Thursday, September 4, 2008

my One True Thing

Thursday, September 4, 2008


To write, or read, about the loss of a parent, especially a mother, must seem an impossible thing to many. It's something that all of us must inevitably go through, but there is a stark difference between a natural, composed ending to a life and an abbreviated, painful suffering conclusion. No one wants to watch a loved one in pain, but for the caretaking role to be reversed, and the thought of shouldering the burden for your mother...it's enough to take your breath away.

My own mother suggested Anna Quindlen's One True Thing to me this summer, as she had recently read it and been thoroughly affected by its painfully poignant subject matter. My mom has always been a big advocate of "when you're ready" to read this novel, or watch this film, or discuss this topic. She thinks in order to appreciate, understand, and value things, you have to be at the right point in your life. Reading this book was something else I had to be "ready" for, which doesn't necessarily imply maturity or new depths of life experience, just a degree of readiness, according to Mom.

As usual, the wisdom of this book recommendation was immediately evident to me, as I treasured the story immensely. It wasn't an easy read, but I won't easily forget it.

Some of my favorite moments:

Ellen, finally unable to restrain herself on the topic of her father's infidelities:
"Mama, I can't talk to you about this."
"Ellen," she said, struggling to turn toward me, her hands like pale claws on the railing of the bed, her legs scissoring away the white sheets, "listen to me because I will only say this once and I shouldn't say it at all. There is nothing you know about your father that I don't know, too."
The two of us stared silently into one another's eyes, and I think that after a moment she gave a little nod and then lay back.
"And understand better," she added.
"All right," I said.
"You make concessions when you're married a long time that you don't believe you'll ever make when you're beginning," she said. "You say to yourself when you're young, oh, I wouldn't tolerate this or that or the other thing, you say love is the most important thing in the world and there's only one kind of love and it makes you feel different than you feel the rest of the time, like you're all lit up. But time goes by and you've slept together a thousand nights and smelled like spit-up when babies are sick and seen your body droop and get soft. And some nights you say to yourself, it's not enough, I won't put up with it another minute. And then the next morning you wake up and the kitchen smells like coffee and the children have their hair all brushed and the birds are eating out of the feeder and you look at your husband and he's not the person you used to think he was but he's your life. The house and the children and so much of what you do is built around him and your life, too, your history. If you take him out it's like cutting his face out of all the pictures, there's a big hole and it's ugly. It would ruin everything. It's more than love, it's more important than love."


During Ellen's trial, when she responds to a question about whether she loved her mother:
"The easy answer is yes. But it's too easy just to say that when you're talking about your mother. It's so much more than love-it's, it's everything, isn't it?" as though somehow they would all nod. "When someone asks you where you come from, the answer is your mother." My hands were crossed on my chest now, and the woman in the blue suit turned her rings. "When your mother's gone, you've lost your past. It's so much more than love. Even when there's no love, it's so much more than anything else in your life. I did love my mother, but I didn't know how much until she was gone."


And finally, in the epilogue:
We made her simpler after she was dead. No, that's not true, either. We'd made her simpler all her life, simpler than her real self. We'd made her what we needed her to be. We'd made her ours, our one true thing.

3 comments:

J & Co. said...

...did i DREAM we talked about this book?? i havent read it, but the quotes about what momma knows--and now, my favorite quote, a la borat:
"iz goood!" ha, sorry--awoke quite early this morning and caught up on your blog! and i love the quotes from suite franc---about the quality connection thats already there. ah, amore'!

... said...

I like your blog. Good lit advice.

StarFish said...

loved the book... i think everyone can relate to that, especailly when you've gone through it, thanks for posting that :)