New book…new quotes…”Breaking Night” is a memoir and the heartbreaking detail of children in poverty, and neglect, due to parental drug use is not easy to read. However, here is a lovely tableau of Liz Murray’s connection with a Puerto Rican family;
“I’d forged my way into numerous appearances in family photo albums and home videos….My favorite images were of Rick’s and my mutual birthday parties. Liz always remembered to have the bakery write both our names in scripted frosting along the top of the pineapple Valencia cakes. Dozens of pictures captured the two of us blowing out double the amount of candles, Liz clapping wildly over us, her hands frozen in a streak of motion, vivid and persistent as hummingbirds’ wings.” (p.77)
As Liz grows, she is eventually drawn into the system, when she is truant more than she is attending school, Social Services comes to remove her.
“If someone had just talked to me like a human being and walked me through what was happening, that would have helped so much, made it so much less frightening. Bet instead, she talked to me with a stiff office voice that told me I was not a person, but a job, to her.” (p.131)
Liz becomes enthralled with Carlos and lives with him on the street because, “The outside world was no hurdle for him; it was a platform.”
The most important memory of Carlos that Liz shares shows a deep human connection and understanding of pain and grief, “When Ma had first come in, he ran to hold on to her arm and back-to support her, not reluctantly, but warmly, as though he saw right past the ugliness of the disease and through to her, the person beneath it all.
‘Jean, you seem to need a little help. I’m going to help Liz help you.’
‘Who are you?’ she’d stammered through her crying.
‘I’m someone who loves Liz very much, someone who’s been wanting to meet you,’ he told her. … ‘Jean, Liz told me about how you call her pumpkin. I think that’s adorable. I call her Shamrock ’cause she’s the luckiest thing that’s ever come my way. I know you talked to her a lot at night, too, always sitting at the foot of Liz’s bed to keep her company.’ Ma’s eyes opened wearily. Tears tolled out of them as she and I listened to Carlos’s deep voice vibrate in the bathroom. ‘My moms has an issue with drugs, too, you know. I wish she could have cared as much as Liz tells me you do. I think it’s great that you look out like that. I know Liz loves you, too, and she’s proud that you haven’t’ used coke in so long. You’ve come a long way, Jean. You should be proud of yourself.’ …When I’d tucked my mother in and was ready to leave, Carlos sat on the side of her bed. From the doorway, I watched in amazement as he held my mother’s hand and spoke reassuringly to her until she drifted to sleep.” (pp.177-178)
Beautiful and tender, this isn’t an easy book to read, but it is well written and moving.
“I became distracted by how removed I felt, divided between the physical part of me that I shared with him, and my mind, which drifted. But he didn’t notice; he only moved and moved on top of me. For a moment, I resented him for it. In an effort to reverse the bad feeling, I decided to search his eyes, but they were closed. That’s when I realized that sex was not necessarily a shared thing. Sex was something you do with someone else, yet you can experience it separately from each other. It didn’t necessarily bring you closer. In fact, it could highlight the parts of you that feel most separate. Sex could reveal to you your own isolation.” (p. 204)
” I realized then that I didn’t know (whether to be calm or angry) because I was waiting to see what he felt first. I was used to that, sensing my own feelings only in relation to others.” (p. 222) This insight that the author expresses speaks loudly to gender expectations, in my opinion. Many women are trained to sense their feelings in relation to others.
“Gene Murry, the box said, underscored by bold letters reading, Head, and Feet, to note the direction. Carlos knew how much that bothered me. With his black marker, he drew a flowing angel on the front of your box, and filled in all the correct information: Jean Marie Murray. August 27, 1954-December 18, 1996. Beloved Mother of Lisa and Elizabeth Murray and Wife of Peter Finnerty.” (p. 229)
“After what I’d seen at St. Anne’s-the mean girls, the indifferent staff, and the prison-like environment-I was never going to a place like that again.” (p. 235)
Until Liz is driven back by a horrific realization. After Carlos threatened violence, Liz watches a news report about, “…a gruesome murder of a woman at a dive on the New England Thruway. The motel maid discovered the body, which at that very moment was being wheeled silently into an ambulance behind the wide-eyed reporter. … Rosa Morilla, age thirty-nine, mother of five, had bled out on the floor of her room in the Holiday Motel, just three doors down from my room. I jumped up to look out the window, lifted the curtain, and saw the reporter. …I looked back and forth between the television and out my window to see the same view: Ms. Morilla in a body bag, the ambulance doors slammed, the reporter’s blinding portable light shining on her overly made-up face. … Just a few hours later, you could have never guessed it happened. With the reporter long gone, the police packed up and departed, the whole motel was back to business as usual, as though Rosa Morilla never existed. As though she was not the mother of five children; as if she had not been someone’s daughter or sister; as if she didn’t even matter.”(pp.237-238). Liz knows that she has to leave, and she does.
“The thought of a clean slate was thrilling, especially after looking at the mess I had created. With all the things that had been difficult, it was one blessing to count on, the knowledge that what I did from this moment on didn’t have to depend on what I had done before.” (p.263)
This book is beautifully written.