Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
When I was finished with that, I took my book bag upstairs. Before starting my homework, I changed into a pair of dry sweats, pulled my damp hair up into a ponytail, and checked my e-mail for the first time. I had three messages.
“Bella,” my mom wrote . . .
Write me as soon as you get in. Tell me how your flight was. Is it raining? I miss you already. I’m almost finished packing for Florida, but I can’t find my pink blouse. Do you know where I put it? Phil says hi. Mom.I sighed and went to the next. It was sent eight hours after the first.
Twilight was first published in 2005, but the actual setting of the book is a little bit trickier to pin down. There are computers and email and portable music players in the book, but I can't at the moment recall anyone using a cell phone, unless maybe near the end when everyone is coordinating escape plans. Sure enough, in Chapter 19, "tiny silver cell phones" start coming out of pockets, but given that Carlisle is literally handing them out to Alice and Esme, they seem less like day-to-day devices and more like luxury emergency walkie talkies.
So it would seem that, at the moment at least, Bella doesn't have a cell phone for her mother to reach her on and rather than call Charlie's house to verify that Bella has landed safely, Renee has opted to go for the email route, even apparently knowing that Charlie has a dial-up connection (which therefore likely won't be left open constantly) and that Bella apparently doesn't get enough email to justify checking it regularly anyway.
It's hard for me to remember always what my life was like in 2005; heck, it's hard to imagine a time when I didn't have constant Internet access. But I do remember that in my college days in 2000, I spoke to my mother regularly on the phone -- on a cell phone with limited minutes, as I recall -- and we also used email to stay in touch on a daily basis, so I don't think I'm committing an anachronism here to say that Bella's failure to check in with her mother for three calendar days (day 1 was her flight, day 2 was the Biology Incident, and day 3 is today) is a choice on her part instead of a limitation of technology in the novel.
There are, therefore, a couple of interesting things here. Renee is naturally worried about her daughter. Of course, this is not her first time to be separated from Bella -- Bella has traveled to both Forks and California in the past for multi-month-long visits with her father -- but I think it's still natural to wonder if the plane landed, the car didn't crash, and everyone was installed safely into their new routine. Neither Bella nor Charlie has apparently seen fit to inform Renee of these facts, although they must both be aware that she will have these natural concerns. Considering that Bella has had almost nothing to do the past two nights, it's actually quite surprising that she hasn't written a perfunctory "I'm here" note to her mother, and I'm almost tempted to guess that she was so tired and upset and depressed over her arrival and the Biology Incident that she couldn't motivate herself enough to write such a note.
But why are Charlie and Renee incapable of communicating with each other? The story thus far, of course, is that Charlie is still pining for Renee after she left him years ago, so it's possible that their relationship is still strained and potentially fraught with awkwardness, but the two must be able to speak to each other about their daughter. How have they been coordinating Bella's visits all these years? Surely Renee hasn't been tossing Bella into Charlie's car or onto a plane since she was four-years-old and then waiting for her child to take the initiative to call her, right? Is this new reticence to call Charlie based on the fact that this is no longer an implied "visit", but rather Bella's new home, or does it have something to do with Renee's recent re-marriage? Has Charlie said or done something recently to cause Renee to vow never to speak to him again unless absolutely necessary?
Something else interesting here is the implied mother-daughter dynamics at work here. It's been mentioned in-text that Renee is fairly incapable of looking after herself and that Bella is the functional adult in the family, and we see glimpses of that here: Renee can't find her blouse and the new caretaker, Phil, hasn't settled enough into his role to provide this information yet. What's most interesting though, is Bella's reaction: she sighs.
Now, I don't blame Bella for sighing. I've mentioned before that I think the relationship between Renee and Bella is unfortunate at best (if Renee really cannot take care of herself) and toxic at worst (if Renee is choosing not to take care of herself). Certainly I'm not going to say that Bella should accept her lot in life as her mother's handler with cheerful acceptance and move on; I think she'd perfectly justified in being frustrated, tired, and wanting a 'normal' teenage life where she doesn't have to remember her mother's dry cleaning for her. But I do wonder if this sigh is meant to imply this weariness or if there's something deeper going on -- from the following text, it almost seems like Bella has been intentionally not writing Renee because she doesn't like talking to her mother.
“Bella,” she wrote . . .
Why haven’t you e-mailed me yet? What are you waiting for? Mom.The last was from this morning.
