Everything I Need to Know, I Learned From The Bean Trees
by Anita Lahey


In chapter three of Barbara Kingsolver’s 1988 novel The Bean Trees, Taylor Greer and Turtle, the toddler who was deposited in Taylor’s car back in Oklahoma, are on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, taking shelter from a hailstorm outside an abandoned gas station. The hail turns to rain, and a swarm of insects emerge from the cracked ground. Watching a team of ants pick apart a cigarette butt, Taylor muses, “Some truck had carried that tobacco all the way from Kentucky maybe, from some Hardbine’s or Rilchey’s or Biddle’s farm, and now a bunch of ants were going to break it into little pieces and take it back to their queen. You just never knew where something was going to end up.”

The moment embodies what I love, and likewise what irks me, about Kingsolver’s novel. On the one hand, Taylor’s voice is pitch-perfect. She’s a full-bodied protagonist with gumption, heart, a keen eye, an endearing curiosity, and zero pretension. Her observations, couched in that warm Kentucky twang, offer a charming and sometimes jolting perspective. Without any intention, just by being instinctively engaged with the moments in which she finds herself, she scratches below the surface just enough to reveal a shifting tectonic plate of possibility. Reading this passage about the Kentucky tobacco and the Arizona ant queen in 2014, I think of Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky’s photographic series of tire piles, nickel tailings, marble quarries, and shipbreaking beaches, jarring (and counterintuitively gorgeous) images that I did not encounter until years after my first brush with The Bean Trees. Burtynsky’s project has to do with where the things we consume start off, where they end up, and how that whole journey, from beginning to end, is literally transforming our landscape. That Taylor’s seemingly offhand observation called it to my mind is testament to the latent powers in Kingsolver’s prose. Scene after scene is lit up with such resonances, fitted with wide-open windows through which ideas and problems from the wider, real world outside the novel come pouring in as you read, to mingle with your increasingly urgent concerns over how Taylor – barely beyond girlhood herself – will find a home, pay the rent, and take care of this damaged little girl who’s been foisted upon her.

There’s no denying the book’s evocative powers, or its narrative pull. But there’s a catch. Taylor’s musing on the ants, unquestionably an artful fragment of prose, comes coated in a sheen of right thinking. And I don’t mean right wing. Rather, correct. I catch, trailing from it, as from so many more of Kingsolver’s vividly sketched moments, the whiff of a teachable moment. Here, in Taylor and Lou Anne’s solution for divvying up chores, is a template for a healthy roommate situation. There, in Taylor’s friendship with Estevan, in which she learns about Guatemalan culture and English vs. Spanish, is a great example of how to broaden your mind: befriend a foreigner. Nota bene. Take note! See the great diversity in the community Taylor builds for herself? Mattie the used-tire entrepreneur and all-around wise woman? The ladies next door, one of whom is blind, who don’t mind taking on childcare for free? Going back to the ants, it’s impossible not to feel we’re meant to see Taylor herself like that little crumb of tobacco, blown west from Kentucky, to wind up who knows where. And lo and behold, a page or two later, not far down the road, she does find her destiny, at Jesus is Lord Used Tires, which turns out not to be as fanatically religious an establishment as its name might suggest. N.B.: Don’t read a book by its cover, or a shop owner by her sign.

That connection between fates, of the tobacco’s and Taylor’s, is satisfying because it’s a novel way of considering a universal truth. It grants the reader a little aha! She’s made a discovery. She feels smart. I’m pretty sure I felt smart, way back at the age of twenty-two, when I first read this book. I know I felt smart rereading it now, in my early forties. But that was before I began to see these epiphanies as crumbs along a pathway, down which we readers are being lured, to a place that is not simply the end of the story, but which also corresponds to a prescription for the good life, Kingsolver-style: for a brand of holistic consciousness that, if taken up widely enough, she knows could save us foolish humans from ourselves.

