There was once in French conversation class, we were asked to comment on whether we agree or disagree with the statement: L’amitie est preferable a l’amour. This is a difficult choice. Both are essentially about loyalty and acceptance. Friends normally accept you the way you are since they do not have to like you enough to live with you. The kind of love we expect from a partner or spouse or lover may change in its character over a period of time as passion or love based on sexual attraction can be delusive and unreliable. We all know about infatuations, puppy love, crushes and sometimes we may even find ourselves in love with the concept of love when we are young with our hormones raging.
It has been three decades since my mother passed on. My mother’s life seemed sad to those who know her. One of my cousins once offhandedly commented that my life is a hundred times better than my mother’s as he sees that I get to hit tennis, drink wine, go scuba diving and doing a lot of fun things. Years ago when my children were still in school, I managed to make a trip to Melbourne to watch Australian Open, one of the things to do on my bucket list. I had bought the tickets in advance through an acquaintance even though I had absolutely no idea if I could actually make the trip at the time amidst work and other responsibilities since the tournament would be held at the beginning of a new year. I managed to reshuffle my school runs schedule with the women I carpooled with before calling up this cousin telling him that I was arriving in the next few days, giving him and his wife very little notice. They had been kind to host me and also urged me to extend my stay but I could only get away for a few days. I can still feel the delight I had when I managed to make the trip to Australia to watch the quarterfinals.
As children of our parents, we certainly have been endowed with opportunities to lead a much improved version of their lives in every way. And there is every reason for me to be the best version of myself when I think of my mother who was always supportive of me and made sure that I had received sufficient money from my dad for my board and lodgings after he had agreed to sponsor my tertiary education.
My mother must have been so alone and devastated when she had to deal with the reality that my dad had been unfaithful and his mistress had borne him two other children, a son and a daughter. She neglected her health while caring for us and saving the best for everyone but herself. What happened to my parents’ marriage had certainly created an impact on my sister and me. As you become a grownup and no longer carefree, there are compromises to be made when you have obligations and commitments and expectations to be fulfilled so life becomes a running series of calculating, weighing, mitigating, negotiating and balancing acts.
‘ I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbours, companions? And then there is the question on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged ; and there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of‘ Julian Barnes – ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
As children, who were we to judge? I believe that both my parents must have suffered for what had happened . Perhaps my mother would not have known about my dad’s other life if my dad’s own sister had not taken upon herself to tell her about her brother’s secret affair. I had written something about my aunt’s visit in my teenage journal but at that time, dad managed to convince her that it was all a rumour. Perhaps she would be better off not knowing. For me and my sister, mother was frugal, modest, grounded and a gentle person who had given up her job as a sewing teacher in school to become a stay-at-home mother and assist our dad in his business by cooking for his workers and helping out in the workshop.
When my dad passed on, my sister found the journal that belonged to our dad. Maybe I should not be reading it but it makes me feel better when I read a little about what he had written. His writings gave me goosebumps as it felt an intrusion of my dad’s private thoughts. He wrote about their courtship and how he was totally smitten and charmed by my late mother. My dad’s journal had somewhat given me a kind of resolution to my parents’ union. I am fully aware about how love can change but I still believe in romance and love stories.
In Beach Read by Emily Henry, January Andrews is a romance fiction writer and she finds herself suffering a mental block when she discovers that her dad has another life. When he passed on, his mistress, Sonya showed up at the funeral to hand her the keys to the lakehouse at North Bear Shores in Michigan as it now belongs to her.
Since she graduated, Amy has been writing romantic novels for Sandy Lowe Books, inspired by perfect parents and perfect boyfriend. When her dad’s mistress shows up at the funeral, her world falls apart. She no longer is the perfect girlfriend to her then perfect boyfriend as she begins to wallow in her misery trying to make sense of things and he will not have it. At twenty-nine, she finds herself single, broke and semi-homeless. She finally decides to go to her dad’s secret lake house. She is angry with her mother for not having told her about the affair and now she has to brace herself to confront the fact that her dad had a second house with some woman other than her mother. She certainly takes her time to look through the rest of the house. In the meantime, her agent Anya is hounding her for her novel and she is now definitely struggling to write another Happily Ever After story. There she meets Augustus Everett another miserable writer who is also suffering from a mental block. His genre is stark different from Amy’s. His fictions are based on the dark side of the human stories. They decide to have a bet if they can swap genres and decide to have a race to see who will finish writing the stories they need to submit to their publishers.