Isabella,I checked the clock. I still had an hour, but my mom was well known for jumping the gun.
If I haven’t heard from you by 5:30 p.m. today I’m calling Charlie.
Mom,The tone in these terse emails is hard to ascertain, but the last one from Renee, in which she addresses Bella as "Isabella" seems less worried and more angry. Surely if Renee was frantic with worry over her daughter, the tone of the emails would be less impatient ("What are you waiting for?") and more concerned ("Are you okay?? Have the vampires gotten to you?!").
Calm down. I’m writing right now. Don’t do anything rash.
The combination of the intention that "I'm calling Charlie" and Bella's admonition to not "do anything rash" seems to indicate more of an implied threat rather than simply a worried woman about to start asking other people if her daughter is okay -- surely, "calling Charlie" to ask if Bella has arrived safely is not "rash", but just potentially a little awkward. On the other hand, "calling Charlie" to complain about Bella's poor behavior would, in fact, seem like a "rash" act in the sense that it could touch off a big fight: Who is she to complain about her daughter being uncommunicative when she walked out without warning seventeen years ago, and another thing... Obviously, everyone would like to avoid that.
But if Bella believes that Renee is poised to call Charlie to complain about Bella, rather than simply checking that she is alright, then we have to reevaluate our opinion thus far of Renee as an essentially sweet, ditzy, disconnected parent into something else: as helpless as she is without Bella, she apparently isn't afraid to assert her opinions forcefully in her role as a parent if she thinks her child is behaving badly. I'm almost concerned that this might put Bella's childhood in an even worse light -- surely if anything is worse than a helpless, disconnected parent, it would be a helpless, forceful parent who expresses discontent not directly to the source (by, for instance, calling Bella to complain), but rather expresses discontent by involving a third-party in an attempt to shame and control Bella (by, in this case, calling Charlie to complain).
I sent that, and began again.
Mom,Testy? Sure. Impatient? No doubt. Gets the point across? Yes.
Everything is great. Of course it’s raining. I was waiting for something to write about. School isn’t bad, just a little repetitive. I met some nice kids who sit by me at lunch.
Your blouse is at the dry cleaners — you were supposed to pick it up Friday.
Charlie bought me a truck, can you believe it? I love it. It’s old, but really sturdy, which is good, you know, for me.
I miss you, too. I’ll write again soon, but I’m not going to check my e-mail every five minutes. Relax, breathe. I love you.
For good or ill, Bella is asserting herself. Forks is as you would expect. There's not a whole lot to write about. Your blouse is at the cleaners, and it's up to you and Phil to handle that stuff now because I'm not in a position to do so. School is good, Charlie is good, a new car is good, nothing to complain about really except the rain. I love you, but I'm not planning to check frequently, so be prepared for that.
It's not an email that I agree with -- I have a very close relationship with my own mother, and a lot of this email sounds extremely terse and disrespectful, almost as if Bella is dictating the terms under which her mother can expect to hear from her from now on. Bella seems to be saying that she will communicate with her mother as it suits her needs only, which is not a healthy, giving relationship. Sometimes our loved ones need to talk to us even at a frequency that we don't ourselves actually need, and then choices have to be made. Bella is making a choice, but she seems to be doing it without real consideration for her mother's needs, and that seems intensely selfish.
At the same time, with that said, it may be that Bella sees this as a chance to assert some independence and distance between her and Renee. Her mother has been relying on her for everything her entire life -- physical, mental, and emotional support -- and perhaps Bella thinks a clean direct email like this may be the way to achieve that: a policy like "Mom, I will email you as I need" will at least cut down on the "have you seen my......." pleas for help.
And yet, I can't help but wonder why Bella wouldn't send almost this exact email immediately on arrival to Forks. Wouldn't it have gotten the same point across, spared her mother unnecessary worry, and avoided a potential scene with Charlie if three days ago she'd written:
Everything is great. Of course it’s raining. I think I'll be waiting a long time for something interesting to write about.
Charlie bought me a truck, can you believe it? I love it. It’s old, but really sturdy, which is good, you know, for me.I miss you. I’ll write again soon, but I’m not going to check my e-mail every five minutes. I love you.
I don't mind Bella being assertive about her personal space, but I wish she could find the gumption to be proactively assertive rather than passively waiting until a boil-over and then having to push back as hard as possible in order to maintain her autonomy. It's understandable that a teenager raised in a difficult environment would behave this way, but it's probably not the most healthy message to communicate to the reader.