Arleen Paré's protagonist, an unnamed wife and mother of two, falls in love with a woman during the consciousness-raising seventies. The coming out story with its freshly discovered expression of lesbian sexuality would have been a delicious adventure. This story though, as told by Paré in Leaving Now, is about the emotional cost of living that passion in the world.
Paré's character, let's call her Mum, tells her story in prose, poetry and fairy tales. The boundaries of genre are stretched just as Mum stretches the possibilities of life. As with our memories that appear in a mysterious and circular way, events don't unfold chronologically in Leaving Now. Are we here? Have we left? Are we just planning to leave? The white space in the book offers a kind of relief. Separating from one's husband and children requires some deep breathing and is always heart-wrenching. That's true for anyone I would say. In my case, I did exactly what the character in this book did and at the same time.
The story begins with the first leaving when Mum and Dad take turns living with the two boys one week on, one week off. It was 1980, a Saturday. "An ordinary day—but with a suitcase in it." (The second leaving is in 1983 when Mum leaves for good.)
We don't know what life is like for Mum away from the family home. We do learn about the heartbreak of leaving: the guilt, the regret, the remorse and "[T]he restlessness these words can cause."
Mum calls herself an urban archaeologist as she lists what's in the garbage: "...eggshells; a hand-knit mitten unraveling at the thumb." Paré, throughout the book, notes domestic objects of every day to create a pattern, "a kind of ordinary before, before everything went off the rails." The objects act as metaphoric touchstones along the way: the wishbone on the sill, the onion, and even the "spongy dip in the kitchen floor near the sink."
In the kitchen a disembodied voice begins to speak to Mum. Outside, a shapeshifting guide called Gudrun materializes and tells Mum, "It's going to be alright" and "you will need a companion. There's a lineage, a litany of us, you know, Cinderella's mother, Snow White's mother..."
"In any fairy tale the mother is gone," Mum points out. But not all fairytales end happily. "Not for everyone." This gone-mother was "...gone-off-the-straight-and-narrow-rails, gone-off-with-another-woman." We hear a little bit about the other woman: "...her tilting head, her smile, magenta lit." Mum describes the unexpected love that fell over her as "a sudden August rain."
As for the children, Mum says "they tolerate the story's arc." And there's the grief of the husband too; the transition takes its emotional toll on everyone. I didn't weep until half way through with the question: "How does a woman leave?" With great care and courage which are the same traits needed to have written this book. It offers an opportunity for reflection and it lets others in the same circumstances know they're not alone.
Mum regrets she took away her constancy and hopes one day there will be "enough forgiveness." As for her boys, all grown up by the end of the book, they say they were lucky. "It was okay." Also at the end, the protagonist, whom I've called Mum, has been living with her beloved for thirty years. Every time she hears the phone ring, she's wishing it's one of the boys calling to say hello.
Arleen Paré has an MFA in poetry from the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Her novel, Paper Trail, won the Victoria Butler Book Prize. Before beginning a career in writing, Paré worked for over two decades as a social worker in Vancouver. Paré lives in Victoria with her partner, and has two sons and two grandsons. Visit her website.
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