For the record, I’m totally down with Kingsolver’s assessment of what constitutes justice, responsible living, and fair-mindedness and how, as a society, we largely fail in those departments. I, too, see value in nurturing various brands of awareness, from sensory to political, all of which, for a start, can make a person’s own life a far richer place to be. I know and have seen how true goodness, once achieved, branches outward. But I dislike being led, like a lost child, to these truths. I imagine Kingsolver crouched around the corner of the old gas station, getting pelted with hail, urging her character to look down at the ant and the cigarette butt and have what amounts to a profound thought. Go on, Taylor, show us how it’s done, find glory and meaning in the bug, in the garbage on the ground, even while navigating your own precarious reality. A hailstorm, a half-broken-down car, a menacing stranger, sudden parenthood of an abused child, the ant teasing apart the cigarette: it’s all life, it’s all to be wondered at and cherished. If only you, the reader, after you close this book, could remember. If only we could all be as grounded, wide-eyed, and go-get’um as Taylor Greer.

I’m a little thrown by the force of my resentment against this novel and its optimistic messaging. What’s so wrong with presenting a character who, while navigating poverty, unplanned parenthood, love for an unattainable man, her daughter’s vulnerability, the legal system (and its threat to her claim on the child), and her own awakening to the stark injustices of the world, finds not bitterness but maturity, not despair but a more engrained idealism, not fear but an understanding of the powers of friendship and her own inner resources?

Taylor’s story could be seen as a feminist answer to the archetypal (usually male) quest story. Our heroine sets off on her own, boldly, with nothing less than destiny in mind, her chief resources her own pluck and wit. Symbolically, she gives herself a new name. But instead of slaying dragons or finding lost treasure or going off to war – or, or, or – she meets hostile bar patrons, car trouble, housing issues, low-wage jobs. She’s strong-armed into motherhood, the very fate she successfully evaded back in her dead-end small town. The playground in her new world is riddled with dog poo, but presided over by a seemingly magical wisteria vine. (Taylor knows about the vine only because she’s open to the possibility of beauty, even in this grim urban setting, and bothers to keep an eye out for it. N.B!) She faces her fear of exploding tires (seriously), learns to see her own mother as a separate person, ferries “illegals” to a safe house, grows into parenthood. Taylor works her way through a raft of obstacles without losing her sense of what is right, or her sense of herself; she becomes a better, more adult version of the solid, feisty girl we met on page one.

In principle, I love the substance of Taylor’s journey. I love her no-nonsense approach to the chaos of the everyday, and to the darker chaos lurking in the shadows, which few are willing to face. I love Kingsolver’s exuberant style, her inventive metaphors, her rich scenery, her respect for plot. So what gives?

I came back to The Bean Trees by chance, while sorting through a stack of old novels that I’d left at my parents’ house over the years. When I saw the orange cover, its curvy desert landscape, the curling pages, I felt a rush of affinity, like when you turn a corner and see a long-lost friend. I was shot back to the 1994 world – my 1994 world – that was so sharply tinted by Kingsolver’s dry and bright and appealingly oddball Arizona. Back then, I was sharing a basement apartment with my friend Monique in Toronto’s Broadview-Danforth neighbourhood, across the vast Don Valley and its humming highway. Our little patch of Toronto, with its rows of sturdy brick houses and clusters of Greek restaurants, its toboggan hills and tidy gardens, couldn’t have been more different from Kingsolver’s Tucson, with its tarantulas, pink hail clouds, and nasturtiums blooming out of rusted Thunderbirds. But just holding the book brought back the white stool in our living room with the cow-patches painted on it; Sabine, the tabby kitten we lived with, named after the mysterious heroine of the Nick Bantock trilogy; and my job, which I loved, as a cub reporter for an inner-city newsmagazine. It called up my clunky red ten-speed, my Doc Martens, the screech and clang of the Broadview streetcars; my strawberry-blonde boyfriend, who lived in the suburbs with his parents; the Second Cup on the corner where Monique and I would buy Irish cream coffees for our evening strolls, during which we’d peer into lit neighbourhood windows, glimpsing chandeliers, walls of books, dinner parties, bowls of fruit – clues to a more solid, adult existence I dared not fully imagine. I recalled burst pipes in February, Monique and I stomping on towels for days to soak up the water. The centipede spotted in an underwear drawer. Fat raccoons lolling in a backyard tree. In the weight of the book in my hand I felt the hefty sadness that arrived in spring that year, with the death of our friend Joana, an event that roughly coincided with the opening of the tulips.

I turned back the soft cover, and read the first line: “I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine’s father over the top of the Standard Oil sign.” I thought, Oh, yeah, I’m totally going back to this place.

