Twilight Recap: Bella and Edward have finished their in-class lab assignment and are now making the most awkward small talk ever.
Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book
Ladies and gentlemen, today we are going to discuss the most important character in the pages of Twilight, a person without whom the story could not have taken place: Baseball Phil.
“Why did you come here, then?”
No one had asked me that — not straight out like he did, demanding.
“It’s . . . complicated.”
“I think I can keep up,” he pressed.
I paused for a long moment, and then made the mistake of meeting his gaze. His dark gold eyes confused me, and I answered without thinking.
“My mother got remarried,” I said.
“That doesn’t sound so complex,” he disagreed, but he was suddenly sympathetic. “When did that happen?”
I've been watching True Blood recently on HBO, so my first thought when I reread this passage was that it's a good thing Bella is talking to Edward and not Bill because if it were Bill listening to this apparent tale of woe, poor Baseball Phil would have been dead before the conversation was over. Partly out of a misguided desire to make this beautiful, unearthly, and utterly delicious creature happy again, but at least as much out of a selfish arrogance that compels him to remove annoying and unnecessary things from his life as quickly as possible.
My second thought was that as bad as Edward is -- an unrepentant murderer who revels in vigilantism -- he's actually pretty mild compared to the woobie wuvly vampires in the True Blood series, most of whom I can imagine easily taking out the entire white-bread Cullen clan. My third thought was unfiltered sadness as I realized that as unhealthy as the Sookie/Bill relationship is, it's still so much better than the Bella/Edward relationship because -- at least so far -- Sookie isn't all hey why don't you turn me into a vampire so that I can never see my friends and loved ones again, mmkay?
True Blood will ruin Twilight for you all over again, I tell you.
Ahem. Sorry. Back on topic. Bella spills the beans to Edward that she moved up to Forks -- her literal hell on earth -- because her mother married Baseball Phil. We're meant to take from the text that no one has asked Bella this outright and that Edward is the first one she's told this to: look, the romantic leads are bonding! But I can't believe this can be true.
We've already discussed how Bella's parents' silence on this issue is perplexing bordering on neglectful: Bella's mother has remarried, and Bella has become quiet and withdrawn, finally announcing -- not asking -- that she is going to move in with her father in a town that both she and Renee hate more than anywhere else in the world. Let that sink in for a moment: Renee left Charlie largely because of her hatred of Forks. She hasn't (apparently) set foot in the town since then. She knows that Bella shares her hatred of the town and has (apparently) supported Bella's demands that Charlie see her in California for the last several years of visitations. Yet when her daughter flees to this hated town in the wake of Renee's marriage, she doesn't once ask if Phil has hurt or upset Bella.
Charlie, too, has been singularly uninterested in asking about his daughter's happiness and safety now that a strange man lives in the same house as she. This obtuseness goes beyond Twilight's insistence that S-E-X does not exist in the minds of the main characters and edges into inanity and parental abandonment.
I can accept, however sadly, that Bella's parents care so little about her that they haven't bothered to ask her why she moved up to Forks, but I simply cannot believe that no one at school has asked her directly. Jessica is clearly described as a chatter-box, Mike has been attentive and solicitous in asking her about her opinions on the weather, Chess Club Eric has been inquisitive and personable, and Jessica's cadre of nameless friends have come and gone through several lunch periods by now. It is impossible that no one has said so what made you decide to move up here to the sticks, eh? That's what we'd say down here in the South and I have it on good authority that Northerners are at least as direct as we in these matters.
So I cannot accept that all the high schoolers in Forks are shy violets and mild-mannered gentlemen unwilling to breach Bella's delicate privacy by inquiring what caused her to move mid-school year to their fair town. Therefore, I have to assume that Bella has simply been ignoring people when they ask her -- possibly she is too caught up in narrating to hear them.
Nevertheless, Bella's opening salvo in this "complicated" explanation is to toss out Baseball Phil and Edward is understandably sympathetic:
“Last September.” My voice sounded sad, even to me.
