir on this same topic (and reviewed it!), A Year and Six Seconds, first, completely by accident. I finished that book and was so intrigued with the story that I went back to read this first book. Gillies, an actress, leaves her career in NYC to follow her handsome, professor husband, Josiah (name changed) to Oberlin, Ohio so that he can accept a professor position with Oberlin College. Within a few months of a new English professor, Sylvia, (name also changed) beginning at the College, Josiah wants out of the marriage leaving Isabel and her two young boys behind.
Gillies’ telling of this story is nothing short of riveting. She has the uncanny ability to describe events with such clarity, such openness, that you honestly feel that you are hearing it directly from her over a cup of coffee at the local Starbucks. Gillies tells the story from her point of view after a summary opening of her and Josiah’s meeting and marriage (he was married before and cheated on his wife and left a son) and their landing in Ohio. From there, Gillies pretty much goes from event to event until the time when Josiah tells her that he is done with the marriage.
She describes her meeting and befriending the college professor who would end up being her children’s step-mother. She talks about her own feelings of insecurity and her constant questioning of herself when the niggling at the back of her mind tells her that there is something going on with her husband and this “Audrey Hepburn-type” woman. What Gillies describes is every happily married woman’s nightmare – to be blindsided with the fact that the guy you love, the father of your children, wants someone else and is going to act on it.
The book is an important one, I think. Important for Gillies, yes, but startling in its ability to shed light on what truthfully, sadly, does happen every day. Gillies description of how she responded emotionally and physically to her new, albeit, unwanted reality was particularly well done. You can FEEL her pain with her. That’s rare for a book to illicit such a palpable response. Gillies does admit that the book is clearly HER side of the story, that her exhusband would have another tale. However, when happily-married, in love, having regular, great sex, enjoying the pleasure of two healthy young boys isn’t enough for some guys, and when the existence of all those wonderful things does not a stop a young woman from moving in on it, you have to wonder…what the heck?
I was so intrigued by this tale that I had to do a bit a bit of research on these folks. I was tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep. I found my mind drifting to the folks in the story and kept wondering, where is the justice for Gillies? And I was also thinking as Gillies repeats throughout the book, what is happening, what is happening?
I turned to Google and started to search. I found this cool article by Karen R. Long on the Cleveland.com site entitled, Happens Every Day Puts Oberlin on the Infidelity Map. In this interesting article, the names of the Josiah and Sylvia character are revealed, DeSales Harrison and Laura Baudot. Both are still at Oberlin College in the English Department. You can see what they look like in this little nugget I found, a picture of the Oberlin Englsih Department. In the article, Harrison cleverly avoids commenting on the book or anything in it saying that he has found that the best course of action is to refrain from doing so. For anyone who might think that exposing these folks may not be fair, I challenge you to read Gillies account of what happened.
It will tear you up, as it did me, to read the responses of both “Josiah” and “Sylvia” as the events unfolded. For example, when Gillies walks in on Josiah and Sylvia in his office with their heads “just a bit too close together” Josiah laters yells at Gillies and demands she apologize to Sylvia all the while denying that anything was going on between them. He consistently protects Sylvia telling Gillies, to “leave (Sylvia) out of this.” When Gillies confronts Sylvia, Sylvia’s response is, “What are you afraid of, Josiah will always be my friend.” (I have another friend who when she confronted the other woman, the other woman said exactly the same thing) Sylvia also told Gillies, as Gillies was heartbreakingly BEGGING her to stay away from her husband so that her boys would not lose their father, Sylvia simply responded, “It Happens Every Day.”
I have at least 20 lines underlined in my copy of the book that are particularly heartbreaking and brutal. To Gillies’ credit, she cleverly adds a line that makes you laugh usually right after a harsh line and that helps a bit. Still, I didn’t know where to go with my outrage and then, thankfully, I came across another article by Kristin Fawcett from the ManitouMessenger.com titled “Memoir Exposes Infidelity in Academia” that had me sleeping like a baby. The sentiments that Fawcett expressed in her piece, whether intentional or not was “sweet revenge.” Revenge for Gillies, I mean.
Here is what I realized. Gillies marries an intellectual, in the English Department, no less, and who ends up with the lucrative writing career? Gillies! Not the English professor, nor his new English professor wife. REVENGE! Gilles wrote a second book as mentioned above and is on her third. Where are Josiah and Sylvia? Back at Oberlin college WISHING they were successful, published authors (By Gillies account, Josiah did publish a poetry book in which she had to remind him that it was customary to dedicate it to one’e spouse. Is the book successful? It is ranked at over 4,000,000 on Amazon as of today) Finally, I can sleep soundly again. Peace. JUSTICE. Congratulations, Ms. Gillies and I can’t wait to read your third book!