Authors: Connie Schultz
To every woman who has ever felt anonymous
In memory of my parents, Chuck and Janey Schultz
HE FIRST TIME
Oh, come on,
He didn't just say that.
It was December 2005 and we were at a restaurant in southern Ohio, where a hundred or so Democrats and a handful of young campaign workers had gathered to hear my husband, Sherrod Brown, announce for the seventh time in two days why he was running for the United States Senate.
The party chairman of the county stood up at the lectern and in a loud, booming voice introduced. “Congressman Sherrod Brownâand his lovely wife.”
By Week 40 of the campaign, I had been introduced or mentioned that way nearly a hundred times. But this was the first time, and it took some getting used to: My only identity during the campaign, it seemed, was going to be a nod to my marital status, in case anyone wondered just who
that middle-aged woman standing next to the congressman who was now a Senate candidate.
“How clichÃ© can you get?” I grumbled as we walked to our car a few minutes later.
“Well, he didn't know better,” Sherrod said, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. “They don't know you down here like they do in Cleveland.”
Hmm. Yes, Cleveland. That would be the city where I had been writing for years at
The Plain Dealer,
the largest newspaper in Ohio. Cleveland, the same city, it turned out, where I was introduced as “his lovely wife” for the fourteenth timeâand yes, by then, I was keeping count. That night, Sherrod and I were at a political dinner, where some of the most enlightened people I know had gathered to rally for change.
“Congressman Sherrod Brown is here,” a womanâa
announced from the stage, “and he's here with his lovely wife, Connie.”
“Wow,” Sherrod whispered. “Did she just say that?”
I stopped counting once we hit the fifty marker. I knew I was not the point at these gatherings, and I was so proud of the man who was. Sherrod had spent his entire political career fighting for people who feel ignored, mistreated, and betrayed by the country they love. Now he was running for the Senate, and I got goose bumps watching the crowd cheer for him.
Also, I realized I was getting cranky about something I could not change. If I couldn't rely on a sense of humor, I was in for one long year on a campaign trail that had already begun to test my every assumption about how far women have come in this country. I couldn't just dismiss this
no name, no career, just his lovely wife
as a holdover from the older generation, either. A young woman who worked for the campaign, noting my irritation, turned to me with eyes wide and said, “What's wrong with being his lovely wife? I don't, like, get it.”
Sometimes, others helped me keep my sense of humor about the vaporizing identity so many other wives knew about only too well. My friend Jackie Cassara would call and leave messages “for the lovely wife,” punctuated by that guttural chuckle of hers that always makes me laugh. And playwright David W. Rinkels, who laughed out loud when he heard the title of this book, shared this story about a “lovely wife” from long ago:
“You know who first said that?” he asked. “It was a radio announcer. He said, âThat was a beautiful song by George Gershwin and his lovely wife, Ira.'”
At least I was in good companyâme and George's brother, Ira.
When a county chairman in southwest Ohio introduced me as “Sherrod's lovely wife, Candy,” I gave him points for originality and moved on. By then, Sherrod had been running for more than five months, and I was so busy, and so used to what had become the standard intro, that I just stood there and waved, as if being called Candy were the most natural thing in the world.
My name, by the way, turned out to be an issue unto itself. Sherrod and I married in 2004, when I was forty-six. Seemed silly even to think about changing my name, or silly to me, anyway. I doubt I will ever forget the first time I met the wife of a senator who had all kinds of opinions on what I should and shouldn't do. We were wading in a swimming pool, where I announced to the gaggle of wives that Sherrod and I had just become engaged. It wasn't long before I regretted opening my big mouth. Sherrod, then a congressman, heard this woman shriek from the middle of the pool: “You're going to keep your
? You're going to keep your
When I explained that I had built a career as a journalist with this name, not to mention an identity and a life, she laughed.
“Honey, my husband is my career,” she said.
No one else around us said a word.
