Sunday, May 25, 2008

Don't Let's Go

This a quote from Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, a provocative memoir about a white girl growing up in Africa in the 1970's and 80's. While I recommend the book on many levels, I was most struck by the mother, who, during the course of her life, lost her one year old son to meningitis, then her two year old daughter to drowning, and then a third child at birth. One can imagine the defeat of this woman, already with two children living and two dead, returning from the hospital, arms empty. My heart ached for her. And here, the memory of her daughter, who was nine at the time.

Mum's world became increasingly the world she sees in the reflection of the window at night when the lights are humming, high and low in tune to the throb of the generator, and Roger Whittaker is playing on the record player. Mum's towel slips lower over her full-of-milk breasts. I hear her crying in the bathroom when she's squeezing them empty. MIlk for no one, down the plug. Her towel hangs open at the bottom, where her thighs are blood-smeared from the tail end of childbirth. She seems to be grieving for the loss of this new baby in every way a body can grieve; with her mind (which is unhinged) and her body (which is alarming and leaking).

I feel that I have no words to really elaborate on this reflection of Mum: other than to say, I have been that woman with full-of-milk breasts, I recognize the truth in that description. It haunts me. But I did not lose two children prior. I cannot imagine the defeat, the loss, the utter and complete despair. I might, as this mum did, absolutely lose it.

This book is not just about the loss of a child, but it is about the struggle of a family growing up in difficult times, and I recommend it wholly.

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