For someone who believes that there is more good than bad in the world, Amy has all these questions to ask her dad and she cannot. She tells Gus,
‘ When I first found out about my dad’s affair, I tried to do that kind of math,” I admitted. ‘How much lying and cheating could he have done and still have been a good father? How deep could he have gotten himself in with That Woman and still loved my mom? Still liked his life. I tried to figure out how happy he could’ve been, how much he could’ve missed us when he was away, and when I was feeling particularly bad, how much he must’ve hated us to be willing to do what he did. And I never got answers.‘
Sonya turns out to be her dad’s girlfriend with whom he had broken off after going to college and she has been entrusted by Amy’s dad to hand her the first letter to the many letters that he had left for her. In those letters, he tells Amy how much he loves her as her father and how he is torn between the version of him as a husband to her mother and a father to her and at other times, the version of him when he thinks he is in love with Sonya, the girl he was once in love with when he was sixteen years old.
Beach Read is a book that you can devour in one sitting. As I am in the habit of doing multiple reads at any given time, I have not read it in one sitting. Nonetheless Beach Read is a charming read if you are into reading about romance.It is Emily Henry‘s debut adult novel.
All in love is fair, says a Thai girlfriend at the dormitory where I stayed when we were both students at the university in Australia. She was dating another graduate student whose origin is Lebanese. Everyone could see what a Casanova he was and yet she fell for him. I wonder what happens to her, a tall, graceful and elegant lady. I visited her once in Ghent when she was furthering her postgraduate work in Belgium. We took a train to Bruges and there I had drank beer for the first time. When I was studying in Sydney, I had walked past Tooheys Brewery at times and it was Belgian beer that made me like beer for the first time. She also dared me to try the raw minced meat burger and I had enjoyed it. I can still remember that attic of hers, a studio apartment. If I could travel back in time, I would have pursued another course in Europe and lived in one of those student cities.
The Overdue Life of Amy Byler written by Kelly Harms is a fiction that tells the story about Amy Byler, an overworked mother who needs a break and does not know herself until the opportunity turns up unexpectedly. When John , Amy’s husband who abandoned her shows up one day and offers to take care of their children for the summer, she is apprehensive and reluctantly accepts his offer and manages to escape from rural Pennsylvania for New York City. Usually grounded, she finally lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps, a city she has not thought about much for the last fifteen years. She signs up for a four days’ conference for school librarians hosted by Columbia University, a course related to her role as a school library educator and when that happens, she bunks in with Talia, her college roommate who is footloose and having an exciting career as an editor for a magazine that is in danger of becoming defunct in view of digitalization. After some initial mistrust, their children manage to adapt and catch up with some lost time with their father , Amy has also started to enjoy her time in New York, finding her mojo again. One day she suddenly feels the urgency to go home to her home life.
‘ This is not me. This is not my real life. I have to get home before I forget that again.’
Her husband is surprised to hear that she wants to be home on the eve before their children leave for their summer camps. When she realises that she has forgotten about her children’s schedule, she feels ashamed.
‘ I feel so ashamed. My ex, their formerly deadbeat dad, giving them more in two months than I managed in three years. Will they even want to come back to me when I get there? Will he have already bought them their school clothes and Uni-Ball pens and the thirty boxes of lotion-free tissues from their class shopping lists?Did he take them to the doctor to get their school sports forms signed? Start Cori’s diving curfew early? Probably he has done all these things. Probably I am no longer needed. ‘
She suddenly has all these thoughts running through her head. As the story progresses, she has to make decisions for new developments in her life.
The Overdue Life of Amy Byler is also a good read and it is one of those happy stories that makes the world definitely seem brighter.