During my second year of community college, I signed up for some two hundred level English class--and was at the bookstore buying my required reading for the semester. I remember it was still summer, before the fall semester started. I didn’t want to get caught up in the college crowd of losers buying their books the first day of school.
One of the required books was “The Stranger” from Albert Camus. It was the shortest book in the pile of books I had to buy that day, so I thought I would tackle that one first. My plan was to read all of the books that week so I could just kind of whiz by. English was always an easier class for me, so if I could finish all of my books in summer, I could pay more attention to the discussions in class… ya, I was nerdy like that.
The opening lines of the book are “Maman died today.” I still remember it, almost 15 years after reading it. I remember we had long cliché college-English-class conversations about it. In those 3 words, the protagonist was painted—the silhouette image of an emotionless nihilist. The class pondered over how someone (Meursault, the main character) could be so nonchalant about an event like his mother passing.
I won’t lie or pretend to be above it all, I wondered about it too. That opening moment in the novella, along with many other (beautiful) moments, continue to stay with me. My mind glances over those moments the way I glance over a ring on my finger that I never remove (even when I am making hamburger patties…)
Those thoughts (and my ring) are always in my view, even though I may not examine them closely (unless, I’m picking tiny pieces of smashed food out of the crevices) I see them daily...
Anyway, my twenty-year old heart wondered what it must feel like to be so detached from life/reality/love to be able to speak so frankly about a life-changing event. In that first opening chapter, after it is mentioned that the main character’s mother passed that day, the story opens to a scene of Meursault making love to his girlfriend and then going to the beach (I forget which happens first, the beach or sex?) It was as if it was just a normal day for Meursault. A normal day...that notion is the jewel in my metaphoric ring that I never take off…
“What is it like to be so detached?” I scribbled in my notebook...
Life has a way of answering the questions you ask yourself softly every day.
I never told anyone this until now, but the day Ensō passed, my husband and I went to the movies. We watched “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
It was the first time we smiled—not a fake “smile for the camera” smile, but a real…real smile. For two months of being in the NICU I fake smiled to everyone. I faked it and pretended to be strong. I put a front up for myself so I could get through the terror that was my life. I don’t think I saw any of my friends during the entire 2 months. I couldn’t let anyone who knew me see me faking it so hard—because they would call me on it.
I know my family could see it, but they smiled along with me…they pushed through with me. But that night, when we decided to go the movie, I found both my husband and I smiling—on the saddest day of our life.
Meursault, my jewel in my ring, seemed so bright and polished—probably because after weeks of having my hands jammed in my pockets trying to walk as quickly as could to being the strongest mom in the world—the friction from my pockets cleaned the surface of my ring.
“He’s a heartless killer, that’s why he could kill the Arab without feeling anything.” “—You can’t ignore the opening lines of the story…he went to the BEACH on the day his mother died...who does that?”
I would write down things my fellow classmates would say and ask myself those same questions. And then, almost 15 years later, someone so strange started to stare back at me in the mirror—and didn’t seem so strange after all.
No one entertained the idea that perhaps Meursault really loved his mother. Truly loved her. No one entertained that idea that maybe he went through his own ordeal with her. No one mentioned that maybe death doesn’t have to be the end—or that perhaps Meursault was so connected to his mother that it was his idea to let her go? I believe in the ending of the novel, there is a monologue of sorts where he speaks out (maybe in his mind) to her.
Something about the indifference of the world…
But, we, the reader are left to wonder how someone could be so detached.
I look at myself as I write this, and I think of the twenty-year old Winnie and realize this: to detach means that, at some point, you were connected. So connected. One body. One solid piece. You were ONE. I find myself detached from that twenty-year-old self, and yet, I am still Winnie. I am still Ensō’s mother, and will always be. I am still that girl/lady/women who looks at her ring and wonders… and Meursault was more connected to his mother than the reader ever allowed him to be.
It’s still in my top 10 books, maybe in the top 3… I may just re-read it again tonight.