That night, burrowed into bed at my mom and dad’s, in the room I once shared with my sister, I stayed up far too late, racing through the first several chapters by the light of a small flashlight, so as not to wake my two-year-old son, asleep in his travel crib a couple of feet away. My furtive pose, as well as the urgency with which I read, created an awfully reminiscent effect for that room, which still retains the plastic red window blinds, the framed convenience-store Madonna with Child that my older brother gave me for my tenth birthday, and the matted, white carpeting that was forever heaped with clothes and books. As a teen, I would make a tent of the blankets in the top bunk and even stuff a towel along the crack in the door, so no one would see the light, come in and – reminding me I had to catch a 7:35 A.M. bus for school – force me to put the book away and go to sleep. I knew that the next day I’d barely be able to keep my eyes open in math class, but I didn’t care. I needed to find out what was going to happen next, and what was going to happen after that.

Now, though I was well past being monitored by wiser elders, the consequences of my indulgence weren’t going to be all that different. I’d be woken up early by a bright-eyed boy who would require my constant attention for several hours, till the start of his afternoon nap. But I was caught up in Taylor’s bold journey out of Kentucky in a car she had to push start with “the wrong foot on the clutch and the other leg out the door.” I was seduced by her honesty and idiomatic eloquence: “I wanted Mama to be home when I got there, so I could bawl my head off and tell her I was quitting. But she wasn’t, and by the time she came in with a bag of groceries and a bushel basket of ironing for the weekend, I was over it for the most part. I told her the whole thing, even Jolene’s pink bow-ribbon top and the blood and all, and of course Newt, and then I told her I’d probably seen the worst I was going to see so there was no reason to quit now.” I loved her mom, who lets the air out of the car’s front tire before Taylor leaves home, to make sure she can handle a roadside emergency. Maybe most of all, I loved her conversations with her roommate, Lou Anne. They have the kind of rapport in which anything goes, from super-silly to dead serious, a rapport that, when I encounter it, always brings me back to Joana, especially to that year leading up to her death, and to Monique, who was my closest companion during those months.

It was during those same months that I first read The Bean Trees, at a point in my life that neatly corresponded with Taylor’s. She hit the road in search of her future, ready for anything, but determined that at the very least it wouldn’t be in Pittman County, where she grew up. Of course, she met with complications, lessons, sorrows, and gifts. Well, ditto. I did not buy a used car and drive three provinces away, with no idea of my destination, but I, too, had gone out on my own, to find my way. I’d left the safe, directionless suburbs that had sheltered me in childhood. I had rent to pay, a job, a love interest, a big city to learn how to inhabit, a dying best friend who’d moved herself and her illness all the way across the country so she could be with her boyfriend, and a cast of unusual (but loving) characters in my sphere, particularly my colleagues at T.O!, a magazine in Toronto’s Regent Park, then the largest public housing development in the country.

Taylor’s political awakening arrives through her adoption of an abandoned Cherokee-nation girl and her friendship with some Guatemalan refugees, two experiences that bring her face to face with America’s uncomfortable history, and the failings and cruelties of “the system.” My own political awakening happened in Regent Park, a low-income community I quickly learned was as colourful and promising as it was troubled, and far more complex than its crime-related cameos in the mainstream press ever allowed.

We reporters were a motley crew of recent journalism graduates with an editor given to passionate speeches about the health virtues of garlic, the ancient rift between the Macedonians and the Greeks, and the difference between “true” astronomy and the “crap” they publish in the newspaper. George was both eccentric and smart, and, green as we were, he allowed us great leeway. Between us, we covered anti-development activists, Canada’s flawed Young Offenders’ Act, problems with the welfare system, a federal election campaign, the role of taxis in the drug trade, corruption in the Metro Toronto Housing Authority, life at 51 Division (the neighbourhood police detachment), tensions between rooming-house residents and their gentrifying neighbours, prostitution, education, health care, small businesses, the local girls’ boxing club. As Taylor is dumbfounded and mortified by the rules that require Esperanza and Estevan to remain in hiding, by the inhumanity of the common label “illegals,” I was confused and disappointed by the way an entire community could be socially blacklisted, so that, for example, a perfectly ordinary kid might find himself dropped by a friend whose parents would not condone mixing with someone from Regent Park. I hated how simplistically the practitioners of my so-called profession in the daily press approached reporting on the Park, how stereotypes were not just accepted but even used as a baseline for an angle or a lead. Taylor’s gut reaction to injustice, a combination of bafflement and anger and a fierce desire for change, mirrored my own.

