I read a book last week that made me cry.
Books do that to you, don’t they? They make you cry. They make you laugh. They make you angry or sad or joyful. They trigger you.
The one that I read triggered me but I wasn’t expecting it to.
There was nothing in the blurb. There was nothing in the first two hundred pages out of the three-hundred-page long book that I read. There was no indication that I would be hit so badly, that I’d sit in my reading chair and just start sobbing so much that my husband would have to abandon his work and rush to my assistance.
I’m not going to name the book but I am going to tell you the story. There’s a point to all this, I promise.
So we begin in a house somewhere in Pennsylvania. The house is big and lavish and it’s been there for years. It was built by some very rich people – not important – but they are dead now. What’s important is that a new family lives there, the Conroys: a father and two kids, an older sister and a brother.
In the story, we know that the mother left years ago. No one knows where she went or why she left except that she hated living in that house. The big house that belonged to the rich never sat right with the mother who came from very humble beginnings. So one night when the sister is ten and the brother is three or four, the mother leaves and never comes back. Now years later, the kids are grown up, and they’ve grown up in a house where no one talks about the mother at all. The father doesn’t even like to mention her name.
One day, the father brings home a woman, Andrea, and he tells the kids that he’s going to marry her. They are not happy; they have questions because everything seems so sudden, but they deal with it. They deal with having a new mother who doesn’t seem very warm, who has all these new rules for them – don’t run around the house, comb your hair, don’t wear that dress, don’t eat that, sit up straight, you don’t need a room that big so move into a smaller bedroom – but loves the house. She loves their father as well, it seems.
Years pass and the children grow up some more. The brother begins to help the father in his business. The sister is away at college and everyone says she has a bright future. Everyone says she’ll do wonderful things.
But one day, the father dies. It happens as suddenly as his marriage to Andrea. Sister rushes back from college to handle things; the brother is lost without the father to guide him through the business. Andrea is grief-stricken as well. So it makes sense for the sister to offer that she’ll handle the business side of things. She’s studying accounting; she can keep the books while the brother learns the ropes and becomes independent. That was the plan anyway – for kids to handle the business. The only difference now is that they’ll be starting a little earlier than planned.
As it turns out though, Andrea has already taken care of those things. Their father had a will and Andrea is the sole beneficiary. She owns everything now, including the house, and she doesn’t need anyone’s help. She sells the business and kicks out the brother – the sister lives away for college – because it’s painful for Andrea to look at someone who reminds her of her dead husband.
So the sister takes her brother in, and they both live together in a small, cramped apartment, far away from everything they grew up around, far away from everything they called home, everything that was familiar and rightfully theirs.
That’s the core of the story – I have left out a lot of things here and there but that essentially sets the stage for what happens throughout the book.
Now as I write this, I’m aware that the stepmother is a very obvious trigger. We discussed this in our book club; everyone hated her. She takes away the business and leaves the kids with nothing. Not to mention, she won’t even let the brother – who was a minor at the time – live in a house he grew up in. I mean, she could’ve waited until he was eighteen to kick him out, right?
It is because of the stepmother that the brother who wanted to go into his father’s business and follow his father’s footsteps is now studying to be something else, something that he has no interest in. It is because of her that he has no intention of marrying his girlfriend years later because he doesn’t trust women. He doesn’t know how to love them.
It is because of the stepmother that the sister is obsessed with the house that should’ve been hers. She wants it back. Every few days, she drives back to the neighborhood where she grew up and parks the car in front of that big, lavish house and stares at it. Her bright future? All gone. She keeps the books of a grocery store instead of keeping the books for her father’s very lucrative business.
But somehow that’s not what triggered me. I mean, I wasn’t a fan of the stepmother or the things she did, but she wasn’t what sent me into the depths of despair. In fact, believe it or not, the brother has the same thoughts in the story. He doesn’t hate the stepmother like the sister does or ladies at my book club did.
The thing that I found the most triggering is the biological mother.
Years and two-hundred pages later, the mother returns. No one was expecting her to return at this point. Not the kids, not me. Decades have passed. The kids are no longer kids. They’re middle-aged, too set in their lives, their unplanned careers, too damaged after everything.
Now we find out where the mother went and why she left, and what she’s been doing all these years. We find out that she used to be a nun or a novice before she married their father. She came from humble beginnings and thus, hated the new wealth that her husband had acquired. She hated it so much that she left the family and went to India.
