Last week I found myself in a small northern city without enough reading material. I obviously needed to do something to rectify that situation, so I set out in that unfamiliar place and before long I came across a Wal-Mart. You might guess my feelings about Wal-Mart and the evil empire, I haven’t been in one for years. But desperate measures for desperate times, as they say, so I steeled myself to the task and joined the great unwashed, guided by the vague notion that if they sell everything else under the sun, surely they would have a few books. I was right. They did. I bought one.
(I also bought what seems to be a decent pair of jeans for $12.00. 12 bucks! I tried not to think of the child labor and grizzly sweat shops in Bangladesh stitched into those jeans, but that’s another thought for another day.) I took my book and my jeans and made it back to my hotel, at once ashamed and yet proud of my purchases. (12 bucks!)
The book I bought, on closer inspection, seems to be appropriate for what they call a YA audience. Young adult. I am not a young adult. I’m not even sure I’m an adult, when you get right down to it. I immediately questioned the veracity of my decision of buying it when I opened it to discover that no less a supreme personage than Oprah had decreed that this was a book “every woman needs to read before her next birthday.”
I think I bought it because I liked the blue on the cover. And to keep myself from one of those robust spy novels that Wal-Mart was full of. But further, The Sacramento Bee says that the book is “perfect in every way.” Not bad. Maybe I was onto something.
The book is titled The Fault in Our Stars and it has sold a zillion copies and it has been made into a movie that everyone loves and it is so sad and yet so real. I have to admit that despite the fact that the only character I could really relate to was the broken down Dutch novelist Peter Van Houten (although I don’t think I’m all as bad as that), it’s really a wonderful book. In this day and age when it seems all of us are destined to get some sort of cancer, it probably should be required reading. And how sad when it happens to young people who never really get a chance to live their lives.
But it was a departure for me. The last book I read was Elie Wiesel’s Night (happy, happy!) and the other two books I have on the go are Beckett’s The Unnamable (for the umpteenth time) and Henry Miller’s Sexus – once more into the breach, I thought I’d take what will be probably my third run at The Rosy Crucifixion.
So you can see, I am a supreme snob when it comes to literature. I rarely sample the fare of the popular culture, but I really thought The Fault in Out Stars was a good book and worth the read. And who am I to argue with #1 on the New York Times and Time Magazine’s Book of the Year?
There’s a scene towards the end of the book that reminded me of a scene from my own life, one that was so painful I had suppressed it, until now it seems. I don’t want to spoil the book for you should you decide to read it (or the movie should you wish to see it), so I won’t say what happens there, but this was the incident from my own life that it brought back to memory.
A number of years ago, I had a very dear girlfriend who sadly passed away as the result of a car accident. She had lingered for quite some time after the accident, in and out of hospital, and we kidded ourselves I guess that she would get better, and we could spend our days together. But one day, she just gave up the ghost, and that was that. You could say I was devastated. It was maybe the bleakest time of my life.
One night, when I couldn’t stand the separation any longer, the loneliness and despair rising to lethal levels, I phoned her. Not like I expected her to answer, but I just needed to hear her voice one more time. Wherever her phone was, it was still active, and I heard her voice on the voicemail, asking me to leave a message.
What message is there for a dead person? Only one. I said “I love you” and then hung up. It was helpful to do that, comforting to hear her voice. Immensely sad, too, obviously. And probably absurd. But helpful.
I did it a few times. Not every night. But from time to time when the grief would not relent, and the cold empty night stretched relentlessly before me, I would call her number and hear her voice. Maybe I was after confirmation that she had existed at all. I don’t know. On any account, in this manner, creeping day by day, I made it through.
I was pushing my luck. One night I phoned and a young woman answered. A girl, probably. I really didn’t know what to say to her, but I came clean and told her why I had been calling.
The girl told me, very gently, that it was her number now, and asked me if I was going to be ok. She was so helpful. I thanked her and hung up and never called the number again. I guess I moved on. And yet, as we all know, dear reader, there are some losses we may never get over.
So. There you have it. There’s a scene something like that near the end of John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars. If you like good books that aren’t afraid to deal with the messy sadness of life, I highly recommend it.
Thanks for reading.
Here’s a song that was written before answering machines and voicemail . . .