You know how sometimes you read a book and you start turning down the corners of pages because you’re on the subway and you want to jot down a particularly clever/sad/insightful passage when you’re next able? And you know how sometimes you get to the end of a book and you look at the mangled mess you’ve made of it – every tenth page turned down – and you realize how totally and utterly in love with this book you are?
Well, may I recommend She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel? Love her already. Love everything she’s written except maybeSomething Rising (Light and Swift) which was kind of a misfire, but only because we have such high standards for our Haven. If you’re just joining us, run out and read The Solace of Leaving Early, Chicklets.
She Got Up Off the Couch is a memoir and it’s a sequel to A Girl Named Zippy. Both chronicle Zippy’s childhood in a small Indiana town, and both will break your heart with how funny-sad they are. The indelible moment from Zippy that’s burned into my soul is crazy little Zippy (the family’s nickname for their youngest daughter) sitting at the foot of her mom, who’s remote and depressed and lies on the couch all the time. Mom reaches down and lays her hand on the side of Zippy’s face. Zippy leans in a little. That’s it. That’s all that happens, but Zippy craves affection so terribly, and this gesture is so out of character for Mom that it takes your breath away.
Well, in Zippy.2, Mom literally gets up off the couch. She has her own little feminist revolution and sheds 100 pounds while she learns to drive and goes to university. You cheer for Mom, but mostly you cheer for Zippy, who’s now a preteen. The neighbours have to feed her and give her baths because Dad, who loves her, can’t seem to summon the inspiration to carry out the drudgeries that accompany loving a child and Mom goes from depressed on the couch to never-around-because-she’s-at-school. Zippy/Kimmel’s voice is so spot-on and manic and unwavering that it makes you think maybe you’ll die from the trueness of it all. And I guess that’s really Kimmel’s accomplishment: she manages to make Zippy ring true as a kid at the same time that she slyly infuses the book with a perspective on the events that can only come from the passing of time/much therapy/attending seminary (which Kimmel did–the seminary part I mean).
Here’s Zippy on miniaturization, a revelation she has at the Laundromat:
You could buy individual boxes of detergent and fabric softener, even bleach, and there was nothing that made me grind my teeth down with pleasure more than a real thing shrunken down small. The first time my dad showed me a toothache kit from a box of equipment from the Korean War and I saw the tiny cotton balls (the size of very small ball bearings), I nearly swooned. “Let me hold one of those,” I said, almost mad at him. He gave it to me with a tiny pair of tweezers. I let it float in my palm for a moment and then made him take it back. Miniaturization was a gift from God, no doubt about it, and there it was, right in a vending machine in the place we used to do our laundry in New Castle, Indiana.
While her parents drift, Zippy is raised by her friends and their parents and she’s fiercely loyal without realizing it. The book has a chapter called ‘Gold’ in which Zippy expounds on her friends. She hits on something about the difference between your oldest friends, the ones you make because they are there, and the friends you make later because they suit you. Unlike Zippy, I make it sound like the latter is better than the former, and I don’t mean to. Your oldest friends will always be your oldest friends, won’t they? They’re like family; it’s almost as if you didn’t choose them at all, they just happened. But you’d still throw yourself in front of oncoming traffic for them, wouldn’t you? Here’s Zippy on one of these sorts:
Julie was like family and we owned each other permanently, but oh lord the girl ran me ragged. As if the farm weren’t enough, she was becoming an athlete of epic proportions and it was a flat punishment for me. There we’d be at school and the girl was like a piece of my own self and not only that but we were and had always been true to each other – true in a way that everyone could see and I knew it was rare. But in gym class I held my breath and said little prayers to a fluctuating cast of Jesuses that our gym teacher didn’t make Julie the student leader because it meant my certain suffering.
And then there’s the ones where it’s friends at first sight. Like Lulu and Lily, Chicklets! The girls you stumble upon, the girls that make you say, “Oh, I guess I was expecting you. Yes, you are indeed part of the pantheon, so let me just clear a place here on the sofa. Take a load off and sit awhile, and can I get you anything to drink?” You’d jump into oncoming traffic for these friends, too, but it’s less of a mystery why.
Jeanne Ann was new but she didn’t seem to be; she was the easiest friend I’d ever had, and at thirteen, I loved her fiercely. The fierceness and ease were tied up together, somehow…She was a joy to me, she was a new way of being…Night after night she let me go through every single thing she owned, every item in the room she’d lived in all her life, and ask her about it. Where did this come from? I’d ask, and she’d say, I got that in Florida when we went there on vacation, I was seven, I have pictures of myself feeding seagulls, do you want to see them? I did want to see them. Nothing was off-limits to me, either; she never once asked me not to look at something, not to open a box or a letter or a journal. We did that for hours and then we fried bologna and took it in the living room where Jeanne Ann practiced gymnastics while we watched horror movies and teenagers dancing on TV…There was nothing to it; it was as easy as falling off a bridge…the trick to such a friendship isn’t a trick at all—you just have to have the same goal, and we did: to make each other happy…We were thirteen, and lit up like stars.
The thing I wonder about Haven Kimmel is does she have to have a day job? Or can she just sit at her computer and mainline our truest thoughts? Let’s hope for the latter, and just to be on the safe side, let’s all run out and buy her back catalogue.