407: “The Farther I Ran” (Deb JJ Lee)

“The farther I ran…
…the more I wanted him to catch up to me.”
                -Deb JJ Lee, In Limbo

                Lee has me thinking about the things I do that I want to go awry — the plans I make that I want to come undone. When I think back through my life, watching for this kind of experience, I find fever memories from eleven or so. I would get sick and hallucinate, wild burning dreams more vibrant than I knew how to deal with. Then I’d argue that being alive didn’t mean anything. Couldn’t mean anything. I remember arguing that so loudly, wanting so much for my mom (usually the one who stayed up with me) to somehow ‘prove’ me wrong. 
                In Limbo centers on a fraught relationship between Lee and her mother. In this scene, following an awful interaction with her mom, she’s running from her dad. He doesn’t catch her. Instead Lee meets with a friend, who eventually drives her back home. And heavy as this all is — intense (and heartbreaking) as In Limbo sometimes is — I don’t think this is a sad book. Or a sad thought. As a kid I didn’t know how to deal with these moments when I was “trying to do something” that I also wanted so much to fail—when I was running, hoping to be caught. Maybe I still don’t. But Lee helps me think about the tension of those moments. Those buildings I make that I want to have broken, like when I purposefully made a sandcastle down near the waves at low tide and then tried so hard to build a moat and a wall to protect it. Even as it had to collapse.
                In Limbo ends with Lee and her mom falling asleep together. Gentle. Close. Which doesn’t erase the hurt that has come before. Instead of thinking that, as a child, I should’ve learned to stop running when I wanted to be caught, stop arguing when I wanted to be wrong, I’m sitting here thinking about making space for the running and the catching up. The outpouring of feverish words and my own mother’s open silence, wider and fuller than any answer. Sometimes these are the ebbs and flows of our hearts, aren’t they? Our connections. Which doesn’t mean stop making, but does mean that there’s something wonderful in the making, and something wonderful in the waves that come in and wash my sandcastle all away. 

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