Twilight: The Unbearable Sadness of Lemon Cabinets

Twilight Recap: Bella has moved from her home in Phoenix to live in her father's household in Forks, Washington. She has not lived with her father since her parents' divorce in her infancy, and she has only visited him for short once-a-year visits.

Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight

   Eventually we made it to Charlie’s. He still lived in the small, two-bedroom house that he’d bought with my mother in the early days of their marriage. Those were the only kind of days their marriage had - the early ones.

A combination of job relocations for my parents in my childhood, coupled with an extended and complicated college career of my own, has left me in the somewhat odd position that I can honestly say that I've never lived in the same residence for more than maybe 7 years. On the other hand, I've lived in the same couple of cities for pretty much my entire life, so I can only claim a very limited kind of wanderlust - the sort that doesn't make me want to move away from family and the familiar, but damn sure is ready to exchange all the frustrating little imperfections in any given dwelling for the exciting new imperfections in a new dwelling. I inherited this trait from my mother, who drove my father crazy until they finally found the "perfect" home about 10 years ago, and I can already tell that I'm driving my own husband crazy with my need to relocate frequently.

I'm frankly awestruck by people who have lived in the same house their entire life, and I literally cannot imagine what such a thing would feel like. I associate "moving" with "cleaning out" - every move to a new place of residence is accompanied, of course, by the cleaning out of cabinets and the throwing away of unneeded trinkets that have found their way into my home. At the same time, however, I also associate moving with the cleaning out of painful memories, and starting over fresh in a new place. I have a very locational memory, and moving means a cessation of painful reminders, of never again looking out at the backyard and thinking, Lance died the week we planted that tree, or of sitting down at the kitchen table and thinking, This is where I was when I got the call that my employer was going out of business and I didn't have a job anymore. This is probably also why I change furniture frequently and obsessively.

Understanding that, I cannot even imagine how life has been for Charlie who, for whatever reason, has made the choice (or lacked any other choice) to live in the house he bought with Renee when they were newly married. I can only imagine that every single nook and cranny of the house reminds him of either his young wife or infant daughter - both completely lost to him. If he can afford to move and yet hasn't, it almost seems like he's willingly living in a mausoleum unwilling to move on; if he can't afford to move and is trapped here, it's more like he's been buried alive. Either way, this seems unbearably sad to me.

On the other hand, maybe he just isn't that sentimental. Let's wait and see.

   There was only one small bathroom at the top of the stairs, which I would have to share with Charlie. I was trying not to dwell too much on that fact.

Once again, I have to say that it's a complete shame that we don't get a little more background on the adventures of "Responsible Bella and Birdbrained Renee" - Bella's despairing description of the "small, two-bedroom house" where she won't have her own bathroom to herself makes me think that she is clearly accustomed to more lavish living quarters, and this confuses me, because there's nothing in her background to suggest that she should be used to such a high standard of living.

Of course, we still don't know what kind of work Renee does (or did? Did she leave her job to follow Phil around the country?), but if she's as cripplingly scatter-brained as Bella has described her, I'm going to (unfairly) assume she works a relatively low-income position. Now, maybe she inherited or won a large sum of money when she was younger - indeed, such a sudden windfall could have facilitated her flight from Forks, by opening up a world of choices that had previously been closed to her - but the text references don't support Bella and Renee being independently wealthy: Bella has extremely limited funds to spend on her car, and earlier she noted that she and Renee "had pooled our resources to supplement my winter wardrobe, but it was still scanty", which seems to indicate some scarcity of funds.

So without knowing anything about Renee's background, education, career, or family, we're left with the puzzle of how a two-person, single-parent, single-income family is somehow used to large kitchens, extra bedrooms, and individual bathrooms, all while still suffering the financial budgeting hardships that result in scanty winter wardrobes and ancient fix-me-up trucks. If we want to solve this puzzle, we're apparently going to have to make some guesses, so I'm going to assume that - Female Success Being Family here - Renee inherited their home in Phoenix from her parents, and her and Bella's meager liquid assets have come from a low-income job that she held until she left it to marry Phil and travel the country. I'm fully willing to be wrong on this, but it's the only scenario that seems to fit the circumstances and characters we've been given so far.

Of course, the problem with this is that if Renee's parents weren't Forks natives, then how did she come to live in the blasted place in the first place at least long enough to meet and marry Charlie (maybe he attended school in Phoenix and she followed him back to Forks??), but I feel like we've expended enough brain-cells on this mystery already, so let's move on.

   One of the best things about Charlie is he doesn’t hover. He left me alone to unpack and get settled, a feat that would have been altogether impossible for my mother. It was nice to be alone, not to have to smile and look pleased; a relief to stare dejectedly out the window at the sheeting rain and let just a few tears escape. I wasn’t in the mood to go on a real crying jag. I would save that for bedtime, when I would have to think about the coming morning.

Bella takes some time to dread her first day at school tomorrow, but I'd like to skip over that for the moment to stay with this thread of the sad house that Charlie built. The next morning, Charlie heads out to work and Bella is left to muse.

   Charlie left first, off to the police station that was his wife and family. After he left, I sat at the old square oak table in one of the three unmatching chairs and examined his small kitchen, with its dark paneled walls, bright yellow cabinets, and white linoleum floor. Nothing was changed. My mother had painted the cabinets eighteen years ago in an attempt to bring some sunshine into the house. Over the small fireplace in the adjoining handkerchief-sized family room was a row of pictures. First a wedding picture of Charlie and my mom in Las Vegas, then one of the three of us in the hospital after I was born, taken by a helpful nurse, followed by the procession of my school pictures up to last year’s. Those were embarrassing to look at - I would have to see what I could do to get Charlie to put them somewhere else, at least while I was living here.

