Late that night, Melba heard a little yelp, a coyote yelp coming from behind the guest room door. Matt’s cry pierced her sleep. She tried to imagine what it felt like to be Matt. It was unsettling, as she could not. Her childhood had been safe and solid. Her father hadn’t kidnapped her. Her mother hadn’t slept around. Her eleventh Thanksgiving had not included a toast to her mother’s boyfriend’s future. The only real grief Melba could recall had occurred at age sixteen, when she’d done battle with her mother over music. The intensity of the fight had shocked everyone. It marked their first separation–the initial wedge driven into their dour family peace. (p. 97)
Family peace. Now there’s an oxymoron. Sometimes we find it, several times we don’t. But, what keeps a family together? Love. Mutual respect. Unconditional commitment.
Eleven year old Matt’s parents know nothing about these terms. They can only tell you about self seeking behavior: drinking, drugs, sexual partners beyond what one can count. All of this, while still married. It’s a nebulous term for them, one with an elastic boundary line that just as often as not doesn’t include Matt.
Melba, who on a whim bought a cottage, finds Matt. She finds him in person when his mother becomes her renter. She finds him emotionally when she connects with him, painting his room blue, taking him to Powell’s, cooking him macaroni and cheese. She finds him maternally when she will not rest until he comes home. To her.
Because as everyone should know, your mother doesn’t have to give birth to you to be your mother.
Melba looked hard into the future, as JoLee steered the Buick across the bridge toward home. Where would she find a strong principled male to stand in as Matt’s father? The city was vast. Her powers of attraction were almost nil. She knew a pudgy, smart, fiercely independent woman could only give a boy so much. Melba had solved thousands of problems and could solve a few thousand more on Matt’s behalf, but somehow, somewhere, some good man had to take Gene’s pathetic legacy and drop kick it off the field of Matt Garry’s life. All Melba could think of was authors: Hawthorne, Melville, London. Not enough. There was Dickens, but even he came up short. The pressure of parenthood trounced the classics. Which said the book Matt needed had yet to be written. The man they needed to meet had yet to be found. (p. 182)