Wednesday, August 7, 2013


She's Come Undone

In June 2009, I purchased a used copy of Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone for 25 cents at a local library sale and began reading it. I typically never read popular fiction (think: Grisham, Dan Brown, and The Hunger Games) so I can't tell you how unusual it was for me to pick up a depressing-sounding book that I'd seen countless times on the shelves of Barnes and Noble under a sign screaming "Oprah's Book Club," much less actually read it. I will always be glad that I did, and this book will forever hold significance in my heart because it changed me in that meaningful kind of way that a few certain works of art in your life ever will--you know, the works that impact you so deeply to your core that you can only count them on one hand. The primary character in the novel, Dolores Price, changed my life.

On the outside, I have very little in common with Dolores. My father did not abandon my mother and me. I was not ostracized in school. I have never been sexually assaulted. I have never struggled with food addictions or weighed 250 pounds. My mother has not died in a tragic accident, and I have never attempted suicide or received inpatient mental health treatment. My husband has never coerced me into an abortion, and I have never had trouble conceiving a child when I wanted to. By all accounts, my life has been privileged and rosy, and I know that I am lucky. Dolores suffered all of these things, and my heart truly broke for her when she looked a beached whale closely in the eye and thought herself to be one and the same as the doomed animal. The desperate kinship that she felt to this whale in the novel was inexplicable, deep, and everlasting for Dolores; in that moment, the kinship that I felt to Dolores was the same. I couldn't stop crying for hours because of her pain.

I wasn't ever sure that I wanted children. The call for motherhood never hit me, at least very hard, as I was growing up and finding my way in the world. Some of my friends knew they were born to be mothers, and I could only inwardly wonder "Why? Why would somebody want that?" When BJ and I got married at the age of 22, we were on the eight-year plan for having children. Each year that passed, however, I started that eight-year count all over again in my head. As we got older and had been married for several years, we began more frequently hearing the question from family members and friends, "When are you going to have kids?" The truth for me was, I really wasn't sure that we would. Even though I thought I would eventually swing around on this point and want kids, it just wasn't happening. I won't lie: I was kind of worried about this. There are a minority of people in this world that are resolute about not having children, but even though I believed myself to cast no judgment upon these people (some of whom are amazing, close friends), I was scared to be among them. Was there something wrong with me? People sure did sometimes make me feel that way---or rather, I allowed myself to feel that way after talking with certain people. That idea of independence from children, though, was winning out over those years, and BJ and I seemed fine with that even though I knew he ultimately wanted to have children. I thought, "Why mess with a good thing?" BJ and I had spare time, spare money, hobbies, and an interest in travel. It seemed to me that kids would completely mess all of that up.

Then I came to know Dolores. Everything about Dolores was so complicated, and I found her internal experience difficult to put into words. Honestly, it befuddles me to this day that Wally Lamb was able to create a believable character and voice for Dolores, a girl-becoming-woman who he could only identify with to a certain extent because he is a man. The brushstrokes that he used to paint Dolores' emotional responses seem genius to me, particularly for someone who has never directly experienced what his heroine has endured. I suppose this is the mark of any great writer, actually, but it still doesn't cease to amaze me. Dolores ached for a child through many pages of the book, particularly after her abortion, and as I became increasingly engrossed in her journey with her, I suddenly realized the ache for children within myself. It truly came out of nowhere it seemed, and yet it felt as though it had been there for a lifetime. I remember the specific evening that I finished the final pages of the book, sobbing. It was a summer evening and I went to our backyard overlooking the creek, and I watched the clouds for probably an hour and a half as the sun sets as it only can in an Oklahoma sky. I stayed out there for hours, tormented by her pain and suddenly by my own longing for something greater than myself but also part of myself---my child. I was shocked to feel this way, not to mention confused, excited, terrified, and relieved. BJ joined me intermittently and made sure I was okay, and eventually he came out with his own book and sat down beside me and read. I remember that evening, filled with the noise of locusts on the outside and the symphony of chaos on the inside.

The rest for us is history. Afraid, for what reasons I have no idea, I talked with BJ in our dining room the next afternoon about the possibility of having kids. I was ready, I said. BJ still refers to June 2009 as "the month that Lucy turned on a dime" (that's right, he calls me Lucy and always has). We agreed to begin trying in August right after a Florida vacation with my family, because I told him that I wanted to eat sushi and drink alcohol on that trip (ah, the priorities!). On September 3rd I got a positive pregnancy test, much to our amazing fortune. I laugh about how extremely lucky it was that we got pregnant on the first month that we tried because inside I was already beginning to wig out a little and may have changed my mind if it had taken any reasonable amount of time at all. As a mother, I have begun loving each of my children from the moment that I first learned I was carrying them, but that love was translated into something beyond my human understanding when each of them was born and physically in my arms. I have a plan to post some of my most favorite pictures of mothers with their babies, which incidentally are always the ones in which the mother is concentrated on her child and not even remotely aware of the camera. In the meantime as I collect these photos, here are my favorite pictures of me as a mother--the top with Silas and the bottom with George.

I am thankful to Dolores from the bottom of my heart. She's Come Undone isn't for everyone, but it was exactly what I needed. Dolores created within me a stirring that helped to create these little beings, and they have been my awakening.

1 comment:

  1. A lovely memoir about the power of narratives, both Mr. Lamb's and your own.