When I was in college, I read J. D. Salinger’s “For Esmé—with Love And Squalor” and adored it. I loved the relationship between the lovely, affecting young Esmé and the (eventually) jaded, shell-shocked male narrator. The story made me want to write short stories, but back then I also thought that I was going to become a Jesuit Catholic priest, and that took precedence. Priesthood was my goal in life.
My new memoir, “The Dark Path,” is about how hard I tried—and how hard I failed—to become a priest. Pursuing that path cost me a serious love affair and then, to a large extent, my sanity. I drank way too much and practiced karate until I permanently messed up my hip and leg. I ended up with my faith shot—living in a severe, depressive, insomniac daze, and teaching English at a Vermont boarding school.
One night while there I had a talk with a female student (she was nineteen, a few years younger than I was) that deeply moved me. I never saw it coming, but that girl was my Esmé, and years later, inspired by her and that night, I wrote my short story “The Smoker,” which (to my joy) came out in The New Yorker’s Summer Fiction Issue, in 2000, and launched my writing career. This is the story of that night…
Read the story of that night here.