The piece I was most proud of writing the year I worked at T.O!, and the one I believe most pleased George, was about a group of people who spent their days in Pigeon Park, a dismal, triangular patch of weeds at the centre of the Gerrard-Parliament intersection, taking swigs from $2.50 bottles of Chinese rice wine, which is thirty-eight percent alcohol and – what makes it even more dangerous – two percent salt. To write the piece, which was printed with the headline “Cooked on wine in Cabbagetown,” I hung out early one morning beside a corner-store fruit market that stocked the wine, a brew that is indeed meant for cooking. Sure enough, a couple of down-and-out men purchased a bottle. I followed them down to the park, where they were hailed by their pals. I’d already interviewed local residents and business owners, who were increasingly concerned about the passed-out drunks in the local laneways, the broken bottles, the pools of vomit, and the fact that they knew people had actually died drinking this stuff. That morning I spent an hour in the park, talking with the drinkers, asking them why this drink, why here, why them. If a little incoherent, they were friendly and frank, even welcoming of my questions. I learned that they mixed the drink with water, to dilute the taste, and was struck by their matter-of-fact admission that they couldn’t get by without alcohol, and that this cheap drink was their most ready supply. Cars and streetcars rushed past; the hot July sun beat down on us; we were in the heart of a concrete island. I was still with them when some local foot patrol officers came over, dumped their bottle and told them, in a friendly enough manner, to clear out. The bleary-eyed woman who’d been most talkative said to one of the cops, “Where do you expect homeless alcoholics to drink?”

On the strength of this piece, the following month, George assigned me a follow-up about panhandlers on Parliament Street, the neighbourhood’s retail strip, which local business owners had long complained was too crowded with people asking for change and “scaring” customers off. I knew George was hoping for a balanced piece that gave a voice to the panhandlers themselves. It was my job to get their point of view.

This time, when I ventured out into the neighbourhood early in the morning, I spotted a man I’d seen panhandling in a wheelchair all summer long. Except he wasn’t in his wheelchair. He was walking, apparently comfortably, holding the folded chair under his arm. When he got to his usual corner, he opened the chair, put out his sign and his cup for collecting change, and sat down. I watched, wide-eyed. He seemed to be feigning disability to court pity. It didn’t occur to me that he might be able to manage short distances but need the chair for longer treks, or that he simply wanted a place to sit while “working” all day. Nor did I approach him to ask. It was the thing to do, it was my duty. But I turned away, and went elsewhere to do my reporting, chiefly into the local shops to see what their proprietors had to say about the “issue.”

When I handed in the piece, George was disappointed. I couldn’t blame him. There are still moments when I wonder what that man would have said had I asked him, “Why do you come here asking for change? What’s your story?” At the time, I was paralyzed by the idea of confronting him. I was never that kind of reporter who gleefully digs for dirt. I often had to gear up to ask even non-controversial questions. But it wasn’t just timidity that stopped me. It was also a feeling, way deep down and impossible to articulate, that it was none of my business. My approaching him and gathering up whatever details of his life he was willing to share likely would, in the best case, have served a higher purpose. His voice in the story, assuming he was telling me the truth, would have represented a seldom-heard perspective. It might have opened some minds, shed some light on the plight of the homeless, the motivations of panhandlers, on the kind of life that people are prone to make assumptions about. At the very least it would have put a human face on what was too often framed as a “problem.”

But it would also have served my own purpose: to write a good story, to please my boss and my fellow reporters. To please myself. I knew that however righteous my intentions, I would, as I had the wine-drinkers in Pigeon Park, be using this man. I’d be stealing into his space, digging down into his possibly quite painful history, making him feel like I was on his side, and then walking away, already, in my mind, sifting through what he’d told me for the best quotes. In theory, I’d be giving him his say, allowing him to be more than simply a “regular” on Parliament Street, asking for change. But at the same time, I’d be framing him within this one fact of his life. I’d be putting him on the page, not as he saw himself, but as I saw him, using whatever details I’d noticed while observing him, and whatever words of his I found most compelling, and that most fit my storyline.

The local panhandler speaks for himself. Sort of.

