Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Breaking Night

I just finished the book Breaking Night by Liz Murray and man! The only other time I can remember crying such fat, wet overpowering tears was when I read In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. Boy do I love a good story of trial, tribulation and trumping circumstance! [Or in some other cases, all out tragedy. I weep at the injustice. *tear*]. You can read the synopsis here.

I found myself frustrated in the beginning, where she talks a bit about her parents' beginning as well as her first few years of life. I was angry with her parents for their selfish, neglectful behavior. And it was wholly uncomfortable reading about the decrepit state of their home, the lice eating away at her tender scalp and the stench that emanated from her, so powerful that she hated going to school since it caused teasing. I was frustrated with the author for continuously abetting her parents and hopelessly seeking the love and comfort that never fully came. Her days at school were few and far between and as she got older she found refuge in running the streets with her neighborhood friends and the hot meals and tender loving care served up by their parents.

The story didn't hit home and get going for me until Chapter 6: Boys which caught our protagonist in the throes of first love as well as in a whirlwind of nomad-like moving and adjusting to new worlds and individuals. I was super intrigued by Carlos as I think we've all met a guy like him: smooth, kind, charming, but in the end; incredibly dangerous. I was struck by the fact that despite having an eerily similar upbringing he and Liz were ultimately different people, who seemed headed towards two entirely different worlds. Granted, I never forgot the fact that he was a Puerto Rican male and she was a white female, but in the end, the right [or shall I say better] choice was always there, the question was whether they'd take it.

Although I disagreed with his philandering, I understood where Carlos was coming from in a way, to never have anything to call yours in life and then come into a load of money? Yeah you're gonna blow it. It's like written into the "new money" memo. And I know because I grew up the same way. I knew not to ask for nuthin because I wasn't getting nuthin. My mom wouldn't even snap "No!" at me, she would just mumble some half passive answer, giving me hope that someday I would get whatever mindless trinket I so desired. That day never came. Soon after I turned 18 I came into a hefty few grand and although I was responsible and saved a good portion of it for a few months, I eventually blew most of the wad on clothes for myself. I remember spending quite a bit on drab tanks and undershirts, excited because they actually fit. Oh and socks. Many pairs of socks. Wow. I don't think I ever admitted that out loud before. And I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

I also felt that Liz's intense hurt and feelings of betrayal stemming from Carlos mimicked that of what I felt with my first love. [Never trust charming men from the Bronx who tell you they love you far far too soon.] But yeah, Carlos really impacted me. His and Liz's whole 70 page tale from the playful beginning to the eventual desperation and roller coaster lust really resonated with me. Also her incessant moving, and her not knowing where she would sleep the next night struck a chord with me in the worst way. I had been there once myself. [And the waterworks ebbed and flowed.] It saddened me deeply that Carlos turned to selling drugs and even began to use them himself. I wonder where he is today?

I looked him up and all I could find was an interview where Liz mentions he's preaching about the Qu'ran somewhere. She goes on to call him a sociopath and  I was taken aback at the way she vilified him in one word. I wonder why she chose not to see him in the same light as her parents: blameless and in the grips of addiction. I hope that today she realizes the magnitude of what he did for not only her but her best friend, supporting them both for nearly a year when he certainly didn't have to. With that being said, a lot may have transpired during their premature relationship [that was subsequently left out of the book] that justifies her feelings. I can't imagine how I would feel finding out that a man I loved and trusted was shady and steadily spinning out of control.

Although I grew up middle class in the suburbs, I'd always maintained a deep curiosity about poor urban life and all the circumstances surrounding it; and delved into the topic as much as I could, albeit from afar. It's a world I have never seen up close and one that I never want to see.

One thing me and the author have in common was that she took subtle lessons from all the changes and the choices others had made in her life. She and I learned what not to do from what others had done. We also had a maturity beyond our years and a compassion that failed to be diluted despite our trials. This book taught me a lot and reinforced so much of my life logic:

No matter where you are in life, you can always make a good decision. It's important to forgive yourself for "bad choices" because when you really look at it, you probably made the best choice that you could at that time. That's why I feel that it's no good to make hasty decisions, since they truly do impact your life. At some points in the story, Liz made what some would say were ludicrous decisions, but I think it was obvious that her choice was the lesser of two evils at the time. And in the end, she got where she needed to get anyway.

You can do anything with a good support system. I got the feeling that relationships were extremely important to Liz, and she was truly able to find an incredible group of friends who made sure that she was housed, clothed and fed whenever possible. They put their necks on the line quite a few times and literally fought their own parents in order to give her a warm place to sleep for another night.

Sometimes life is unfair. For her excessive truancy from school, Liz was put in a group home for troubled teens, a place where she truly didn't belong. She was teased and harassed, and got on her best behavior in order to leave the home as soon as possible. After she left, she didn't dwell on the unfairness of it all, she just made sure that she'd never find herself in that situation again. To Liz, there was no use dwelling on it.

You can go far by being a good, kind person. What I loved about Liz the most was her undying compassion. The synopsis of the book made it seem as if she was completely by herself throughout all her years of struggle and hardship but the truth is, she had a lot of help from some equally kind and loving people. And I know for a fact that these individuals would have been adverse to helping her if she was some sad, manipulative, negative sack of a person.

Follow your gut instinct. Liz was 17 years old when she decided to complete her High School education and graduate. Anyone else in that situation would have surely gone with a 6 month GED program [like me], heck even her teachers nudged her into that direction. But Liz knew that she really wanted to get a High School education the old-fashioned way, and so she did. And reading about the way the school and her teachers affected her, lifted her spirits as well as introduced her to all the right opportunities, it was obvious that this was the best choice for her.

No matter what you've been through, you can turn your life around and just as quickly as things can go sour, they can go splendidly. This book, and lives of many many others is a true example of that.

I felt like the book could have included more emotion, it felt very fact-based and dry at some points as if the author was just reciting the details of her life in a flat, robotic manner. It would have felt more real to me if she had just once written "I hated ____ for what they'd done to me." Because I sure hated her family enough for the two of us. I also wish it was longer. I could tell that a lot had still been left unsaid, and I felt like there were other little details she could have expounded on. But hey, in the end she can do what she wants. She's now a Harvard graduate, and we know that in this world, that means everything.

EDIT 2/13/11 - I saw the movie Homeless to Harvard, and I'm sorry but it was garbage, especially compared to the book. The acting was poor, so many scenarios were completely switched around and so many of the vital intricacies that made Liz who she was were left out... the film mostly zeroed in on the fact that without an education she wasn't shit, and well, the movie pretty much echoed the last line I wrote in the paragraph above. Also, why is the Lifetime channel still making movies?

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