“Over the years I’ve tried to understand my mother’s emotion at that moment — regret about an unconsummated love affair? Her own Lucy Jordan moment? Simple sadness at my brother’s departure, and thoughts of all the things that now would be forever unsaid? — but all I know is that I’ll never know. I decided, for a long time, that it had to do with the ending of a maternal role, with the painful knowledge of all she’d sacrificed to raise him, when now she was handing off her son to the world. But more recently, I’ve thought that maybe it was about an unconsummated love affair after all, maybe about a flirtatious exchange with a stranger in a train station, or an unanswered letter from a college sweetheart, one of those secret moments when you think that now your life will have to change, only it doesn’t. Something small but big that she regretted and that tormented her each day. With my children, I’ve discovered over the years that the simplest explanation is almost always the right one; and that hunger of one kind or another — desire, by another name — is the source of almost every sorrow.”
Pulled from The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.
This is a reflection from the main character, Nora Eldridge, as she remembers seeing her mother cry the night before sending her son, Nora’s brother Matthew, off to college at Notre Dame (who wouldn’t regret sending a kid off to South Bend?). The family was finishing their final meal at the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, when they opened their fortune cookies and each read their fortunes. Her mother’s elicited tears, though years later Nora still couldn’t understand what about — it read “It is what you haven’t done that will torment you.”
More good writing:
- Donna Tartt writes in The Secret History, on the intoxicating power of a teacher who believes in you
- Philip Roth in American Pastoral: Getting people wrong is what makes us human
- Joseph Conrad writes in his century-old novel The Secret Agent about the two main traits of terrorists