I may have mentioned my inability to put books down, my need to read them in single, sleepless, ignore-my-kids binges. So stranded on an island (with a restaurant next door) for the past two months with little to do beyond swim with my kids, write, knead dough and hang wash was a good time to dive into reading. Several recent summer reads were courtesy of my agent, Maria Massie, fellow clients with stories to disappear inside. I'm excited to profile a few of them here over the next few weeks.
My Foreign Cities by Elizabeth Scarboro is the memoir of the author's decision at seventeen to fall in love with the larger-than-life Stephen, despite the fact that her dreams included travel, serial dating and adventure, and Stephen had cystic fibrosis and a short life expectancy.
It takes a certain level of fortitude to start a book like this. You know anything that is called a 'modern, true Love Story' will take you on an emotional jag. There's a commitment you have to make to ride this bittersweet ride alongside Liz and Stephen. However, once you start, you, like their myriad cast of supporting characters, want to see them through to the end, and what lies beyond.
The memoir grew out of this NYTimes Modern Love essay, where she addressed the aftermath--what to do with the frozen sperm of Stephen years later, when her life had taken its own course. A beautiful read in its own right.
For me, some of the most familiar writing of the memoir was around the hospital time. I have done my share of time on those conversion chairs and felt the otherness of life that moved inside this maddeningly slowed time. I'm familiar with the reassuring security and limitations of modern medicine. I understood the love-hate relationship with the hospital; that she wanted to go back there the day after Stephen died was so telling, because of the familiarity, the comfort of being taken care of. I cried for her when the staff started to distance themself from the case at the end, and loved the bravery of both Elizabeth and Stephen's doctor in their final conversation.
Time, Liz, Stephen and CF are the main characters of this story, and the way each is transformed in the decade they have is a spellbinding read. There were parts of the book where I laughed (when he tried shotgunning a beer through his stomach tube) and when I was completely moved--the conversation they have where Stephen is intubated, and can't speak, and Liz interprets for him. The life events they endure in this short period, the grave decisions they faced and the intensity of their love story were underscored by the unknown but looming expiration date. Liz and Stephen packed a lifetime of passion, intensity and adventure into their decade. The author does an admirable job of capturing the realities of this without falling into the maudlin, saccharine or trite.
I disappeared into their story for an entire day, the same one where I left Utila and J for this month, and came out a little shaken and tender-feeling, ultimately grateful for having walked through this with Liz as a savvy guide. The overwhelming take-home was an enhanced appreciation for my own love story, and the apparent luxury of our time together.
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