I went through a Pat Conroy phase five years ago. I read three of his books: The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, and My Losing Season. I stopped after that… Conroy, for all his skills as a writer and storyteller, began to feel a bit like a one-trick pony (suicidal sister; flawed, yet beautiful mother; abusive father). But there is one scene from The Prince of Tides that has stuck with me since I first read it. I’ll keep it lengthy for context:
“Hello, Luke,” my mother said uncertainly.
“Hey, Mama,” he said, his eyes affixed on the shining river.
“You’re awfully mad at me, aren’t you, Luke?” she said, trying to make light of it.
“Yeah, Mama,” he said. “How long did you know about it? When did Newbury let you in on the big piece of news? When did you plan to steal the only thing Dad ever owned?”
“I earned the right to own that island,” she said. “I bled for that piece of land.”
“You stole it fair and square,” Luke said. “Just don’t expect your children to love you for it.”
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” she said. “The island’s gone. Colleton’s gone. We’ve all got to start over.”
“How do you start over, Mama?” he said to the river. “How do you start over when you can’t look back? What happens to a man when he looks back over his shoulder to see where he came from, to see what he is, and all he sees is a sign that says, ‘Keep Out’?”
This image haunts me. Good literature strikes a chord deep within its reader, connects with them and doesn’t let go. Luke’s character in The Prince of Tides gripped me harder than most characters have. Maybe it’s because I’m such a sad person, and I think my sadness is tied to my nostalgia, my longing for the past. Every new day I awake to find a “Keep Out” sign nailed over the previous day, and it breaks my heart. I can’t go back, I can’t undo mistakes, I can’t redo actions, I can’t relive bits of happiness.
Once when I was maybe 13 my dad, gesturing broadly to the world in front of us (a developing neighborhood with a growing shopping center and rows of fast food restaurants), told me that one day I’ll forget what this place used to look like because it will transform into something wholly different. He suggested I document everything before it happened. I never did. Perhaps my reasoning was similar to that of Joan Didion in Blue Nights when she wrote that, “In theory momentos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.” (It wasn’t; I was just lazy, as always. But, honestly, when would I think to pull out an album of photos documenting fields of trees and shrubs and a narrow I-77?)
So I’m striving to be Didion, but I’m fated to be Luke. We’ll see what happens.