Content Note: Fainting, Falling, Violent Relationships, Abuse
Twilight Recap: Bella has left the nurse's office, having been given permission to go home sick for the rest of the day.
Twilight, Chapter 5: Blood Type
It hit me last week that I have spent a lot of time on this chapter. Today I went back to count and we've had eleven posts on Chapter 5. Eleven! This will be the twelfth. No wonder I'm feeling kind of done with this chapter. So while I usually go with something topical, let's power through, okay? I'm done with Chapter 5, and there is green grass over the horizon in Chapter 6 and beyond. Tally-ho!
We were near the parking lot now. I veered left, toward my truck. Something caught my jacket, yanking me back.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asked, outraged. He was gripping a fistful of my jacket in one hand.
How much could I write one post on this exchange alone? So much! But do not weep, dear readers, for we will see many similar exchanges in the upcoming pages. Or maybe you should weep. I suppose it depends on your point of view. But in brief I will express my extreme distaste for the physical manhandling in this chapter:
I am not at all comfortable with the physical manhandling of Bella in this chapter.
I was sort-of kind-of on-board with Edward sweeping Bella up to carry her to the nurse's office. I mean, yes, it was a dreadful thing to do (medically-speaking) and inexcusable in the light of the fact that a simple Google search will tell you that's basically the worst thing you can do to a fainting person. And, yes, it was basically him overriding her stated will in the matter and helped to reinforce the narrative that Bella's boundaries are there specifically to be overridden by Edward. And, yes, the act itself seemed at least as much about putting Mike in his place than about doing what was best for Bella. And I definitely did not like that a fair portion of the sweeping thing seemed to be able proving that Edward was Masculinely* Strong and Bella was Femininely Slender.
* Firefox tells me that Masculinely is not a word, but thinks nothing of Femininely. I have to think this says something about our society.
So I guess I did mind it, quite a bit, actually. But! The sweeping-off-her-feet thing is at the very least a tried-and-true facet of the Romance Genre and additionally is a good way to get physical closeness in a manner that will be approved by the chastity set. So, alrighty. Fine.
But now Edward is yanking Bella away from her truck by grabbing a "fistful" (not at all a word that carries violent connotations!) of her jacket and probably very nearly causing her to slip on the almost-certainly-wet parking lot pavement. This is not something that you do to someone you barely know. This is not something you do to someone who has just fainted. This is not someone you do to someone who has severe balance problems. This is not something you do to someone because it is creepy and controlling and violent. If you need to stop someone, you do it with your words, not with your hands.
If you really really really must use your hands, like if Bella was bee-lining straight for a busy highway that is occupied by stampeding buffalo, you do not freaking "yank" her. You place a hand on her shoulder, or touch her arm, or say "Wait! Stop!" because Bella is an adult and she is more than likely to wait and stop at all those things. Yanking her around and exerting physical force to remind her that you are stronger and Not To Be Messed With is creepy and controlling and extremely problematic.
I was confused. "I'm going home."
"Didn't you hear me promise to take you safely home? Do you think I'm going to let you drive in your condition?" His voice was still indignant.
And now let's talk about how crappy our society is for a minute. Shall we?
I went to my scoliosis specialist the other day to complain that my pain levels had been really elevated through December-January. He asked how my medication was working. I said I took it very rarely because it made me dizzy about 10% of the time. He asked if I took two pills at once or one. I said that was with one pill; two pills upped the dizzy odds to about 40%. He nodded, and wrote me a new script. I went to the pharmacy to pick up the new pills. The first thing the pharmacist said to me was: "These will make you dizzy."
The new pills did not, in fact, make me dizzy. They made me perpetually sleepy for several days which was (a) miserable and (b) meant that I fell behind on my advance blogging, which is something that I do not like to do. The new pills also conflicted with other new pills -- a muscle relaxer -- which apparently, when combined together, can result in seizures. Yay for doctors who don't check drug interactions. So we eventually went back to the old pills which still don't do anything, but I prefer a 10% chance of dizziness for 30 minutes over a 100% chance of sleepiness for 10 hours.
And I mention all that so that I can now mention this: all of my pills, the old pain pills, the new pain pills, and the new muscle relaxers say, in very clear words on the bottles, that I should not operate heavy machinery while I'm on these medications. Ahahahahahahaha. Really? For basically my entire life I've been on pills that have said the same thing, that I'm not to operate heavy machinery. But I can drive, right? That's not dangerous at all. And I'd better drive, because being on pain killers that preclude the operation of heavy machinery isn't good enough to classify me for government disability aid (I'm guessing). Bootstraps!
