Twilight: Human Time and Victoria's Secret

[Content Note: Boundary Trespass of Unconscious People]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 14, Edward and Bella spend the night together.

Twilight, Chapter 14: Mind Over Matter

I cannot apologize enough for neglecting Twilight for so long, and I cannot praise highly enough Dawn M and Silver Adept for their wonderful guest posts which got us through the dry stretch while my brain was otherwise occupied. Here's hoping I haven't gotten rusty and lost my Twilight Touch.

   “Why don’t you sit with me,” he suggested, putting a cold hand on mine. “How’s the heart?”
   “You tell me — I’m sure you hear it better than I do.”
   I felt his quiet laughter shake the bed.
   We sat there for a moment in silence, both listening to my heartbeat slow. I thought about having Edward in my room, with my father in the house.
   “Can I have a minute to be human?” I asked.
   “Certainly.” He gestured with one hand that I should proceed.
   “Stay,” I said, trying to look severe.
   “Yes, ma’am.” And he made a show of becoming a statue on the edge of my bed.
   I hopped up, grabbing my pajamas from off the floor, my bag of toiletries off the desk. I left the light off and slipped out, closing the door.
   I could hear the sound from the TV rising up the stairs. I banged the bathroom door loudly, so Charlie wouldn’t come up to bother me.

I think I've mentioned that I deliberately haven't read the Twilight books after Twilight itself, though I have seen the movies. I find myself, therefore, wondering if this concept of "human time" ever comes up again or if this is the only time we see it. I'm fairly certain this is the only time we see it in Twilight itself.

In the passage that follows, which I won't quote in full, Bella brushes lasagna out of her teeth and takes a soothing hot shower which is less-than-totally soothing because she keeps having thoughts of Edward. (Whether these are Sexy Shower thoughts or Happy Anticipation thoughts or Terrified Worried thoughts of doing something wrong or alienating Edward we unfortunately aren't told. But she does mention fleeting regret at not having packed a Victoria's Secrets silk pajama set, so take that for what you will*.)

   I tried not to think of Edward, sitting in my room, waiting, because then I had to start all over with the calming process. Finally, I couldn’t delay anymore. I shut off the water, toweling hastily, rushing again. I pulled on my holey t-shirt and gray sweatpants. Too late to regret not packing the Victoria’s Secret silk pajamas my mother got me two birthdays ago, which still had the tags on them in a drawer somewhere back home.

But to return to the thought of Human Time, it almost feels like this shouldn't be a one-shot mention in the series. Bella isn't just different from Edward because she needs to eat solid food on a regular basis; she's different from him in almost every way. He doesn't sleep or feel tired or fatigued, but she does. He (apparently) doesn't poop or pee, but she does. He doesn't seem to experience physical discomfort from staying in one spot for an extended period of time; the whole "Edward becomes a statue and holds position" thing is a repeated meme through the book.

Nor are the physical differences between Edward and Bella limited to macro-movements. He isn't affected by the normal ebb and flow of hormones that Bella would be likely to experience as a teenager and which would be accompanied by emotional and physical changes. He can apparently feel arousal, so they have some common ground there, and I presume vampires can experience boredom, but I also presume that they probably experience it differently from most humans based on their extended ages. Really, it feels like the list of ways that Edward and Bella are different is much longer than the list of similarities.

I've commented a lot on how disappointed I am that the series doesn't treat food in a more positive light, since food is something Bella will be giving up and that could add a dimension of depth to her decision to become a vampire. I've also lamented that the series has set Bella up as needing regular sunlight for her emotional self-care and then giving her a boyfriend and a future which requires her to go without sunlight for extended periods without ever really connecting the dots on the level of sacrifice she's making to give up the thing her mental health requires. (The thing that Bella believes drove her mother from Forks** and placed a wedge between her own relationship with her dad.)

Now I will say that I am sorry the series doesn't dwell more strongly on Human Time as a way to discuss the reasons -- potentially positive reasons! -- for her proactive choices. For instance, when I was a teenager, I would have become a vampire in a heartbeat if it meant never having a period again. (Magic Moon Goddess talk doesn't resonate as well when periods are accompanied by crippling pain.) And speaking as someone with gastrointestinal disorders and food allergies, I might seriously consider a permanent liquid diet if it meant never being hunched over the toilet in pain again. Maybe.

To a certain extent, these things aren't just the differences between Edward and Bella, Star Crossed Lovers. They're the differences between Bella Who Is and Bella Who Will Be. And I do feel that in order to understand the Bella Who Will Be, as well as why she makes the choices to be that way, we have to understand the differences between those two Bellas. We need to understand the things Bella gives up, and why, and how she feels about the loss of those things (happy or sad or indifferent).

But additionally, I am sad that Human Time doesn't get more attention in this book because I think it would shape more tension around the relationship between Bella and Edward beyond the abstinence issue. On quite a few fundamental levels, I doubt that Edward can really understand Bella or anticipate her needs, yet this is only ever explored in fleeting "I don't understand your woman-brain" and "oops, I forgot you eat despite being constantly hungry myself." I believe there would be a greater gulf of understanding between a century-old vampire and a 16 year old human girl.

