That’s the important part. Not in the book, but for someone to realize. Near the end (spoilers!) of The Whole Golden World, we are told:
Dinah leaned in for another hug. Morgan could smell her mother’s shampoo, and she breathed deeply, realizing that someday she’d miss this smell. At college, if she ever managed to go, or on her own somewhere, or…someday when her mom would be gone.
This is not the climax of the story. That’s long gone. But this is the climax for me. That realization. And it’s one of the best things you can hope for a teenager. That they know. That they take advantage while they can. They they stay present.
I did. My mother laughed it off but I fretted when invited out too often, to too many sleepovers or movie nights or a month or two spent with relatives miles distant. I worried she’d be lonely, that she’d see me growing up and away and be miserable about it, that she’d worry I was getting drunk or pregnant or addicted to something, like so many other teenagers. But mostly I worried that I’d look back and remember that time I was gone and think, I should have been there.
And I was right. I should have been there. And I was. I stayed behind so often. So I have memories of us laughing at something silly on daytime TV, or of (on occasion) impressing her with some bland insight into something, or of her telling me some scrap of her youth, a story I’d never heard before and wouldn’t ever again. I held onto all of those memories and continue to do so, as she loses her own. I wasn’t the kid who snarks at her mom or dad and then slams the door on her way out to bitch to her friends about said mom or dad. I’d hate myself if I’d been that person.
And in this moment at least, our more-or-less heroine, Morgan, sees that. Frustratingly, it’s only as regards one parent–she has no insights about her dad, who is shoved to the sidelines for much of the novel and is only trotted out for blazing, let-spittle-fly anger at the end, which is for some reason rewarded and treated as endearing and indicative of closure. Really, that’s all you think dads are good for? Threatening child molestors? Yelling hoarsely in front of TV cameras? Did your father really never sleep on the kitchen floor lest the new puppy be lonely, or doggedly save a first-grade art project in a treasure can on his desk for twenty years?
“Straight men are dumb” seems to be the hackneyed theme for the second half of the book. We could have used more of Morgan’s dad, especially once he’s suddenly home all the time. Every interaction he has, he is painted as the brash blundering Angry Dad. It never dawns on her that his rapidly-quickening girth might rip him away from her at the drop of a hat. His wife never even articulates it inwardly, for all that we know that she notices. She, who worries about everything all the time, cannot be bothered to spare any worry for this.
If you pay them no attention they may disappear like smoke.
My whole life I’ve been surrounded by people who take their parents for granted. Then their dad wraps his car around a tree or their mother finds a lump in her breast. And I’m sure their parents would not begrudge them the time they spent weaning themselves away from home–being ground against the parking break in some idiot highschool boyfriend’s truck, or drinking peach schnapps under a bridge somewhere. They’d forgive these kids who frittered away the little time left they had with their parents. They’d say it was part of growing up.
I don’t. I don’t forgive them.
Because I stayed present, hoarding the memories, bringing the tea, dallowaying it up–and they still got more time than I did. And it’s not fair.
The door opened, and Ricky loped in, breaking into a grin. “There’s my girl! There’s all my kids. Damn, if this don’t make me happy.” He strode across the creaky floor and planted a kiss on Rain’s cheek. He smelled like the aggressive strawberry air freshener he used in his car to cover up the cigarette smoke. “I’m sorry as hell for the reason, but I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Me too, Pop,” she replied. “I am, too.”
You don’t always get to do this. And you can’t get back to the days when you could.
Don’t fuck it up, kids.