Bella probably isn't in a good condition to drive right now. She's weak, she's faint, she's disoriented. But apparently Bella is like that all the time, what with her "fainting is oh-so-common for me" characterization earlier and her constant clumsiness. The answer isn't to reflexively condemn Bella for wanting to drive, as Edward does now. That's victim-blaming. The answer is to silently curse the society we have where "public transport" is a pipe dream in many (I'd say "most", but I can't back that up) areas, and very few people can afford to hire a driver for themselves. (And not only are carpools often difficult to organize, they would also indebt Bella who would have little to offer in return for being picked up and dropped off every day.) And the other answer is for Edward to politely and kindly offer to either take Bella home or follow her in his own car. Not -- and I know I'm repeating myself here -- to yank her around by the jacket.
"What condition? And what about my truck?" I complained.
"I'll have Alice drop it off after school."
Dear S. Meyer: Stop reducing the effectiveness of Bella's valid concerns with weasel words.
Also, how much do I hate it that Alice is the one who will run around taking care of things for Edward? There's a reason for this, of course: Alice is the most pro-Bella of the Cullens because she can see into the future and she sees that Bella is perfect for Edward. (...somehow. I'm not sure I understand how she can "see" that without seeing useful "don't hang out with the Volturi" stuff.)
But I don't really understand why, say, Jasper isn't just as likely to be pro-Bella, and therefore just as capable of driving her truck home. He's not quite an Empath, but I'd still expect an emotional-manipulator to have a fairly good feel for what other people are feeling (so that he knows when to manipulate them), so you'd think he'd be in-sync with whatever his brother Edward wants. And Emmett seems like an upstanding kind of guy, no reason why he can't pitch in to help. It's just annoying to me that Alice's first real mention so far (outside of pixie-thin girl who doesn't eat and dances when she walks) is of her tidying up after Edward.
He was towing me toward his car now, pulling me by my jacket. It was all I could do to keep from falling backward. He'd probably just drag me along anyway if I did.
"Let go!" I insisted. He ignored me. I staggered along sideways across the wet sidewalk until we reached the Volvo. Then he finally freed me -- I stumbled against the passenger door.
How uncomfortable does this make me? So uncomfortable! Like, cold-knot-in-the-center-of-my-stomach uncomfortable. The image of Edward Cullen literally dragging a slipping, staggering Bella Swan across the parking lot as though he were some kind of cartoon cave-man creeps me out so very much! How uncomfortable am I that when Edward glamoured the school nurse into allowing him to leave school with a fainting female student this very thing is the sort of thing that those circumvented school rules were created to prevent? How uncomfortable am I that this scene and a scene of domestic violence are exactly identical? So very very uncomfortable!
This? Is not romantic to me. This is creepy and controlling and abusive. The vertigo feeling of stumbling and staggering and falling against a car door is profoundly uncomfortable, the pain of twisting and turning and trying to keep up without falling down is deeply unsettling.
"I am perfectly capable of driving myself home!" I stood by the car, fuming. It was raining harder now, and I'd never put my hood up, so my hair was dripping down my back.
He lowered the automatic window and leaned toward me across the seat. "Get in, Bella."
I didn't answer. I was mentally calculating my chances of reaching the truck before he could catch me. I had to admit, they weren't good.
"I'll just drag you back," he threatened, guessing my plan.
In the context of Twilight, this exchange is not a serious one. I do not think we're meant to read this and immediately think OMG DO NOT GET IN THAT CAR. I do not think we're supposed to be on the edge of our seat waiting for Bella to scream, for her yell for help to pierce the silence of the school campus, for her to make her way to the nearest building, possibly after kneeing Edward in the groin if he tries to stop her.
I do not think we're supposed to want Bella to say, "Look, Edward, thanks but no thanks, I'm going to gym after all." I do not think we're supposed to want Bella to turn and walk back to class because she's suddenly realized that no matter how pretty Edward is, he is dangerous and violent and frightening. I do not think we're supposed to want Bella to vocalize in her narrative that she's uncomfortable getting in a car with someone who thinks nothing of handling her the way Edward did just now.
So why do I think all these things? Am I over-reacting here to have such a viscerally strong aversion to Edward in this passage? Please tell me I'm not. Or possibly, considering the popularity of these books, please tell me that I am. It's a perspective thing again, I guess.
As he pulled out of the parking lot, I was preparing to give him the silent treatment -- my face in full pout mode -- but then I recognized the music playing, and my curiosity got the better of my intentions. "Clair de Lune?" I asked, surprised.