When Sherrod decided to run for the Senate, I decided to take a leave of absence from the job I loved as a newspaper columnist. I had been used to a certain degree of attention and reward for what I did, not for who I married. All that changed in the time it took me to clean out my desk and hit the campaign trail. I went from being a woman paid to give her opinion to a wife spouting her husband's views everywhere she went, from chicken dinners and pig roasts in nearly all of the eighty-eight counties in Ohio to high-dollar fundraisers in Beverly Hills and Manhattan. Sherrod and I agreed on all the issues that mattered, but it still felt odd that my answer to every question in front of a crowded room or a TV camera started with the words “Well, Sherrod feels” or “Sherrod has always believed.” It was quite an adjustment.
The day after I decided to take a leave from
The Plain Dealer,
I sat alone in my kitchen and wrote five giant words in my journal: WHAT'S TO BECOME OF ME? Writing wasn't just what I did, it was who I was. I didn't know what I thought about something until I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and I couldn't imagine how I would make sense of the world unfolding in front of me if I wasn't writing it down and thinking it through at my computer.
As I looked back on our short life together, I realized I should not have been taken by surprise. There were glimpses into my future that I had chosen to ignore.
When Sherrod and I were dating, I had met many congressional spouses, but found them to be exclusionary. I had been a newbie who was engaged but not yet married. That alone disqualified me from official membership in the Congressional Club. This was declared by the president of the club in front of thirty or so other wives gathered for a meeting at one of the congressional retreats.
“You can apply after you're married,” she said. “If you do, you'll be a member for life. But you must join while your husband is in Congress. Some women never did and then wanted in after their husbands were out of office, but it doesn't work that way. No exceptions.”
They saw themselves, it seemed to me, through the lens of their husbands' lives. I once made the mistake of clearing my throat, raising my hand, and saying that, while I knew who their husbands were, I didn't really know much about
“Surely,” I said, “a room full of women is a room full of talent.”
They proceeded to go around the room, and one by one, they described the geography and demographics of their husbands' congressional districts and whether they had a difficult race for reelection. This was after Tom DeLay's redistricting stunt, so the women from Texas were particularly animated, since many of their husbands were facing tougher races in reconfigured districts. I learned very little about those women that day, but I never doubted there was a lot more to them than what their husbands did for a living. So much of what constitutes a woman remains hidden from public view. As my friend Karen Long always said to her children, “Anonymous was often a woman.”
After the meeting, the wife of a longtime congressman pulled me aside.
“I hear you're a writer,” she said.
I nodded and offered my hand, which she grabbed for a nanosecond before putting her hands on her hips. “What's said in that room stays in that room. We have each other, and that is the only real support we have. We need each other and we need to know we can speak freely.”
Then she walked away.
To this day, I can't recall a single comment made in that room that would have elicited even a smidgen of scrutiny from the public, let alone a gasp. Reporters would have yawned. The most candid confession came from a wife with young children who said she felt like a single mother most weeksâa complaint heard 'round the country from the wives of workaholic, or just hardworking, husbands.
“I am never going to one of their meetings again,” I later growled to Sherrod. “The only thing we didn't talk about was how to bind our feet.”
About six weeks into the campaign, I started to regret my harsh assessment of those congressional wives, and I was sorry that I hadn't seen why they needed one another so much. Truth be told, I wish I had made the effort to become friends with a few of them, even the wife who carried her tiny dog in a custom-made purse everywhere she went. At least, I thought, she had figured out how to always have someone around who cared about her, and only her. There were many days during the Senate race when I felt that the only living creatures who saw me as something other than a prop or a problem were our own pets, two black cats, Reggie and Winnie, and a sausage of a pug named Gracie.
Gracie always greeted me like a long-lost lover who'd sworn off life itself until my return. I'd walk through the door and immediately she'd start running figure eights across the center hallway, barking, barking, barking, as if to say, “Oh, my God, it's you! It's you!” If I stepped out to fetch the mail and returned sixty seconds later, she'd do it all over again.
