In one sense, it’s the perfect book to end the course. It’s the most current book we read, so it feels lighter after a semester of Kafka, Tolstoy, and Dickens. And it’s the only book we read that takes the point-of-view of the healthy character rather than the sick character, providing an interesting twist on our theme.
Plus, author Dave Eggers gets prolonged sickness, its effects on the well, and having a sick parent who dies. He gets it so right. He writes about the sick house — about how a prolonged sickness slowly becomes reflected in your surroundings. Windows get broken and stay broken. Doors get knocked loose and stay loose. Everything becomes slightly crooked. Your home starts crumbling along with your body.
And he perfectly captures the feeling of being owed something after a parent (or both) dies. You do. You feel like you deserve some sort of compensation. Some sort of consolation prize. So you pamper yourself — take it easy on yourself. There’s a time when you don’t expect much of anything from yourself. And a lot from everyone else.
The year my dad died, I got five credit cards. After not having any my whole life. Somehow, in one year, I racked up about $10,000 of credit card debt, though I can’t remember, specifically, what I bought. It wasn’t that I needed more money or ran into financial hardship. I still had the same full-time job I’d always had and the same bills. In fact, in an effort to stay too busy to think, I took on a second-shift job in addition to my full-time teaching job. I had more money than I’d ever had before.
No. It wasn’t a need for money. It was that I was owed. I deserved more. Maybe I saw ten years of hope and care and work disappear with a single phone call. Maybe my dad will never turn 50. Maybe I saw my future unravel in an instant. Maybe I was lost. Maybe my whole family was lost. But by God. There would be shoes.