The thing is, I think it would be difficult to be the human half of a human-vampire relationship because I imagine it would be difficult to get the vampire half to fully understand the need for Human Time. (In some cases, it might also be difficult for the human to respect a need for Vampire Time, but in a 'verse like Twilight where the vampires are vastly more privileged than humans, that seems like a less likely problem.) I'm reminded, again, of the world-building in the True Blood / Southern Vampire Mysteries where it is frequently shown that dating a vampire is no picnic. (Noted problems include: Eschewing garlic dinners, having to replenish blood loss, taking iron and vitamin D supplements, missing out on sunlight hours because they're dating at night and sleeping during the day... It's actually interesting how many "vampire dating drawbacks" Bella isn't having to weather.) 

Human woman partnered with human men routinely experience relationship conflict in part because the male privilege experienced by their partners creates a gulf of understanding which can manifest in painful and unexpected moments, even when the man is a good person and not an active abuser. And it strikes me that someone like Edward Cullen has not only male privilege, but also a significant amount of vampire privilege and social privilege within the vampire community. Nothing in his character makes me think he would be good at or vigilant at understanding and respecting Bella's human needs, and yet... this potential for conflict between them is raised and then hastily dropped. Possibly because it wasn't sexy enough.

Moving on. We haven't talked about Charlie enough in this narrative of teenage passion apparently (ugh), so here we get to reference him and his over-protectiveness of Bella's hymen for what is by my count the eleventy billionth time this chapter. (I'm starting to think that Charlie is the real literary hurdle of Twilight, and all that James The Meanie Vampire business was sloppily tacked on at the end.)

   I rubbed the towel through my hair again, and then yanked the brush through it quickly. I threw the towel in the hamper, flung my brush and toothpaste into my bag. Then I dashed down the stairs so Charlie could see that I was in my pajamas, with wet hair.
   “’Night, Dad.”
   “’Night, Bella.” He did look startled by my appearance. Maybe that would keep him from checking on me tonight.
   I took the stairs two at a time, trying to be quiet, and flew into my room, closing the door tightly behind me.


I seriously don't understand how Bella expects her whole YAWN-I-AM-SO-TIRED routine to work when she's running up and down the stairs. It's not that Charlie has a right to be suspicious of his daughter's hymen and the state of it because that's her business and no one else's, but I do imagine he has the right to be confused as fuck right now. Which, just to be clear, doesn't make it okay for him to sneak around checking up on her and disabling her car, but I do think it might warrant a "hey, Bella, is everything okay?" But we've already seen that open and honest communication is not allowed in the Swan-Higginbotham-Dwyer family.

   Edward hadn’t moved a fraction of an inch, a carving of Adonis perched on my faded quilt. I smiled, and his lips twitched, the statue coming to life. His eyes appraised me, taking in the damp hair, the tattered shirt. He raised one eyebrow. “Nice.”
   I grimaced.
   “No, it looks good on you.”

Somehow, impossibly, the narrative-or-Bella-or-both have forgotten that Edward has already seen Bella in this outfit numerous times already. I... I don't know how to process that fact. Is it bad editing, where this scene was written before that fact was established and never changed to fit, or is this really supposed to be how Bella is intended-by-the-author to react on being seen for the thirtieth (or whatever) time by Edward but for the first time with Bella conscious of the appraisal of herself?

I feel that if I were Bella, I would remember that this appraisal has happened before, without my knowledge or my consent. In fact, I feel that would be front-and-center in my mind right now, especially when she/I was earlier regretting not having prettier bed-clothes with her/me. I feel I'd be thinking how glad I was that it has been so far too cold in Forks to go to be sans pajama bottoms. I feel that thought would -- even if all the previous thoughts hadn't -- bring home to me the depth of trespass that Edward had been engaging in and that even if I forgave him for it, his behavior was still wrong.

Beyond anything else, I base that hypothetical feeling on how actually traumatized I was at 14 when I realized right before my first back surgery that my doctors would see my body while I was unconscious. I didn't want to be seen by strangers while I was unconscious. I feel like that exact feeling would have been hitting me three years later at 17 when considering how I felt about my vampire boyfriend spying on my before he was my boyfriend. I feel like that would bother me, even if I decided not to bring it up or fight about it. I feel like it would stay with me.

But I guess I'm not Bella.

* True story: When I was a child, my parents would each take me on shopping trips to buy Christmas presents for the other parent. My mom liked to make useful "suggestions", like "I bet Daddy would love that tie," but my dad got a certain amount of amusement out of letting me run amok and come up with my own present ideas. This meant that one year I bought for Mom a (perfectly tame, but still) silk pajama shirt-and-pants set with the Playboy Bunny logo embroidered on it because I thought bunnies were very cute, though I didn't quite grasp why one would wear a bow-tie.

** Too long to quote up-thread:

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. [...] 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."


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