I’ve just finished reading Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies. Check this out:
“Josiah made me feel badly about our fights. And I did feel badly that we fought, but I also thought it was explainable.”
Gillies didn’t feel bad; she felt badly, indicating not negative emotions but that the mechanism which allows her to feel is broken. Including this “and,” she also began three sentences with conjunctions in one paragraph. I know, I know - writers bend this rule for emphasis and style. But come on.
“Professors may get paid well under a hundred grand a year,” Gillies writes, “but if you take advantage of the little perks here and there you start not to feel so bad about that number.” She had referenced salaries in the sixties and seventies a few times earlier in the book, but this line stuck in my craw. She also puffs herself and her Oberlin, Ohio neighbors up for not having “help” in the form of nannies, cooks, and cleaning women (which she admits they would if they’d stayed in New York City) as though they deserve medals.
“As we passed the airport in Cleveland…the DVD player that was built into the car went dead. Lots of people, parents of young children especially, when they read this might call out aloud, ‘Go to the nearest Wal-Mart and buy a $120 DVD player!!!’”
Actually, those of us who grew up sleeping six to a bed on holidays and tumbling around in vinyl backseats on five-hour drives to our nearest relatives on a regular basis thought, “Wow, your car has a built-in DVD player?” Followed quickly by, “Don’t you know any freaking car games? Because my parents sure did!!!”
According to John Dufresne, you get “maybe three” exclamation points in your career; Isabel Gillies used all of them in that one sentence. I used my three to illustrate how annoying I found her sentence.
But Gillies also has an endearing, self-deprecating wit. She gives her husband a long speech trying to reconcile things, a series of choppy sentences expressing her feelings, then she writes, “I wish sometimes I could just say one or two knockout sentences instead of twenty mediocre ones, but it’s how God made me.”
I picked up a memoir about a dissolving marriage knowing it would call up emotions I’d have a hard time facing, so why was I focusing so much on our class differences? Why did I pick her grammatical choices to pieces? It was easier to ridicule and distance myself from this woman than to admit that she’d written some of the most painful, intimate details of my heart.
I don’t have children, so I can’t know how it feels when the other half of your child rips away. But I know how it feels to love someone until it overflows from your pores, to be so toppled by someone’s brilliance that their thoughts and opinions shape everything in your life, to be so deeply happy that you can’t believe your luck. I know how it feels when that leaves.
Izzle wrote about the panic. She explored the helplessness. The dizzying speed with which it happens and the indifference of the turning world. She talked about life losing its context, about trying to find happiness and beauty in the tiniest things, about throwing herself on the mercy of her friends.
You think you’re done with the pain, that you’ve gone through it and come out stronger. Then you realize you are still going through it.
Losing context; that’s stuck with me the most.
I recently talked with Becky about the five things which most define me. A year ago, I had my list ready. Writer. Male. Mixed-Race. Lover. I felt the thing which most defined me was “Husband.” Without that, I’ve floundered to find who I am. I'm still Mixed-Race, but does it come before Writer or after? I’m not sure. I’m still a man, too. After those three… American? Divorcee? Survivor? Chronic Masturbator? Avid flosser?
Becky worries about the rekindling of something between my ex and me. I worry whether this new version of me will share my values and beliefs. It's a very odd feeling, realizing you don't trust yourself.