Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Usual Rules - Joyce Maynard

I'm utterly enthralled and gripped by this book. So much of that day in September has come flooding back to me like a punch. I can't even imagine what it would be like to have been more "involved" in 9/11. I remember having walked to the library on a perfect gorgeous sunny early fall day and having my then boyfriend at the time call to tell me what had happened. I didn't believe him and was then horrified that it was actually true. I couldn't believe someone could be so fucked up and that the world really was going to hell. I've been to the site twice, and it broke my heart more and more every time.

Read a part of it:

Chapter 29, Part 1:

Then it was Christmas.

Wendy and Carolyn got up around eight-thirty. No need to be out of bed at the crack of dawn the way she would if Louie had been there, padding into her room at ten to five. Is it time yet, Sissy? I peeked and you should see all the presents. Santa ate every single cookie.

It was strange having such warm weather on Christmas Day. When Wendy got up, Carolyn was out in the yard setting up the barbecue. She was preparing the turkey from a recipe she'd cut out of the paper, cooked on the grill. A man on the radio was saying the temperature could get into the seventies.

Merry Christman, Carolyn said. She gave Wendy a quick hug.

You, too.

They hadn't talked about Nate's visit, but evidently she'd found a flyer they'd left for her, with the words on the front NOT TOO LATE TO REPENT.

I guess I don't need to start knitting booties, Carolyn said. Wendy wasn't sure what she meant.

Their baby, she said. I don't get the impression they have me in their plans.

Nate didn't seem much like you.

No. I guess not.

There's probably lots of people who would really love to have you be their mom.

It doesn't matter, Carolyn said. The good thing is, now I don't have to go around anymore, wondering who my son turned out to be.

Anyway, you've got me. Wendy hadn't intended on saying something like that but looking at Carolyn standing there in her too-tight cutoffs and T-shirt, scrubbing the grill, she felt an unexpected wave of affection. There wasn't one single thing about Carolyn that reminded Wendy of her mother. Four months ago they hadn't even met. Now it was Christmas morning and here they were.

I got you a present, Carolyn said. A couple, actually.

Me, too.

Hers, for Carolyn, was a book about a woman who traveled on her own, on a raft, along the Amazon River. I picked it out at Alan's store, she said.

She had also gotten Carolyn a beaded hair clip, turquoise and green, because she figured it would look good against the color of Carolyn's braid.

Carolyn had tied a purple bow around a cactus pot. It was her special Scarlet Ball cactus that Wendy had admired at Carolyn's cabin, the one she dug up in Death Valley.

She had also picked out a pair of pants and a sweater from a store in Sacramento. Not a lot of people know how to shop for thirteen-year-old girls, her mother used to say. Carolyn did.

Garrett called this morning, she told Wendy. The funeral was okay, I guess. He said he'd be flying standby back home. He'd gotten as far as St. Louis when he called. He figures he'll make it back today or tomorrow.

How did it go? Wendy asked.

He didn't say much. I guess there were about four old ladies there and some man who'd been her lawyer. She'd asked to have this poem read, by Robert Frost. The big surprise was this black woman that used to take care of your dad when he was little. She came all the way from Boston with her son and got there right in the middle of the service. It turned out your grandmother paid for the son's whole college education and now he teaches at some private school in New Hampshire. The man's mother got pretty emotional about your grandmother evidently. Called her the most generous woman she ever met.

Your father never even knew, Carolyn said. Just goes to show.

The package had arrived the week before, but she had waited till now to open it. There was a CD of Miles Davis and another one of another trumpet player she hadn't heard of before called Lee Morgan. Someday in the future, Josh had written, when there's some very cool guy you really want to impress, show him you have this in your collection and he'll treat you with nothing but respect.

He had bought her a pair of sneakers with retractable wheels in the soles — for sometime when you need to make a quick getaway, the note said on the box. Josh always put Post-it notes on his packages. There was another larger box, also with a note, but a longer one:

I spent two days walking around the city looking for a different kind of present.

I wanted to find some incredibly precious thing I could put in a box and send you that would tell you all the ways I feel. How much I have treasured every minute I've gotten to be part of your life. If there was any doubt in your mind as to how it might affect things, that I am not your blood father, I wanted to find you something that would tell you the answer to that one. The answer being: No difference, Wendy. However it is that you'll come to see me over the years, whatever place you end up finding for me in the life you go on to have, I wanted to make sure there was no question in your mind who you will always be to me. My daughter.

I decided it was stupid to think there was any object I could send that would say all those things to you. Where's the store a person goes to shop for an item like that?

But of course in the end I had to try a music store, my favorite one, over on Forty-eighth Street.

For me the only thing that ever came close to bringing me the kind of joy I've known with your mother and your brother and you has been music. I honestly don't know if it'll be that way for you. Could be you'll find your big joy in a musical instrument. Could be you'll find it in your box of colored pencils, or books. Or something you haven't even discovered yet.

But whether or not the clarinet becomes for you what the bass is for me, I wanted you to have the most beautiful clarinet you could be playing at a moment when you've got to take your joy, where you can find it.

I saw this in Manny's window and had to take a closer look. I liked the tone of the thing. I loved the thought of how you'd look playing it. You, who always gets that really serious expression when you're playing a piece of music — the concentration you have when you play, like nothing else is there at the moment but you and the notes.

I thought about how your mother would have loved to see you with a clarinet like this one. Her having been a somewhat flashy dresser, as we know. You being a more understated kind of person, but I'm thinking maybe you're about due to bust out with something a little flashy yourself.

She opened the case. It was a cherry red clarinet.


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