June 26, 2009

The first rule of book club is you do not talk about books

I, for some reason, get weepy on planes. I don’t really know why this is. Maybe it is because I have to hold so much inside and refrain from saying and doing things on a plane that it escapes through my tear ducts. Right now, I am on a plane, in the window seat pressed against the wall, unable to move because the person next to me is kind of big. There is a family behind me with 2 small children. The kids are maybe 4 and 2. And they are bored. And trapped. And miserable. So am I, but I can’t cry and yell and kick the seat in front of me. I want to, but I can’t because it is frowned upon by the other people on the flight and airline employees.

I don’t mind that the 2 year old is kicking the back of my seat. I don’t care. There was a time when I would have. I would have been indignant and glared at the family because they could not “control” their children and were making me suffer. That was before I had a kid myself and realized that it is impossible to control a 2 year old anywhere much less on a plane and the most miserable person on the flight is generally the parent of the crying and screaming kids. I get that now and in fact, turned around and told the parents I did not care if their kid kicked the back of my chair all the way home to New Orleans. It, oddly, makes me feel closer to Max, who is home, in New Orleans.

A few years back, before the storm, before my mother died, before everything turned upside down and got all water logged, I was in a book club with my mom, my three sisters and some other women they knew. The number of us at each meeting fluctuated, but was usually about 7-8 women eating snacks, drinking wine and discussing the book of the month. This book club drove me bonkers. At the time, I was childless and traveled for my job even more than I do now. I was on planes 2-3 times a week and had a lot of free time. That free time, I now realize I squandered, but I digress.

During that time of my life, I was easily reading 5-7 books a week. I know, it is insane, but I had nothing but time. I would sit on airplanes and read novel after novel. I would devour a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book like normal people read People Magazine. At every airport I would buy more books to read – David Sedaris, David Eggers, John Irving, Yan Martel…the list goes on and on. I read so much, people grew tired of talking to me about books because I think they thought I was mocking them…or just lying.

Anyway, this monthly book club seemed like it would be a good fit since I was reading so much, right? Yeah, no. You see, most of the women were mothers of young children. In fact, I think one woman had something like 5 kids all under the age of 3 or something insane like that. Every book club meeting went something like this:

Me: I really like the way Zora Neale Hurston juxtaposed the voracious effects of rabies and the painful thirst that accompanies that awful disease with the deluge and violence of a hurricane. Didn’t you like that?

Haggard Mother #1: This hummus is good. Who brought it?

Haggard Mother #2: I did.

Haggard Mother #1: Did you make it?

Haggard Mother #2: Good God no. I don’t have time for that. I had to pick Jake up from Soccer and take Maggie to dance and then the tire blew out on the car, so I had to change it and by the time we got home, I only had time to run to Rouse’s and grab this and a bag of pita chips.

Me: I also really like Zora Neale Hurston’s use of…Betty, I think your phone is ringing.

Haggard Mother #3: Is that me?

Me: Yes, I think that ringing is coming from you.

Haggard Mother #3: Really? Oh wait, here it is. (As she grabs it from just inside her bra) Hello? No, no, you absolutely may not do that to your brother. I don’t care if he wants you to, I said no. Do you want me to come home right now? Do you? Because I will and so help me god you will rue the day…That’s what I thought. Click.

Me: So, well, was anyone else really impressed with the black dialect that Hurston employed throughout the book?

Haggard Mother #2: I skipped that part. It was too hard to follow.

Me: What?!?!

Haggard Mother #1: Yeah, me too. I just went to the middle part of the book and then I read the last 10 pages.

Haggard Mother #3: I never even bought the book.

Me: What? You’ve had a MONTH to read this book. A MONTH. I read it and about 37 others in this month. What is wrong…Betty, your tits are ringing again.

Haggard Mother #3: Damn kids, I swear to Jesus in Heaven they are going to kill me….

And so went just about every meeting of this book club. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what was wrong with these women. Were they so disorganized that they could not spend a few hours finishing a book in over thirty days? I am not sure that I ever actually said what I thought out loud. At least, I hope I never did, because since I had Max almost 4 years ago, I think I have managed to read about 10 books total.

For the first 2 years, the only thing I could manage to read was the crossword puzzle. That was the most mentally challenging thing I did outside of my job. I had a stack of books on my bedside table that I was saving for if and when my brain cells ever regenerated.

I was before, and am more so now, convinced that the majority of a woman’s brain cells exit her body with the afterbirth. They are chucked into whatever vile and disgusting disposal system a hospital uses for such things.

I have been able to return to reading, but not nearly at the rate I used to. It is harder now. I can’t concentrate, I get tired 5 minutes into the book, I start thinking of all the things that have gone undone in the day and I usually end up passing out with the book splayed across my chest, open to page 3 or something pathetic like that.

When I was pregnant and Mom was getting chemo treatments, I would often take her and sit with her. I was her only child who could do this because my offspring was still in his convenient carrying case – my uterus. One time, we were sitting in the doctor’s office waiting, which is what you do when you are dying of cancer, you wait to be told you are dying and then you wait to die.

I was rambling to my mom about some nonsense because all the waiting to find out she was dying was making me nervous and I talk when I am nervous. And I said these exact words, “I think I am going to be a better mother than my sisters because I am more organized.”

I honestly thought that day she was going to fall off of her chair she was laughing so hard. It was then that I realized I was doomed. I made her promise never to tell anyone what I had said. She wordlessly nodded her agreement through her howling laughter and tears.

A few months back, we tried to resuscitate the book club. I managed to read the book, but once I was with the other women, I had absolutely no desire to discuss the book because a) I could only remember tiny fragments of it (more proof of the afterbirth theory) and b) I was so thrilled to be around adult humans I just wanted to talk about hummus and pita chips and my kid and potty training. I wanted to connect with my friends over real life and not the written word. Besides, I couldn’t remember if I had actually finished the book or not anyway.

If I listen really carefully, I can hear my mother still laughing at me from her grave on Esplanade Avenue.

And it makes me happy and weepy and proud and sad all at the same time.


Elizabeth Ferry Pekins said...


Fish Out of Water said...

I wonder if my mommy friends will be able to read this whole post...it is kind of long. I even skimmed it when I proof read it! :)

damselfly said...

Claire love - your perspective is that steady spot within chaos.

CyndiK said...

Your writing ALWAYs makes me laugh! Bravo

Laura Ferry-Jimenez said...

oh, she's probably still cracking up... just like me! thanks for the laugh!

ps: I didn't skim - in fact, read it twice! ;)

Sarah said...

Anytime I try to focus, I end up falling asleep. Damned Lupus!! But I do listen to books on tape and go through about a book and a 1/3 a week. I won't read abridged. It also brings a new dimension to the prose sometimes and I hear new things. I belong to audible.com and have been addicted for years. There's also kids books on there too. My folks and I also started reading to one another which was really neat! The three of us would take turns reading something. Haven't done it in a while, but we want to again. It's such a wonderful thing to read to someone and be read to by someone. Just a n idea. It's helped me get a few of the classics behind my belt that I wouldn't have had the energy to read myself without getting bored or distracted. And helps with pronunciation of odd names and such.