Part 2: The Series!
I have tried to map out this piece. Outlines, reverse outlines, concept maps…none of them got me where I was going so I’m going to freestyle and hope it hits the mark.
Here we go…
“You didn’t make good choices; you had good choices” shall be the line that we study for the remainder of our time here.
My book club met last week to talk about another reading but I brought this up and asked what people thought about the differences between the novel and the series. We lamented a few things. We celebrated others. One member floated this around our physically distanced pods: “Should we really just be looking at these as two different works of art?” Excellent question…we pondered as the mosquitoes came to hunt. We scratched and swatted. We considered cookies. And as a storm rolled overhead we decided we needed to get ourselves home. For that hour or so we had good choices. Read, watch or both; drink, eat or both; get wet or go home; talk more or continue on Zoom…good choices. Somewhere in this world but more importantly right here in the same city are women without these choices. My choice to write about this series is for them and for the womxn who came before them and managed with terrible choices.
One of the things the series creators have decided is that there are no halos in this work. Pauline was the character for whom I had laid the biggest clouds at her feet. They took my clouds, halos, and flowing rainbow robes completely away. They…humanized her. They gave her choices. I felt myself judging the cocaine use and inappropriate relationship (hmmm should I spoil this). I was saying no no no the whole way and asked myself something critical. Did she need medication? Did she need love? What were her choices? Not excuses, just wonderings.
Another thing the creators chose was clarity. In the novel, some things are hazy. Is Mia Black? They answer with a resounding YES. Is Mia sexed? YES. Is Elena really this far gone? Absolutely, YES! So…I could talk about Elena forever. But ummm all we really needed to know was that Reese Witherspoon was going to play her and I don’t know if you have seen Election but ya girl still got it. What? My friend Lindsay and I were running this down today. Reese has that thing that makes you want to cover the mirrors in your house and never speak her name more than 2 times in a row. She is f*** scary as hell. Yes, I curse. I’m grown and my cognitive load is taxed right now. It’s a choice. But I reconsidered because my mom despised foul language. Anyway…that coiffed blonde shimmer hair, the manicures, the squint, the lip control…Reese is the master of the scary white woman privilege game. Who gon stop her? The reason she is the master of this character profile is that she has understood something fundamental that so many still just don’t get. This is about power, control, collection and consumption. She is not a mother; she’s a doll collector. And when she got to a certain point in the collection, she got a doll she didn’t want but couldn’t bring herself to leave behind because she is always in control and always consuming the accolades of her society. When she discovered that she really did not want that doll she used her power to go find out what else she could put in her collection…an old boyfriend, a job, a house? She decided to put as much of those things in it as she could and had the audacity to expect that they remain in the condition in which she bought them. She clearly thinks buying is power. Here’s where I would add a line. Yes. She had good choices. No. She did not elect to take any of them. Instead, she used her sense of control to make all the wrong ones.
I am working my way up to Mia’s choices. This is hard for me. I’m thinking of other women in the story as well. Bebe Chow, Linda McCullough, Lexi, Izzy…and of course Pearl. I thought I would identify most with Mia. I don’t. I identify most with Pearl. So maybe I will free write about why that is and hope I make good on a 40 year compact. Pearl is the person I have the most advice for based on 40 years of being a daughter to my mom. And Pearl took me up on so many of the things I said to the screen as I watched. Choose forgiveness. Choose love. Choose her.
My mom had secrets. Some I learned. Some I still wonder about. (Dear sister, if you are reading this, I love you and want you to hold on tight, ok?). I don’t remember when but it was sometime during an early childhood trip to Virginia that I learned my mom had already been someone’s mom. Actually she had been three someones’ mom. A girl and two boys. They all had the same father…an ex-husband. And they were not with us. They were down South. Down South then felt to me like an alternate existence rather than a geographic location. My mom was crippled by discussions of them and looked desperately around the room like she was searching for something the day I asked her the one question she never quite answered for herself. “Why don’t you go get them?” I got answers in pieces between breath catching. Her own father told her to leave them with their paternal grandparents. She tried but legally this was complicated. Once she told me that they had been told she was dead and she just didn’t know how to deal with that. She whispered one time while looking out the window “told them I was dead” and then shook her head as if it were unbelievable. Truth is strange. For sure stranger than fiction. Stranger than a woman kidnapping her child from her custodians and fleeing the country with her is a woman trapped in a cycle of depression and mental anguish over the loss of her children never being able to answer this one question. I think the truth is that my mom had no idea why she didn’t go get them and that was maybe even more painful to her than their absence. I think they were 3, 2, and 1 when they were taken to live down South. I think my mom was 21 or 22. I think about my 22. I stand at a gateway where I can see my own future and yet understand so much of why hers was forever changed then. And I am deeply moved by something. Choices.
My mom took from her limited choices and spun a life from them. She chose to pray for her children everyday. I heard her. She especially chose to pray for her eldest daughter who was growing into a bright carbon and oxygen copy of our mother. I often say that my sister is what my mom would have been had life not been so incredibly hard…so many hard choices. Mom prayed my sister would be smart…she is. Mom prayed my sister would be loved…she is. Our mother prayed that we would all have good choices… I pray too. My mom also chose to be brave every now and then. She would ask for visits, get close, send cards, and more. And then she would run or retreat. Like Mia, she felt that I was all she had. I was her Pearl. My mom was generous to others. She tried to help other women who didn’t have great choices. But, I was the choice she doubled down on over and over again for 40 years.
In 2015 I was pregnant with my final child. I wanted a baby but I did not want the post-partum pre-eclampsia, the ICU, or the same looks of desperation I had seen on my mom’s face those many years ago. She gave me her blood pressure cuff on a night when I felt particularly awful after the birth of my child and that was the night I was admitted to the hospital for a magnesium treatment. The doctor said it was amazing that I had not had a stroke. I came home and got better. My mom insisted I keep the cuff. It was a choice. She chose me…again. This time it was one of her final ones. Early in 2016, she wasn’t feeling well. She asked me to look at nursing homes for her. She was 66 and we owned a property with two houses on it so I said absolutely not…choices…we had better choices.
On the day before my mom passed away at our home we rolled around on the floor playing with her newest grandchild and talking about going to Paris that summer for a trip to celebrate another grandchild’s graduation from high school. She said she would think about it but didn’t want to be a burden on the trip. I told her she was not a burden. She was my choice. There are so many additional details to the whole story. So many nuances and turns. I am writing about our life together but for this post I will just say that the currency of womanhood is choices. I love choosing the women in my life. I love choosing to love them. I am humbled and grateful for the choices so many of them have made in my own. My sister and I have chosen each other. We choose to stay in each other’s lives despite choices that could easily have driven us to alternate existences. You know what we have most in common? We both work in arenas that seek to improve choices. And we both have amazing daughters for whom we light fires.
May all the young women reading this book or watching this series light the fires of better choices in their lives and the lives of the womxn and girls they meet along the way. May Izzy, wherever she is right now, know that she was chosen and will be chosen. May Mei Ling know that motherhood is a much longer journey than China or Canada. And may Pearl know that forgiveness and love are good but sometimes also hard choices. May we all choose them as best we can when we can.
P.S. McKeesport is a VERY different place than Bethel Park but that’s a fire for another post 😉