Whew. I don't know where to start. The house, which seems to be literally shrinking as Bella describes it ("handkerchief-sized"?!?), doesn't just simmer with the residual presence of Charlie's lost wife and daughter, it actually radiates their disapproval. Those cabinets? Those aren't the yellow cabinets that Renee painted right after we were married, oh no. They are the yellow cabinets that Renee painted right after we were married because she said the house was too dark and depressing and for that matter so was the whole town and THEN SHE LEFT. Sentimental or not, it's impossible not to imagine that at least some point in the last eighteen years Charlie has burst into tears in the middle of the kitchen and wondered if changing the "dark paneled walls" might have been enough to keep his beloved bride here with him, if only for a few years longer.

And while I'm a big fan of family pictures, I can't even imagine living daily under the parade of impersonal school pictures of a daughter that you've barely been allowed to even visit (once a year!) since her mother took her away as an infant. Nor can I imagine that the house tour would be particularly enticing for Charlie's non-existent dates: "Oh, what a lovely kitchen! Do you like yellow?" "No, my wife did. Before she left. And took my baby away forever. But even though I almost never see or talk to her, they send a school photo every year, and I frame them all - would you like to see?"

It's not sad that Charlie hangs pictures of Bella everywhere in the house - she's his daughter, after all. What's sad is that he's not hanging pictures of her actual time with him - trips to the reservation, fishing outings, and beach pictures of their California trips. In fact, to hear Bella tell it, she's hated every moment of her visits with her dad - she doesn't remember the fishing trips with Billy Black because she does "a good job of blocking painful, unnecessary things from [her] memory", and she found her "compelled" trips to Forks so distasteful that she finally "put [her] foot down" and stopped the visits entirely when she turned fourteen. I have to say, as the step-mother to two wonderful step-children (one who is Bella's age, no less!) who seem to endlessly love their father's monthly visits to them, I find this infinitely strange and depressing - apparently Charlie has absolutely no happy memories of his time with his daughter that he can frame and display in his house.

So instead, he's hanging yearly school photos - those impersonal pictures that serve only to mark the passage of time, rather than to remember a specific event - in a procession that only seems to scream, "My daughter is experiencing life, but I'm not there to witness it." Bella wants her father to take down these pictures - not because she recognizes that him trying vainly to connect with her via this medium of completely impersonal school photos is an unhealthy effort doomed to fail, but because they're embarrassing to her. And here is where lazily characterizing your characters can completely backfire - Bella doesn't come across as a typical teenager, typically embarrassed by pictures of herself, because this isn't a "typical" situation. Instead, she comes off as a monster who is willing to put her own vanity over her father's painfully obvious yearning for any kind of familial connection with his perpetually-absent daughter.

   It was impossible, being in this house, not to realize that Charlie had never gotten over my mom. It made me uncomfortable.

This would make most people uncomfortable, in the sense that "oh, isn't it a shame that dad is still hurting for a woman who has moved on". However, coming on the heels of Bella's insistence that Charlie will have to take down his cherished photographs of the life he's missed out on because it embarrasses her, it sounds more like Bella is uncomfortable in the sense that "only I should get to have an everlasting and unrequited yearning for an emotionally distant love interest".


jemand2 said...

I've only ever read twilight through your deconstruction here, and a thematic comic version deconstruction gave me the basic plot-- however it seems to me bella's musing about bathroom sharing isn't necessarily about the size of the house or the fact that she has to share, but WHO she has to share it WITH.

A man who's basically a stranger, who she calls "Charlie" not dad, and during her teenage years. I think there may be some uncomfortable overtones here once again illuminating that she doesn't really want to move, but thinks she should, and does NOT feel comfortable with the forced intimacy with a father she calls by name even in her head, that sharing a bathroom will require.

Heather R said...

I have to say that I've really been enjoying reading this deconstruction after I was directed here by your post on the Slacktiverse.

My take on the bathroom thing was not so much that she was used to having her own bathroom, but that she was used to sharing a bathroom with her mother, not her father. I remember at her age being absolutely mortified at the thought of someone of the opposite gender seeing my personal hygiene supplies. Bella is a teenage girl well into puberty, and I can imagine that she'd like a little more privacy than that.

Besides which, bathrooms are certainly places where things that are normally private are stored. Would you really want to risk stumbling across your dad's condoms, or seeing the neat row of medicine bottles?

Obviously, people are capable of sharing a bathroom with the opposite sex all the time; Renee and Charlie did when they were married. I submit that it's a bit more awkward when it's a father/daughter thing.

TheDreadPirateM said...

+1 for the "toilet seat dichotomy" interpretation of bathroom-sharing.

Sis said...

I think somewhere in the series Bella mentions that Renee had raised her "on a kindergarten teacher's salary".

Reader of Books said...

"Obviously, people are capable of sharing a bathroom with the opposite sex all the time; Renee and Charlie did when they were married. I submit that it's a bit more awkward when it's a father/daughter thing." (Heather R, above)

Disagree personally--had no problem sharing a bathroom with my father and older brother when I was a teenager. I kept my personal hygiene supplies in my bedroom and carefully disposed of them so as not to mortify myself or anyone.

Theory on the post itself: Only women are supposed to have love interests for whom they give up all positive and happy thoughts to obsess over? Thus making it okay for Bella to swoon over Edward, but not for Charlie to remember and miss Renee.

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