Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Review #3: Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard
It did with me, though. And that was very, very unexpected.
Labor Day is told from the perspective of thirteen-year-old Henry and largely takes place over the four days of Labor Day weekend sometime in the mid-80s. Henry lives alone with his mother Adele, a woman who Maynard paints with such a fragile brush that I'm afraid to breathe loudly when I read her scenes. Henry, in an attempt to get Adele out of the house, convinces her they need to go to the store, and, once there, runs in to Frank, a man who just escaped from prison via his hospital room window. Frank is injured, and Henry, in the way that only kids who haven't been raised in the Age of Instant News About Missing Children can, conspires to have his mother secret him away to their house.
Adele, surprisingly, agrees to this idea, and together she and Henry bring Frank home. Adele cleans his wounds, and Henry begins to witness a mysterious, unspoken bond between his mother and Frank. Suddenly, Henry realizes that no matter what he does, or how much he loves her, there are some things he will never be able to provide for his mother.
At the time I was too young to understand the part of being Husband for a Day I was not equipped to carry out, but in another way I think I sensed my own terrible inadequacy and it was the knowledge of this that weighed on me, when I lay in my narrow bed in my small room, next to hers, the walls between us so thin it was almost as if she were there with me. I could feel her loneliness and longing, before I had a name for it. It had probably never been about my father really. Looking at him now, it was hard to imagine he could ever have been worthy of her. What she had loved was loving.
It's just The Kid and me living together; I divorced her father two years ago, and we separated nearly two years before that. We've been pretty much on our own for four years, with, it should be said, lots of loving family around. But at the end of the day, it's just the two of us, and that's been an adjustment, at times more for one of us than the other. The Kid is an empathetic soul, and in the four years we've been on our own, we've developed an almost a psychic connection. We can communicate with one look, and we each know how the other feels about something at any given moment. (We don't hide feelings in this house - we couldn't if we tried!) Luckily for her, I'm (hopefully) not as fragile as Adele, although I'm sure I've had my moments, but she's a lot like Henry. In many ways this thrills me; Henry is a smart, resourceful, kind, generous young boy. But in a lot of ways this worries me, for Henry often turns inward, repressing his emotions in a futile quest to make his mother happy. As a mom, I worry that she does that as well, and I never want her to put my happiness in front of hers. It should be the other way around.
I honestly think that if I didn't have a child, or if I did but wasn't divorced, this would have been a quick, simple read, enjoyed but promptly forgotten. But, for both the reasons detailed above and too many more to list, Maynard's quiet, spare little story about a boy and his mom made me take a second look at my own relationship with my child, and realize that everything I do, both the big Parenting Moments and all of the tiny, little, unrealized acts, affects her in ways I never thought possible.