“At the age of seventeen, working as a delivery boy at Afremow’s drugstore in Chicago was the perfect job, because it made it possible for me to steal enough sleeping pills to commit suicide.”
That’s the opening sentence of the autobiography of a man who became a best-selling popular fiction writer apart from making a name for himself in Hollywood, Sidney Sheldon.
Born in 1917, Sheldon had to live his adolescence through the Great Depression. His mother, Natalie, was born in Russia, a country which drove her family out along with many others during a pogrom against Jews. She was a dreamer, according to Sheldon. She dreamt of marrying a prince. But the husband she got was Otto, “a street fighter who had dropped out of school after the sixth grade.”
Poverty at home. Great Depression in the country. Nothing to cling on to, nothing to look forward to. The young Sheldon managed to grab enough sleeping pills from his workplace, enough to kill him. He got some whisky from his father’s bottle and got ready to gulp down the sleeping pills with a good shot of whisky. It was then that his father entered the room.
He told his father, “You can’t stop me, because if you stop me now I’ll do it tomorrow.” His father took him out for a walk. Sidney explained his position. “My fantasy was to go to college, but there was no money for that. My dream had been to be a writer.” All his stories which he sent to various editors won “black printed rejections. I had finally decided I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in the suffocating misery.”
A writer, is that what you dreamt of being? asked his father. “You don’t know what can happen tomorrow. Life is like a novel, isn’t it? It’s filled with suspense. You have no idea what’s going to happen until you turn the next page.”
His father succeeded in talking Sidney out of his suicidal thoughts. He died in 2007 at the ripe age of 90.
I have never been a fan of Sidney Sheldon though I used to enjoy reading his novels during the long annual train journeys I made from my home state to my workplace. As I grew out of youth Sidney Sheldon fell out of my favour. But when his autobiography was published I felt a strong urge to read it. I wrote a blog on it too.
Now, about a decade down the line, Sheldon’s struggles came back to my memory. It seems both funny and awkward that at this stage in life I wanted someone to reassure me that life is like a novel whose next page could make a lot of difference. Also, I know, it doesn’t happen that way. I mean no difference will come from out there. Life isn’t that benign. We have to write in that difference on the next page. We have to become the author of the book that our life is. I’m left bemused by the fact that Sidney Sheldon, of all people, turned up in my consciousness at this juncture when the last book of his I read was the autobiography and I really didn’t like it. Life can be funny indeed. And tomorrow can be a miraculous page depending on what I choose to write on it.