"You know Debussy?" He sounded surprised, too.
"Not well," I admitted. "My mother plays a lot of classical music around the house -- I only know my favorites."
And now, The Twilight Drinking Game! Take a shot every time Bella reacts childishly to a very real and potentially dangerous crossing of her boundaries! A boy she barely knows literally drags her across an empty parking lot and physically forces her to get in his car? She pouts! *drink*
And here's one more for her previous fuming. *drink*
And another for her complaint about leaving her car behind. *drink*
You're lucky I'm drinking Canada Dry, folks, or we'd never get through this chapter.
"What is your mother like?" he asked me suddenly.
"She looks a lot like me, but she's prettier," I said. He raised his eyebrows. "I have too much Charlie in me. She's more outgoing than I am, and braver. She's irresponsible and slightly eccentric, and she's a very unpredictable cook. She's my best friend." I stopped. Talking about her was making me depressed.
It's interesting (but perhaps not surprising) that Bella's first description of her mother is (a) one of physical appearance, and (b) one that denigrates her own beauty in favor of the subject in question. We've already seen that in Bella's descriptions of Alice and Rosalie -- who, thus far, have no description at all outside of their respective beauty -- and now we get to see it in Renee.
I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that Bella is visually focused. I'm not sure that my first description of why my mom is like would be a visual one, but I'm sure for a lot of people that would be a reasonable place to start. And maybe "looks like me, but prettier" is a fair enough starting place as it cuts through the "same height as me, same width as me, same eye and hair color as me" basic physical descriptors.
(Though I do think it's a bit of a cop-out and points to what I feel is Meyer's dislike for descriptions that might hem the reader in too much. Bella has been sparsely described as little more than slender, dark haired, and white. Now her mother is that, plus beauty. Whoa, don't overwhelm us with too many details! But whatever, I prefer that to wall o' text descriptions.)
But it's interesting to me that almost all Renee's descriptions are in contrast to Bella. In order for me to describe my mother as Bella does hers, I'd have to break away from an accurate, "She's blonde, tall, and slender. She loves exercise, sunshine, and suntanning. She enjoys the summer when she can read by the pool," and would instead have to say, "She's taller and more slender than me, and she has blonde hair instead of brown. She exercises more than I do, and she likes suntanning whereas I don't." There's a big difference to me between those two descriptions. In the first, I'm describing my mother; in the second, I'm describing me almost as much if not more than I am her.
Have we really learned anything about Renee in this description, or have we learned that Bella looks a little like her mother but mostly favors her father, that she's introverted and fearful, and that she's responsible, down-to-earth, and cooks predictably? (Or, of course, that Bella is these things according to Bella.) I feel like this is a conversation about Bella, not about Renee. And this might make sense, this description by contrast, if Edward knew the first thing about Bella. But these two are still almost strangers! What is "braver [thank I am]" supposed to signify to a boy who has almost no experience with Bella? Does that mean Renee eats spicy foods or that she flings herself out of airplanes on the weekends?
It's almost like this exchange is a two-fer: we don't get any specific details to knock the reader out of their insertion into Bella plus we get to hear all about Bella (or possibly her low self-image) rather than having to listen to unnecessary details about Renee. This bugs me.
"How old are you, Bella?" His voice sounded frustrated for some reason I couldn't imagine. [...]
"I'm seventeen," I responded, a little confused.
"You don't seem seventeen." [...]
"My mom always says I was born thirty-five years old and that I get more middle-aged every year." I laughed, and then sighed. "Well, someone has to be the adult."
And this... eeeeh. I will admit to feeling older than seventeen at seventeen. I feel older now than my body. I think it's fair to say that for as long as I've been conscious of "feeling" an age, I've felt older than my age. I don't know if there's a reason for that, like the fact that I was homeschooled and raised to speak to adults as an equal, or if it's a disability thing where I "feel" older because I don't have youthful flexibility and range of motion, or if everyone on earth also feels older than their age group and this is a Mary Sue thing. How about a comment weigh in? Do you now or have you ever before felt older than your body? Younger? Exactly right?
I can say, beyond "feeling" older, that I have rarely gotten on terribly well with people in my own age group. There are notable exceptions, but I tend to work better with people 10-20 years my senior. And Husband, while not 100 years older than me, is 12 years older than me, and my Mother actually is my best friend. So... I Am Bella Swan? (Not sure what her version of Going Galt would be, though.)
"My mother . . . she's very young for her age. I think Phil makes her feel even younger. At any rate, she's crazy about him." I shook my head. The attraction was a mystery to me.