While in India, she helped the poor, and that is what she has been doing for the past however many decades. She’s been helping the poor, living in convents, doing volunteer work all over the world before settling down where it all began, in Pennsylvania where she left two young kids and her husband.
The sister is eager to forgive the mother. She feels as if years have passed and don’t have a lot of time left. She doesn’t want to spend that time holding old grudges. She wants to get to the mother all over again. She wants the mother to live with her.
The brother doesn’t agree. He goes along with the sister’s plan of keeping the peace but inside he’s still angry. According to him a mother who leaves their children deserves no sympathy. It doesn’t matter that she’s been helping people. Because while she was doing that, no one was there to help her own flesh and blood.
I have to say that while reading, I agreed with the brother. I agreed with him so much that his anger became my own. God, I was so angry at the mother. I was so angry that I was shaking. I was literally shaking and trying to suppress my own tears. I can’t imagine how a mother could leave her own children. More than that, I was angry at the sister. I was angry that she was so eager and ready to forgive the mother. I was angry at the lack of anger on sister’s part.
So here’s a woman who leaves her young kids to go help the poor. Are we supposed to feel bad for her now? Are we supposed to think that wow, she’s a great woman doing charitable work and so all is forgiven?
Where’s the justice? Where are the consequences of her abandonment? How can she erase decades of sorrow and misery with just deigning to come back? Why can’t the sister see that? Why isn’t she casting stones at her like the brother wants to? Why’s the brother the only one who has some perspective?
I can go on and on in outrage, but the bottom line is I was pissed and I wanted payback. And there’s a reason for that.
See, over the past year, some things (and people) have happened to me that have made me really obsessed with the concept of justice. I’ve become really obsessed with the concept of consequences and karma. I’ve become obsessed with what goes around should come around. If you hurt someone, you should hurt too. If you make someone cry, you should cry too. There needs to be balance in the world. There needs to be vindication. You need to face the consequences of your actions.
But consequences, balance, cosmic justice, whatever you want to call it does not work on the schedule you’d like. It doesn’t strike when you want it to. It doesn’t strike how you want it to.
So I’ve been working on it. I’ve been working on trying to let this magical idea of justice go. And you know what, I thought I did. I thought that after numerous journal entries, counselling sessions, crying sessions, I was over it. I thought I’d let it go because anger only hurts the angry.
But this book brought it all back. God, did it bring it all back and in a major, major way. It’s made me realize that I’m not over it. I’m not over this obsession of mine and that’s triggering in itself. It’s triggering and scary to know that maybe I’ll forever be hurting over things that have long passed. Maybe I’ll never be over the things that have hurt me, the people who have hurt me, the things that have affected my trust in the world.
However, if you look really closely, there’s a silver lining here.
The silver lining being that it’s okay!
Yeah, it’s okay to feel triggered every now and then. It’s okay to feel the pain as if the wound is still fresh as if you got hurt only yesterday. It’s okay really (Although, I do have to mention that this DOES NOT cover the issues that are more serious and deal with traumas with a capital T.)
Because when you hurt, you value the things that take away your pain even more. When you cry, you laugh harder after. When you feel sad, you hold on to your happiness even tighter. You stop and you look around. You look at the things that give you comfort and you appreciate those things even more.
When my husband rushed to my side and wiped off my tears and my snot (there was a lot of it), I realized that all the justice, all the balance that I look for in life is right here. He is my justice, my balance, my miracle. He who understands me so well that his first question was: do you want some ice cream while we watch some romantic comedies?
My pain and anger and whatever issues I have make me soak in the goodness even more. It’s true what they say: you appreciate the light even more when you’ve been in the dark for a long time.
So this post is for everyone out there, every single person who’s ever been hurt or who’s ever been in pain and who cries at books and movies and can’t figure out why they can’t let something go. I’m telling you all that it’s okay. It’s okay to feel a little too much every now and then. It’s okay to feel triggered. Let it pass through you. Let it move through your body. Because once it passes, it will lose its power. You’ll survive. And after you have survived the colors will be brighter. The people around you who help you every day will be dearer. The things you appreciate will be more magical.
I guess that’s why we hurt in the first place. So we can feel the ecstasy of our dreams in real life.
Fine Print: I apologize for any grammatical errors and as always, a little too much use of the F-word. This is more a writing of passion than thought. Thanks for reading!