Saturday, October 03, 2009

Joy School

From Singles 2009

Nona was very religious, she used to be the president of the Santa Lucia Society. "She kept the banner in her room for a long time, " Cynthia said. "it had a picture of St Lucy with her eyes plucked out."

"Why?"I asked I couldn't believe it. Why would someone make a whole banner out of something like that. "Oh, Mrs. Whatever, your daughter has had her eyes plucked out!" "Oh no, well, let's make a banner out of it!" Cynthia said St. Lucy's eyes got plucked out because she was a virgin martyr. I have no idea what that means. Those Catholics have strange stories and they love those pictures that make you practically puke. Jesus with His heart all stuck out, for one. And nailed up on the cross, dribbles of blood running down so sickening you can hardly even feel sorry for Him. As if His mother, who was right there, wouldn't have wiped it off

I'm having something of a early adolescent period reading "Joy School" simultaneously with "The Bonesetter's Daughter". And, better yet, as I finished "Joy School" I learned there is a book that comes before and one that comes after. When will I return to Dave Robicheaux? (The next book has been ordered but it is only available as a CD! No hard copy, paper in the hand copy exists in Brisbane! And, this is "Purple Cane Road" which was the first Robicheaux novel I read and is, therefore, ultimately the cause of all this Burke frenzy.)

But, all this talk is unfair to Katie.

"Joy School" was amazing. A funny and acutely observant child-woman lost and lonely in her new home in Missouri. She's lost her mother. Her older sister has left home. Katie and her dad have just moved from Texas and, so, Katie is without her girlfriend as well. The kids next door hate her. Her school is filled with the usual assortment of lame-ass teachers. ("Every gym teacher I've ever had has been mean, like she has a problem she is going to punish all of us for out on the courts. This gym teacher is named Miss Sweet. This would be what they call irony, I'll tell you that.")The girl that befriends her has a crazy mother. As winter falls and the the local pond ices up Katie goes skating - falls through the ice - and stumbles into the life of 23-year-old Jimmy who is working at the nearby service station. Jimmy. He will be the love of her life. He will be her "joy school".

Like "The Bonesetter's Daughter", "Joy School" is also an examination of the relationship between mothers and daughters. Katie's friend Cynthia, like Ruth and LuLing, are struggling to break away from their mothers with their (misunderstood) controlling and confining love. Katie was emancipated suddenly and prior to those adolescent mother-daughter conflicts. Katie's missing her mother's love and direction as she moves into this more adult realm created by Jimmy and seeks connection with Cynthia's grandmother, Nona, with the local priest, with her older, now pregnant sister, with Ginger the housekeeper. Katie, LuLing, and Ruthie remind me how much we take our loved ones for granted, only recognizing the extent of their importance to us and love for us once they're gone.

Oh, where is she? A stubborn part of me had thought this might be over sometime. But she is staying gone and staying gone and staying gone. She is not in the grave, though. No, she isn't. I have her out of the grave. And, right now I put her in a yellow flowered dress, a pale yellow apron over it. It has ruffles and the ruffles are eyelet. I don't know if there is such a thing, really. But now there is, and I am sitting at the kitchen table watching her shape the pie crust edges into their stand-up design. She is concentrating so hard her tongue sticks out a little. This really used to happen. Once I laughed and she said, What are you laughing about? and I told her her tongue was sticking out and she said, "it was not!" Well, there are things you can't see about yourself. I loved that she stuck her tongue out that way. It was cute, like when a kitten is done washing and his hair sticks up on top of his head. I never said anything about her doing that again. I wish I could have. I wish I could have gone through my long list of all the things I loved about her before she died. Right in front of her. I don't believe my memory would have failed me one, bit, even if I was crying the whole time, saying those things. Saying all those things that made her her.

There isn't anything really unexpected that happens. Whether it is my age or my experience with "story", I pretty much knew the trajectory. But, that didn't matter. "Joy School" was real in the way that first love is real: magical and sweet, expanding one's world while breaking one's heart.

I hear the low buzz of the fluorescent light above us. This could be the time when I should say something, make things move along. In my throat is the whole sentence, "I think I love you."

I look up at him and in his face is only a kind affection. Oh, he is twenty-three, he is twenty-three and I am stupid thirteen. His mother should have waited awhile to have him. I guess I will never get to meet his mother. I look down at the stone, close my hand around it. This is what I have.

"I had a date Friday night," I tell him. Make him jealous, I hear Cynthia saying.

"Hey! Good for you!"

Cynthia is an imbecile.

No comments: