What I read
This month’s book club read is Jessica Francis Kane’s Rules For Visiting. And just as the back cover blurb states, the novel is “a nourishing book, with its beautiful contemplation of travel, trees, family, and friendship”–“a perfect antidote to our chaotic times.” I couldn’t agree more. And come Monday when five women discuss women’s friendships in light of this novel … what’s not to like?
May Attaway is forty, single, and living at home with her aging father. She is a landscaper for a local college and her life is cramped, hemmed in, as May says in the very beginning, because she had “reached a point where the balance of the past and all it contained seemed to outweigh the future [that] I no longer understood how to move forward.” May has no hobbies, nor does she want any. She reads books, but doesn’t finish them. She barely knows her neighbors, though she has lived in her house for her entire life, not a stick of furniture or photo on the wall changed from childhood. And she has few–if any?–friends. Sure, she is friendly with her co-workers, but those relationships don’t lend themselves to late night heart-to-hearts.
We suspect May is living a life interrupted–but interrupted by what, exactly?
May begins to think about the long-neglected relationships in her life after she reads a magazine feature about a young writer who died in an airplane crash. The online comments were a testament to friendship and May immediately realizes what she lacks. She also becomes drawn to eavesdropping on friends’ conversations in the coffee shop and sees friendship quotes displayed everywhere on all manner of household kitsch: mugs and tea towels and decorative signs.
As happens in many a good novel, May receives a serendipitous gift which, of course, just might change the course of her life. Because her landscaping work has gained the college some publicity, she is rewarded with five weeks paid leave to use in any way she chooses. So May sets off to see those long-neglected friends, planning overnight visits in much the same way that Jane Austen’s characters visited friends: for a fortnight. (In fact, May inadvertently starts a hash tag trend #fortnightfriends.) There’s Lindy, her girlhood friend, a young mom whose house is Instagram perfect, and Vanessa, a middle school friend, who lives in New York City, and is step-mom to twin eight-year-old boys. There’s also Neera, her college friend, whose marriage has crumbled, and Rose from graduate school who lives in London.
May visits each friend for several days, armed with Emily Post’s Etiquette, her road map to being a house guest. She follows the rules, buys a suitable hostess gift, and reconnects–some visits more easily than others. Until her visits, May’s conversations and observations sound hollow–detached–and so I was taken aback by how kindly her friends welcomed her. Compassionately, even. As if there was some great sadness hanging over her.
And there was.
Emerson said, “Happy the house that shelters a friend” but I think it’s really we who shelter each other.
What I lived
I so related to May. It was clear from the beginning that trauma had frozen her. If you’ve ever lived with someone whose trauma ran so deep they played defense 24/7, you know it does not lend itself to healthy relationship. My life turned upside down as a result of that trauma–and I came to recognize my own trauma stemming from their often unpredictable and erratic behavior. So I understand why May pulled in. When the pain runs deep, it’s often easier to isolate than reach out.
It’s good friends, the support of my children, and these Littles that keep me going.
Alexis turned six and she was one excited girl. The middle child, she is stuck between older brother’s outgoing nature and little sister’s cuteness and so she delights in being the center of attention. When she was a toddler, her favorite book at my house was Betty Bear’s Birthday and I read it over and over and over again. We all had that book memorized. (In fact, I would sometimes hear her brother whispering along as he played Legos on the floor while I read it for the millionth time.) When she turned four I had the first ever Betty Bear’s Birthday tea, replicating the last page of the book where Betty Bear celebrates with her animal friends. They eat nuts and berries and cookies. It’s become a thing. This year, Lexi helped me set up and was delighted to use NeeNee’s real tea set. We did have a little cherry juice incident when the kids tried to squeeze cherry juice into their lemonade–but, hey! We were outside, so no harm, no foul. (Just cherry-stained fingers!) Because we used my mom’s tea set, tender-hearted Jonas wanted NeeNee to join the tea party, too: he ran inside, got his framed photo of her, and put it on the blanket. Natalie proceeded to talk to NeeNee in heaven and in some strange way, it felt like an oh-so-perfect way to celebrate Alexis Elaine, her namesake.