I’m on a Shakespeare high from seeing a bunch of amazing plays this week, but I did manage to write this piece for Segullah. Cheers, everyone xo
This week, I cleaned out Jack’s old room, which is now a storage room. The good news is, the camping gear, Halloween costumes, snow pants and boots, my dad’s old golf clubs, and my wedding dress are now organized and easily accessible (side note: I do not need easy access to my wedding dress). The part that took me by surprise was the wave of emotion I experienced in going through remnants of Jack’s early childhood. Baby blankets, photographs, his PECS binder, ABA therapy file folders–there was just so much that brought the most difficult years of my life back, and it was amplified by my separation from Jack in space and time.
Who weeps when cleaning out an explosively disorganized room? Me, apparently.
Jeff and I went to Costco later that day and I told him on the way home how profoundly affected I felt going through items reminiscent of Jack’s toddler and elementary school years. “I didn’t miss Jack at that moment,” I told him. “I am confident and happy in where Jack is right now. I’m not sad as much as I am traumatized remembering how brutally hard those years were.”
And then Jeff said exactly the right thing, which was this: “You did that. You went through it.”
Validation. It’s pretty powerful.
Those days were brutal, and are, fortunately, in the past.
I also drove to southern Utah this week and spent much of the drive contemplating Jack. He lives far away. We don’t get to see him much. When we do see him, he can’t talk to me. The good parts are that Jack’s needs are being met by excellent caregivers who love him. The hard parts are that we miss out on the moments of sweetness that come from being with Jack all the time.
Its a weird trade off and I don’t know that it will ever feel normal to me.
Because of this separation, I have acutely felt the need to have a family photo in Jack’s town so he can be there. I need to have an updated image of all of us together, not from bygone days when Jack lived at home, but current and reflective of our present life as a family. So that’s happening this trip, too. Someone asked me if Jack will cooperate with the photo shoot, and I told them that all he has to do is exist in our general vicinity and it will work out great. No posing or smiling at the camera necessary, just lots of candid togetherness.
Even though I’m waxing a bit glum (or at least conflicted) about The Way Things Are For Us, the reality is that Jack’s life is a miracle.
Our ability to function as a family has been restored, which is a miracle.
Jack’s perfect placement and lovely home and amazing caregivers are a miracle.
The fact that our lives changed so dramatically and so quickly and so positively are miracles.
My life felt like wall-to-wall failure Before, and Now it is straight up a testament to God’s ability to intervene and change the worst circumstances to something remarkable and beautiful.
And feeling comfort in knowing Jack’s life is charmed and blessed? Miraculous.
I have been reading a metric ton this summer–fiction plus memoir, my two favorite genres, in hardbacks and paperbacks exclusively. I haven’t liked looking at screens to read, of late. Not that anybody asked, but I clearly like to overshare when it comes to my reading habits.
I don’t have the mental bandwidth what with the all-kids-all-the-time tableau at my house this summer, so these really are going to be little/possibly not very thorough reviews of:
Books I Have Enjoyed to Varying Degrees. Beginning with…
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
I no longer have to hide my face in shame over not having read The Great American Read or whatever. I read it. I found it pretty avant garde for the time in which it was written. I do not feel about it the way much of the world seems to feel, which is that it is the one book that most deeply touched them. Holden Caulfield as a character has a big, memorable voice. His narration is the best part of this funny, yet essentially sad story. I value this book and what it has to offer. It is an important book. But I’m not in love with it. There. I said it.
The Summer Before War by Helen Simonsen
I found this book delightful. It felt like Downton Abbey set in Sussex solely before and during The Great War. Beatrice and Hugh as central characters are lovely and real and just what I always want in a good book, which are people I can really SEE and believe in. There is a lot of humor in this story of a small English town and its quirky residents as they come up against the brutality of a war. Because it’s also a war story, it’s not all garden parties and happy endings. I loved it.
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Hoffman is a prolific (seriously so prolific) and excellent writer who favors magic, witchery, and dark themes in her stories about people who have a different set of gifts, yet who still must cope with the vicissitudes of life. This book follows the three teenage Owens siblings in New York City, who have been forbidden by their mother from dabbling in anything relating to magic, yet who seemingly can’t keep the development of their proclivity for these powers away. They are schooled in becoming who they are by their aunt Isabelle, who lives in the family’s ancestral home in Massachusetts, of Salem Witch Trials fame. I did not expect this book to follow the sibs through their entire lives, but it does and I found that it was more than a fantasy with lush imagery. It was a solidly written, tender story of a family, which does tend toward dark outcomes.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
This book reminded me a bit of Station Eleven, which scared me to death, yet which I enjoyed nonetheless. But The Dog Stars was much better imho. So much better. The narrator, Hig, is one of few people left after a flu decimates the world’s population. He is a gentle soul, yet somehow manages to survive in the brutal aftermath, where people will kill each other to take each others’ supplies, even if it’s just a bunch of cans of soda. There is also so much beauty–so much awareness for what life is and what makes it worthwhile. I don’t even know how to summarize this story in order to do it justice. It is sad, hopeful, inventive, human, and beautiful. I loved this book and felt that it changed me.
The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty
I have liked everything I’ve read by Moriarty, whose stories are set in Australia. This is one of her earlier books and it felt a little less polished to me than What Alice Forgot and The Hypnotist’s Love Story. I still enjoyed it, but felt that the story had some pretty implausibly big gaps. It’s about a mystery surrounding a family living on Scribbly Gum island near Sydney, involving a baby, a possible double murder, and multiple story lines which eventually do find resolution. It’s light-hearted chick lit. A beach read, basically.
Young Adult Lit
Thief of Happy Endings by Kristen Chandler
Chandler is a Utah writer (yay locals!) whose story follows a teen girl whose parents are divorcing. Cassidy spends the summer away from her family on a troubled youth horse ranch in Wyoming, where she struggles not only with getting on a horse and being constantly dirty, but with understanding who she is. This book could have felt really predictable, but it wasn’t. There’s a bit of romance and a hefty dose of coming to terms with difficult family situations in this introspective coming-of-age tale.
The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson
Pearson’s three books in this fantasy series have really sappy titles (The Kiss of Deception, The Heart of Betrayal, and The Beauty of Darkness), but that didn’t stop me from diving in and immersing myself happily in the story of a runaway princess avoiding an arranged marriage. Lia, the protagonist, has a firecracker personality and spends the trilogy realizing she is destined to save a country far to the east, but historically connected with her own land. Because this is kind of epic, world-building stuff, there is A LOT that happens. So much. I can’t do it justice here. I read all three books in a matter of days. They were a delightful escape, as books in summer should be.
I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall
The blurb on the cover of this book describes it as “Hatchet meet The Revenant” with a big dose of fierce female resilience, which is pretty spot on. It’s the story of a young woman who ends up stranded, injured, and alone in the remote Canadian wilderness for six months. She writes the book in the first person, in a journal form, which skips between her life before and the stark reality of survival which comes after the events which placed her in this situation. It is scary, raw, and exciting, but would benefit from more exploration of Jess’s emotional journey.
Reader, what are you reading? Or better yet, what are the three best books you’ve read in the past year? Comment and give me and each other some good recommendations xoxo.