“And you don’t like him,” Edward surmised, his tone still kind.
This is actually not a bad leap of logic to make with Bella being so obviously sad: it stands to reason that her flight to Forks might stem from a strong dislike of the newest member of the household. Bella will tell Edward that he is wrong and that "Phil is fine", but I have to think that at least on some level, Bella probably doesn't like Phil, or at least is ambivalent about him.
We aren't told a lot about Renee's dating life prior to Phil, but I imagine that before Phil came along, life was mostly just Bella and Renee. Bella mentions in text being extremely close to her mother, and also mentions that Bella has been handling the finances and the household scheduling largely by herself for many years now. Phil, as the new man in Renee's life, has taken over these household management duties, and -- curiously -- we hear very little of Bella's opinion on this particular situation.
Does Bella feel relieved to be able to escape from the tedium of household budgets and dry cleaning schedules, or does she feel upset at being stripped of her important duties and the one major way in which she has been relating to her mother all her life, as caretaker? Probably both. This raises a question in my mind about Bella's motives in fleeing to Forks: is she seeking her existential self up here in her quiet birthplace, or does she harbor fantasies of taking over the household for Charlie and fulfilling the same caretaker role for him as she held for Renee?
“No, Phil is fine. Too young, maybe, but nice enough.”
I find this statement interesting. The various Twilight wikis out there confirm that Bella isn't pleased that Phil is "too young" for her mother, but they don't give a solid reason why. If Phil is taking over responsibility for the household budget and Renee's dry cleaning schedules and car tune-ups, he isn't "too young" in the maturity sense -- indeed, he sounds "older" than Renee herself.
So how much younger is Phil than Renee? How old is Renee, for that matter? If she was 20 when Bella was born, she's 37 now. Phil plays minor league baseball for a living, so should we assume he's in his 20s or early 30s? If Phil is, hypothetically-speaking, 25 years old, then how does he feel being married to a woman 12 years his senior with a daughter 8 years his junior? I myself am married to a man 12 years my senior with a daughter 8 years my junior, and it's a little odd sometimes -- I'm too young to be her mom and a bit too old to be a proper older-sister/best-friend. How does Bella feel about having a man almost old enough to be a college-boyfriend in her house? It's actually a shame that Edward doesn't ask.
“Why didn’t you stay with them?”
I couldn’t fathom his interest, but he continued to stare at me with penetrating eyes, as if my dull life’s story was somehow vitally important.
“Phil travels a lot. He plays ball for a living.” I half-smiled.
“Have I heard of him?” he asked, smiling in response.
“Probably not. He doesn’t play well. Strictly minor league. He moves around a lot.”
I humbly request that someone explain why a minor league player would "move around a lot" more than a major league player, which would seem to be the indication here. Do minor league players get traded from state to state every year and therefore have no permanent residence?
The more we hear about Phil, the more interested I am in how he and Renee met... and what Renee was thinking. Does she plan to keep her permanent residence in Arizona, with Phil coming to live with her in the off-season? That seems awfully independent for a woman who depends as heavily on others as Renee seems to do, but I have to think that some couples could make this work pretty flawlessly. Or is she planning to sell the house and go on the road with Phil? If so, what was the plan for Bella? Bella is seventeen and not to far from graduating, so I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect her to move out, go to college, get a job, and so forth, but it doesn't seem like anyone actually sat everyone down and talked this out. The Swans fail communication forever.
“And your mother sent you here so that she could travel with him.” He said it as an assumption again, not a question.
My chin raised a fraction. “No, she did not send me here. I sent myself.”
His eyebrows knit together. “I don’t understand,” he admitted, and he seemed unnecessarily frustrated by that fact.
Here's a question: has Edward's "gift" of telepathy completely handicapped him for normal human interaction? It seems strange to me that someone could live over 100 years and not understand basic human nature. I can think of very few people who would answer his statement with a meek yes, I was sent here and I had no choice in the matter -- even if the statement is true and we're in some kind of Dickensian world where teenagers are "sent" away from the family, human pride is going to compel most people to deny that they had no choice whatsoever in the matter.
