“We read to know we’re not alone.”
I’m not sure when I first heard this quote from William Nicholson. I know it was before I knew his film Shadowlands which is where the quote originated. (I know that I first saw it attributed to C. S. Lewis – the subject of that film.) I also know that it rings true to me regardless of who said it or where it came from.
Some have suggested a link between reading and other people. Holden Caufield, the protagonist in J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, tells readers what he sees as a great book. “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” But isn’t that what friendship is – something that ties us together and lets us know that we aren’t alone? While Lewis didn’t originate the quote above, he did say, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
I love when I am reading and I have to reread a passage that is so true and so beautifully says what I would have said had I the talent with words that the author did. I scribble “YES!” in the margins. I show it to fellow readers. “This is what I was trying to explain. Can you believe how perfectly this writer expresses it?” I copy the quote down to have at my disposal someday to think about, to read to someone, or to write about. I’ve written about several of these passages in my blog already – passages from Pat Conroy, Katherine Applegate, Trevor Noah, Ray Bradbury, Joanna Gaines, Brené Brown and others. (This isn’t even the first time that I’ve used the Nicholson quote – but at least I’m not still giving Lewis the credit.)
This past week I had the experience of reading another passage that made me say, “What! You too?” I had to look up the author to see if she had experienced it. While I can’t find any evidence that she had, she stepped inside one of my fears and voiced it. She labeled it as the childishness that it is or can devolve into – and captured the truth that when it comes to fears, you don’t care if it is childish! I wanted to call Liane Moriarty up on the phone and talk about Madeline from Big Little Lies. I wanted to write “Yes – been there” in the margin – except that I was listening to the Audible version and that makes it tough.
There is one difference in this passage and the others I have shared. I didn’t love reading this part. I didn’t love reading some of what Madeline had to share from there on. It was speaking so loudly and accurately to a fear from my life that, at one point, I wasn’t sure I would finish the book no matter how much I was really enjoying it and wanted to know who died and how! I’ve lived with the fear and the emotion and the reality of what she is experiencing since I first became a single parent. And even though he’s all grown and gone now…the fear lingers. The fear of you being replaced by someone new or someone not deserving. The reality of it. The fear that you’ve held onto the mantra, “what goes around, comes around” and it won’t prove true. It dragged up things that I thought I had pushed down enough that they didn’t show. Except they do.
Here, see what I mean:
“There’s a difference between heartbroken and damaged,” said Ed. You were sad and hurt. Maybe your heart was broken, but you weren’t broken. Now, be quiet, because I think I’m falling for a red herring here, and I’m not falling for it, Ms. Cornwell, no I’m not.”
“Mmmm,” said Madeline, “Well, Jane might be damaged, but I don’t see what Celeste has got to be damaged about. She’s beautiful and rich and happily married and she doesn’t have an ex-husband stealing her daughter away from her.”
“He’s not trying to steal her away,” said Ed, his eyes back on his book. “This is just Abigail being a teenager. Teenagers are crazy. You know that.”
Madeline picked up her own book.
She thought of Jane and Ziggy walking off hand in hand down the driveway as they left that afternoon. Ziggy was telling Jane something, one little hand gesticulating wildly, and Jane had her head tipped to one side, listening, her other hand holding out the car keys to open her car. Madeline heard her say, “I know! Let’s go to that place where we got those yummy tacos!”
Watching them brought back a flood of memories from the years when she was a single mother. For five years it had been just her and Abigail. They’d lived in a little two-bedroom flat above an Italian restaurant. They ate a lot of takeout pasta and free garlic bread. (Madeline had put on seven kilos.) They were the Mackenzie girls in unit nine. She’d changed Abigail’s name back to her maiden name (and she refused to change it again when she married Ed. A woman could only change her surname so many times before it got ridiculous). She couldn’t stand having Abigail walk around with her father’s surname when Nathan chose to spend his Christmas lying on a beach in Bali with a trashy little hairdresser. A hairdresser who, by the way, didn’t even have good hair: black roots and split ends.
“I always thought that Nathan’s punishment for walking out on us would be that Abigail wouldn’t love him the way she loved me,” she said to Ed. “I used to say it to myself all the time. ‘Abigail won’t want Nathan walking her down the aisle. He’ll pay the price,’ I thought. But you know what? He’s not paying for his sins. Now he’s got Bonnie, who is nicer and younger and prettier than me, he’s got a brand-new daughter who can write out the whole alphabet, and now he’s getting Abigail too! He got away with it all. He hasn’t got a single regret.”
She was surprised to hear her voice crack. She thought she was just angry, but now she knew she was hurt. Abigail had infuriated her before. She’d frustrated and annoyed her. But this was the first time she’d hurt her.
“She’s meant to love me best,” she said childishly, and she tried to laugh, because it was a joke, except that she was deadly serious. “I thought she loved me best.”
Ed put his book back down and put his arm around her. “Do you want me to kill the bastard? Bump him off? I could frame Bonnie for it.”
“Yes please,” said Madeline into his shoulder. “That would be lovely.” (101-103)
I hate when I am reading and I have to reread a passage that is so true and so excruciatingly says what I would have said had I the talent with words that the author did…