There are often things that must be done, in order to do a job well, which are to some degree unsavoury. The road to a meaty, meaningful piece of journalism may itself border on unethical. I was too inexperienced at the time to be able to put any of this into words, but I was still working it out, sometimes willing to put myself in a place outside my comfort zone, doing something that felt like it might be ever-so-slightly wrong – knowing that my own skill or lack thereof could easily tip the balance between right and wrong – and sometimes not.

Here is where I part ways with Taylor Greer, or, more precisely, with her creator. When Taylor volunteers to drive Esperanza and Estevan to a safe house in another state, Mattie reminds her she could get five years in prison and a four-thousand-dollar fine if she gets caught. Mattie also alludes to her being one of the “heroes” who “takes the risks.” Taylor responds, “If I saw somebody was going to get hit by a truck I’d push them out of the way. Wouldn’t anybody? It’s a sad day for us all if I’m being a hero here.”

OK, fair enough. Any decent person should be willing to take a risk for another person’s welfare, especially someone on the back end of a blatant injustice. But it’s not as simple as that, and Kingsolver doesn’t bother with the not-so-simple aspects of the rescue plan. Such as: if Taylor does get caught and sent to prison, what will happen to Turtle, whom she has yet to legally adopt, and who has already been knocked cruelly about by life? This question, the potential risk to the child in exchange for the safety of the two adults, doesn’t seem to enter anybody’s minds. In a novel as steeped in realism and a sense of moral justice as this one, I thought it might, just as I thought that it might have been realistic to, once in a while, show Taylor getting fed up with, or at least cheerfully worn out by, the demands of a toddler. A true work of literature would have tunnelled, head first, eyes closed, breath held, into the trade-off at the heart of Taylor’s decision to ferry the refugees. Instead, we get a reprise of Taylor’s plucky initial road trip, this time with friends and kid in tow. There’s a nod to the dangers, but no real tension around them. Taylor, wiser and more experienced, sees key things, such as the Cherokee Nation’s Ozark Mountains, that she missed the first time around. The adoption situation is handily solved, in a manner that proves conveniently cathartic for Esperanza. Taylor’s made a life for herself, we are given to understand. She’s followed her nose – in the right direction. She’s simultaneously embraced her fate and forged her path.

The first time I read The Bean Trees I passed it on to Monique with a high recommendation. Or was it she who’d passed it my way? One or the other. We’d worked in the same bookstore, we were both readers, we had a cat named after an obscure CanLit character. Of course we shared joy in this happy, spirited novel. Monique and I have long since ceased being roommates, and even lived in different provinces for more than fifteen years, but Monique’s two sons stayed over at my place last Saturday. We recently drove out of town together to a wake, for the father of another old friend. She passes her kids’ hand-me-downs on to my own little boy, and still passes her own to me, a tradition that’s gone on between us for more than thirty years. Kingsolver, whose Bean Trees characters know the best second-hand shops in Tucson, would surely approve. She’d also approve of my new understanding of symbiotic relationships, gleaned from a journalistic assignment about lichens. This freshly acquired scientific knowledge reared up in happy recognition when I read her description of how the wisteria vine thrives due to microscopic insects that form knots on its roots, sucking nitrogen gas out of the soil and transforming it into fertilizer. In exchange for a place to live, the bugs feed the plant.

That moment with the wisteria vine, and my very direct appreciation of Turtle’s entertaining language acquisition project, gleaned from my own days spent with a talkative toddler, are the two places where this book gave extra on rereading. Where, with the something new I brought to it, I got something new in return. There are other books, such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, that I come back to almost annually, that seem to peel back a whole new layer with each new year of confusion and experience (and need) that I bring to them. Part of me thinks, so what? The book meant something to you at twenty-two. It belongs to that time in your life. It was a good read. It likely legitimized many of your own nascent political concerns, even went some way toward affirming your basic philosophy of life. There’s got to be value in that. Kingsolver never asked, after all, to be held up against the classics.