Furthermore, the concept that Bella might want to get away on her own shouldn't be so alien to Edward that he's biting his lip and straining forward trying to invoke his Telepathic Power of Telepathy. Is it really so astonishing that Bella loves her mother so selflessly that she might exile herself up to Forks? Is it really so strange that Bella might just want to get away from the honeymoon sounds wafting up from the downstairs bedroom nightly? None of this is rocket science, Edward.
This is especially odd given that Edward will later note that every so often Rosalie and Emmett will strike out on their own for a while before returning to the Cullen clan. Does telepathic Edward really not understand that sometimes couples need to get away for awhile? Does he not understand that good families try to understand and support them in fulfilling those needs?
I sighed. Why was I explaining this to him? He continued to stare at me with obvious curiosity.
“She stayed with me at first, but she missed him. It made her unhappy . . . so I decided it was time to spend some quality time with Charlie.” My voice was glum by the time I finished.
“But now you’re unhappy,” he pointed out.
“And?” I challenged.
“That doesn’t seem fair.” He shrugged, but his eyes were still intense.
I laughed without humor. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you? Life isn’t fair.”
“I believe I have heard that somewhere before,” he agreed dryly.
“So that’s all,” I insisted, wondering why he was still staring at me that way.
His gaze became appraising. “You put on a good show,” he said slowly. “But I’d be willing to bet that you’re suffering more than you let anyone see.”
And now I'm going to make a confession: this passage irks me. I would feel so much sorrier for Bella if the text didn't keep dwelling on how gosh-darn saintly and suffering she is. As it is, I just want to point out that 99% of everyone on earth has life way dang worse than Ms. I-Hate-Rain Bella. And I don't like that about me.
There's something to be said for understatement in literature. From a certain point of view, I do feel sorry for Bella. I feel bad that she had what was most likely a pretty rotten childhood -- it can't be easy running a household from a young age for a codependent and helpless mother. I feel bad that her relationship with Charlie has been a source of pain instead of comfort, and that her father doesn't communicate with her, buys her gifts without understanding her needs and tastes, and spends summer vacations with her where the entire vacation revolves around his wants: his fishing trips, his jaunts to the reservation, his pastimes and hobbies.
I feel bad for Bella as a teenager. She probably doesn't have a rich social life what with her home life being such a strain on her time and emotions -- certainly, we never hear about any friends left behind in Arizona, and the only friends she acquires in Forks are superficial relationships built around her minor celebrity status as "The New Girl". She's at an age where it's time to start thinking about the future -- college? job? -- but she seems so mired in depression that no real thought has been given to any of these things. Her mother no longer has any use for her, and the only way she can feel loved and validated is to fling herself into the role of "house drudge" for her emotionally-distance and regularly-absent father in an attempt to recapture her role as caretaker for a parent.
All of this legitimately breaks my heart. Poor Bella. Give her a hug. But then S. Meyer comes barreling out of the gate with how Bella is putting on a good show but she's suffering so much -- so much more than she lets anyone else know. She's a gosh-darn saint and she's determined not to let anyone else be inconvenienced by her pain and suffering. And that's the point when I, as a reader, rebel at being swat about the head with all this overwrought awfulness and just want to say: Oh please.
I grimaced at him, resisting the impulse to stick out my tongue like a five-year-old, and looked away.
“Am I wrong?”
I tried to ignore him.
“I didn’t think so,” he murmured smugly.
Edward Cullen is over 100 years old. He's seen lifetimes of sadness and horror. He's had constant mental insight into the thoughts, pains, and memories of every human he has every been near. It's impossible to imagine that he has not, at some point in his undead life, been in the room with a Holocaust survivor or a Vietnam veteran or any number of survivors of tragedies and massacres.
But Edward Cullen pronounces Bella's situation -- leaving her mother to the glamors of a minor league baseball player's life while she herself travels up to the rainy and sometimes cold state of Washington -- to be a tragedy of human suffering.