"Do you approve?" he asked.
"Does it matter?" I countered. "I want her to be happy . . . and he is who she wants." [...]
"Would she extend the same courtesy to you, do you think? No matter who your choice was?" He was suddenly intent, his eyes searching mine.
"I-I think so," I stuttered. "But she's the parent, after all. It's a little bit different."
"No one too scary then," he teased. [...] "Do you think that I could be scary?" He raised one eyebrow, and the faint trace of a smile lightened his face.
I thought for a moment, wondering whether the truth or a lie would go over better. I decided to go with the truth. "Hmmm . . . I think you could be, if you wanted to."
I find this exchange interesting, because it's... well, it's sort of something I agree with. Moreover, it's one of the first real opinions we've seen Bella express, so I'm kind of savoring that too.
Edward asks if Bella approves of her mother's remarriage. Bella's counter-statement challenges Edward, which is a rare thing in the Twilight verse. I like that instead of simply obediently baring her soul to him, she challenges his assumptions about what is and isn't his business. Or, at least, about what is and isn't her business to form an opinion on and then spread around. "I want her to be happy... and he is who she wants." It's Twilight in a nutshell, and the conversation hangs a nice sign over it in case the reader missed the point the first time.
It's More Complicated Than That, of course. We really don't know anything about Phil. We don't know if he's overbearing or controlling, we don't know if he's taking advantage of Renee's absent-mindedness and draining her bank account or running around behind her back. Since this is the Twilight-verse, we can probably safely assume that he's not doing these things. But can we assume that he's not a Volturi vampire stringing Renee along until he kills and eats her? If he was, would that affect the relative importance of Bella's (dis-)approval and/or that of Renee's desire for him?
I think it would, a lot. But I'm not sure. Families and relationships and vampires are tricky that way.
"So, now are you going to tell me about your family?" I asked to distract him. "It's got to be a much more interesting story than mine." [...] "The Cullens adopted you?" [...] "What happened to your parents?"
"They died many years ago." His tone was matter-of-fact.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled.
"I don't really remember them that clearly. Carlisle and Esme have been my parents for a long time now."
"And you love them." It wasn't a question. It was obvious in the way he spoke of them. [...] "And your brother and sister?"
He glanced at the clock on the dashboard.
"My brother and sister, and Jasper and Rosalie for that matter, are going to be quite upset if they have to stand in the rain waiting for me."
And I am NOT a vampire. Just so we're clear.
Still, points to Edward for answering Bella's questions without throwing in a few gratuitous lies.
"Won't I see you tomorrow?"
"No. Emmett and I are starting the weekend early."
"What are you going to do?" A friend could ask that, right? I hoped the disappointment wasn't too apparent in my voice.
"We're going to be hiking in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, just south of Rainier." [...] "Will you do something for me this weekend?" He turned to look me straight in the face, utilizing the full power of his burning gold eyes.
I nodded helplessly.
"Don't be offended, but you seem to be one of those people who just attract accidents like a magnet. So . . . try not to fall into the ocean or get run over or anything, all right?" He smiled crookedly.
The helplessness had faded as he spoke. I glared at him.
"I'll see what I can do," I snapped as I jumped out into the rain. I slammed the door behind me with excessive force.
He was still smiling as he drove away.
So a couple of thoughts here.
First, Edward needs to be told that "don't be offended" doesn't actually excuse you from saying whatever the heck you feel like saying. I mean, "Don't be offended, but you suck" is not actually a magic talisman to being insulting without being called on it. You would think that someone 100 years old with telepathy might know that.
Second, I know the whole tete-a-tete with Edward and Bella snarking at each other is supposed to be romantic. I know it's supposed to be a staple of the romance genre, with shades of Gone With The Wind. I get that intellectually, I do. But... I don't see how this is supposed to be romantic. I don't *get* it here. "Try not to fall into the ocean"? Edward is reinforcing to Bella that she's clumsy and that her clumsiness could seriously injure or kill her someday. That's not something most people want to be reminded of, certainly not in a teasing manner, and certainly not by someone whose affection and respect you crave. "Please be careful" or "please take care of yourself" expresses interest and concern without the added jackwagonry. Don't "get run over" is just... rude. Mocking. Annoying. Not romantic. Maybe it's just me.
Thirdly, Bella is back to slamming car doors again.
Fourthly, OMG WE ARE DONE WITH THIS CHAPTER. You cannot conceive the Happy Dance I am doing right now. Next up is Chapter 6: Scary Stories. Just a spoiler for you in advance: there are no scary stories.