Another part of me feels like I was had, and that part includes aspects of both writer and reader. Kingsolver is an author possessing extreme and unusual talent. In style and wit and in the sheer life of language, in her ability to magically lift her characters off the page, she can hold her own against Austen. When The Bean Trees, her first book, was published, in 1988, Jack Butler of the New York Times wrote, “It is one thing to create a vivid and realistic scene, and it is quite another to handle the harmonics of many such scenes, to cause all the images and implications to work together. And it is extremely rare to find the two gifts in one writer. How can I say it? Barbara Kingsolver doesn’t waste a single overtone.” He was right. And Kingsolver, now a blockbuster literary star, continues to use that talent to address important issues, such as, in her recent, widely celebrated Flight Behavior, climate change. Every writer who cares about any of the things that are seriously wrong with our world must deal with the question of whether, or how, to confront those problems in the work. To write is to communicate. To have a reader, even just a few, is to behold possibility. Someone is taking in your words. Someone may be spurred to change her own thinking or behaviour, or to try to change someone else’s, because of them. But is that the why of the writing? Should it be? How can you have any idea what your reader may believe, or understand, before ever opening your book?

There’s a fine line, yet an enormous difference, between providing someone with a world or a perspective she may not have encountered before – or conversely a slant angle on the all-too-familiar – and telling her what to make of it. What we are doing with a reader is borrowing her time, her ear, her mind. She is letting us in. What we do with that extraordinary gift, that access to the most private of human spaces, is the true measure of our worth. It’s not in the breeziness of our lines or the urgency of our plot; it’s not in the blessings of critics or in the numbers of books we sell. It’s not in the themes or subjects we plumb. It’s in how we approach our contract with the reader, in what manner we uphold our end.

I come back to Edward Burtynsky, who makes no bones about the fact that the scenes he captures are not purely journalistic; they’re selected. More than that, they’re constructed, using light, perspective, his own eye. He’s travelling to today’s version of, for the average person, uncharted territory: the landscapes that are the source of all our “stuff.” I had the chance to interview Burtynsky once, for an article I was writing for the National Gallery of Canada’s in-house magazine. He described himself as a “mediator between the life you lead and the places that allow you to lead that life.” But he made it clear that the visual complexity of an image was as important to him as what it contained. Thus, his photograph of a huge stack of crushed recyclables is as much a reconstitution of an impressionist painting as a glimpse of where our pop cans wind up. “There are many avenues by which one can enter the work,” he told me. “Politically is one. Technologically is another. A geologist could enter the series on quarries and talk about the deposits.” Burtynsky’s own eye is caught by what he calls the “unintended poetry” of these practical activities, how, say, the inner workings of an oil refinery can echo, in scale and elegance, a cathedral. You, too, peering into the shiny, pipe-layered landscape portrait he’s constructed, may sense the cathedral. You may see something else altogether, or many disparate things all at once. Burtynsky’s impulse is every bit as political, every bit as conscience-driven, as Kingsolver’s, but he allows your eye and your mind this freedom, this room. He gives what needs to be found a place to be, and leaves it to us to do the finding.

I recognize so much of my younger self in Taylor Greer. I ask myself: have I become so cynical, so hardened by the twists and turns in my own life and in those around me, that I can no longer believe in her? Am I too sensitive to my own past naiveté, my own determined affinity for found beauty – the wonder available in unlikely places, for those who care to look – to be able to sit easily with Taylor’s? Does it hurt to go back there, because all this is tied up in a time of life when I lost a close friend? I can’t say for sure, but I feel like the book must have been a comfort after the news of Joana’s death – even if I’d already read it, just seeing it there on the shelf in my room. Or maybe our conversations, Monique’s and mine, about the novel and grief, got all mixed up together somehow.

I won’t deny I felt twinges of wistfulness and envy rereading certain passages depicting the camaraderie between Taylor and Lou Anne: their late-night talks, their inside jokes. There’s something about friendship in adolescence and early adulthood, a trust and playfulness combined with high ideals and keen expectations – of one another – that Kingsolver has nailed. Sort of. It’s as if she’s taken a list of generally agreed-upon ingredients for a deep connection between two young women and injected them, in the right measurement, into her written exchanges between the two. As with Mattie’s mothering role, and the built-in babysitters next door, it’s too perfect, too convenient. Kingsolver had me from the first line, both times I picked up The Bean Trees. If she’d truly hit it, if she’d ploughed into the jumbled heart of humanity, if she’d used the spell she is so capable of casting for all it was worth, I wouldn’t feel mildly envious or wistful, revisiting these conversations. I’d feel gutted and soothed all at once. I’d feel like I’d come home.

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