Reggie, the male cat, rushed to the door whenever he heard my voice because the mere sight of me meant that food was on its way. What's not to love? Winnie, though, was the oldest and wisest of the pets, and she would have none of this excitement. Whenever I dragged myself through the door after another long day on the campaign trail, she'd look askance, glancing up from licking her paws only long enough to cast a wary eye as if she, too, wondered what had become of me.
What I didn't realize then was that I could write my own play-book. I didn't have to follow someone else's rules on how to be a political wife. In fact, I could just keep on being Sherrod's wife and do what I have always done: talk to people, take notes, and share their storiesâand my own. It took a while for me to get there, but once I did, I never looked back. The road up ahead offered a lighted path I couldn't see when I was way back there, wallowing in all that fear.
Around the same time, my nineteen-year-old daughter, Caitlin, did what she said I had done for her so many times in her life: She gave me a writer's nudge to keep going. One night, she was sitting at my computer when she called me in from the kitchen.
“Hey, Mom, I have a song for you that I know you're going to like.”
This was rareâhaving her home from college, and sharing her music. I sat down next to Cait, drinking in the light that is my daughter, as she played a song by Natasha Bedingfield titled “Unwritten.”
The song is about filling the pages of your own life and risking a leap into the unknown to write your story. “âToday is where your book begins,'” she sang.
I sat there and held Cait tight, unable to speak at first. How did my baby ever get to be so wise?
“You're never going to stop writing, Mom,” she said, smiling. “I've known you all my life, and that is what you do.” Later, she gave me the CD with that song, and I played it in private moments, as if it were my own soundtrack, throughout the campaign.
Slowly, I came to terms with what it means to be married to a candidate running for statewide office. We no longer lived the kind of life that squeezed neatly into Week-at-a-Glance planners. Campaign life was more like triage, where you tackled one crisis after another, right up to Election Day.
Returning to my reporter's roots helped. Early in the campaign, I started carrying a Moleskine notebook everywhere I went. Every week I filled up another notebook with thoughts, conversations, and stories from the road. I had returned to my familiar, my safe place, where the act of putting pen to paper helped me make sense of the world whizzing by.
In recent weeks, I have been getting to know some of the Senate wivesâand husbandsâwho made major sacrifices so that their spouses could run. To a person, they have been nothing but encouraging, and even excited, when they found out I was writing this book.
“Don't be too careful in it,” one said, as several others nodded. “Let them know what campaigning is really like.” I was so touched by their candorâand their trust. If there was a consistent theme, it was this: Please don't whitewash.
Their comments reminded me of a book I had read a decade ago by Elsa Walsh titled
Divided Lives: The Public and Private Struggles of Three Accomplished Women.
I have never forgotten the admonishment in her introduction.
When women writers told their own stories, she said, they were “insufficiently honest and intimateâ¦. It was as if women in their own books viewed admissions of pain, anger, or confusionâor even just telling the true story about their roles as wives and mothers and friendsâas betrayals of one of their central responsibilities as women.”
Her words have had a profound impact on me, both as a columnist and now as the writer of this book.
Ultimately, this is a story about a marriageâmy marriage. In so many ways, I'm your everywifeâor at least every wife who loves her husband. I listen to him when he needs to talk, chastise him when his priorities get lopsided, and share my highest vision of him when he's discouraged. And I hoot and holler like the bobby-soxed cheerleader I once was whenever he moves the marker closer to his own finish line. Nothing exceptional in that. I meet wives like me every day.
What was different in this marriage, in this time, was that my husband was seeking one of the most powerful and public jobs in the country. He was running for the United States Senate in a state that journalists and politicians call the bellwether for the country. Millions of eyes turned to Ohio about twenty seconds after Sherrod announced he was running, and the glare of that scrutiny never dimmed for the next eleven months.