“It was so I wouldn’t get so attached, but even now it’s the same as with everything, at the end of the day I got screwed all the same.”
My Dog Is Dying, Anna Gavalda
Hi, and welcome back to the weekly podcast against depression, Radio of Resistance. First and foremost, I would like to apologize for the somewhat lackluster episode last week, where I straight out just read a chapter from my novel without generating any new content. So for that, this week, I will be diving into a new author.
Anna Gavalda – there’s so much to talk about her, there’s almost nothing to talk about her. The Kindle Store almost has no English translation of her works. The Audible store is even worse. What can I say about the very first French author that I read and love so deeply, so passionately? The very first French author that introduced me to the romantic and the subtle sadness of humanity within French literature?
Of course, to some other, well-established readers, the first French novels they read must be Proust, or Albert Camus, or Guy De Maupassant. Who am I, then, amidst the well-established readers, to go on and say that I understand, that I have the right to claim a love for French literature with my limited knowledge regarding the above authors?
But I don’t really care about the nameless and the name. All I know is that the first French novel I read as a child is “35 kilograms of hope” by Anna Gavalda, and it brought me down to the little tears and the little sadness that later on, go on to console my solitude and depression. What seemingly to be a novel aims towards children, even after so many years, still has a strong effect on me. The kind of effect that “The Little Prince” would have on any adults.
And the kind of effect that speaks for my love for Anna Gavalda.
I have always thought that French literature was the kind of literature that lingered. Like an addiction. You try to run from it, hide from it, push it away. Yet in your most desperate moment, when it’s just you and you alone in your dark hole, there it is, the French literature that you avoided, coming to you, consoling you, tucking you in a blanket made of dreams and faint hopes.
I remembered at the time I was munching on Anna Gavalda’s “35 kilograms of hope,” there was very few of her works in Vietnam. It was about – what – 10 years ago maybe? Or even longer. I went to the bookstore, searching in vain for her name, and was quite proud of myself when I collected her only other book at the bookstore at the moment, “I wish someone was waiting for me somewhere.”
There were stories to cry for and stories to remember. The story I remembered from that short story collection by Anna Gavalda was a piece about a truck driver who, in the foggy morning and a hurry to get to where he needed to be, made the wrong turn and thus, caused a series of accidents on the highway.
That night, he went home and saw the accidents on the news. Mortified by what he had done, he told his wife that he was going to confess. And his wife’s reply, which is forever engraved in my mind, was, “What would your confession be helping anyone?”
Yes, because he was a father of two, or three, children at the time. He was the main source of income in the house. And even if he was going to confess, there’s no saving what he had done. The people he had accidentally killed won’t be miraculously resurrected. The mistakes he had done won’t be miraculously fixed in patches and bandages of an apology.
Indeed, what would his confession be helping anyone?
And that, unfortunately, is the burden that both the victim and the perpetrator have to bear.
Recently, I have been watching the documentary series, “I Am A Killer,” on Netflix. There is this one episode that lingers with me. Of course, with so heavy a topic, every episode is supposed to linger on everyone’s mind. But this one episode is different. This one episode is about a perpetrator who, not so surprisingly, is also a victim. A murderer who had beaten his grandmother, the only person accepted him after his term in prison, with a baseball bat, and refused to admit his crime for almost 20 years.
The guilt. The sorrow. The lingering pain. The suffering souls. Everything everything.
And as the interviewed man cried on tape, I hear Anna Gavalda’s story all over again:
“You know, it’s good that he confessed. But what can his confession do? What can his apology do? It certainly cannot bring his grandmother back. It certainly cannot amend what he had done.”
20 years. The one he blamed the murder on had already died. His grandmother, if you believe in the spiritual world, might have been born into another life. Outside the prison wall, everything just keeps on moving on its wheels. And here he is, the perpetrator, the victim of the abuse from the adults who should be protecting him as a child, had finally gathered enough courage to step out of his coward self and said, “Yes, I did it. I killed her. I had beaten her to dead. Over some crack cocaine.”
And how much courage – how much strength – does a human need, indeed, to admit on tape, to himself and to the world, the horrendous crime he had done?
Obviously, it won’t amend anything. On a more realistic note, it might have been adding some more salt to the wounds, both inside the victims’ family’s heart and the perpetrator’s.
But the remaining ringing note as the confession comes to an end is a difference being made. A sort of distorted peace. A calmness within the soul of a man who had wished for things to be different, but his wish was not stronger than the crack cocaine. A smile. A tear. An acceptance.
And that is where the ending of Anna Gavalda’s story lies. An acceptance.
The man had caused a series of accidents. Many lives had been lost due to his carelessness. And his late apology and confession might not be helping anyone, but there will remain an acceptance.
You know, the saying always goes, Forgive and forget. I had lived by it. Tried to believe in it even. And after so many years, I finally realize how heavy a toll it is on the soul of both the victim and the perpetrator. You don’t always have to forgive and forget. You can be forgiving without forgeting. You can be forgeting without forgiving. And at the end of the day, you can simply accept that the thing happened. Whatever the thing was, it happened. You can’t change it, you can’t amend it, you can’t let it go.
The only thing you are capable to do is accept it.
And perhaps, sometimes, accepting it is not so bad at all.
So, “The Cracks in Our Armor.” I had wanted to talk about Anna Gavalda’s “Life, Only Better,” but as life would have it, I left the book in Canada and I only have a copy of “The Cracks in Our Armor” with me on my Kindle. So I will start the discussion with a strong encouragement: If you have a copy of “Life, Only Better,” good for you. If you don’t, then what are you waiting for? Go and buy it right now! Links in the description and all that stuff.
Just kidding, there’s no link whatsoever in this week’s episode except a link to my blog and my email, as usual. The book is on Amazon, or in your nearest bookstore, wherever you feel more comfortable. But please do get it. I don’t normally recommend people to purchase the books I read because who knows, different tastes. But for Anna Gavalda, she is a different case.
The case where her books are truly the gifts that keep on giving.
So go on and get a copy of “Life, Only Better.” With all my heart, I hope the book will bring you the same kind of gentle miracle it had brought me.
But back to our main topic, “The Cracks in Our Armor.”
With the first short story in this collection, I felt that it was somewhat lackluster. The usual strong and brutal female image – in contrast to every feminine values that society has for women. The life wisdom. The loss. The giving. The lesson. All of it had grown to be so familiar to me, perhaps, and I had thought Ms. Gavalda’s magic had lost its appeal on me.
But I was wrong.
“You think so? But you are just as responsible as he is for the situation, and surely even more so, because I expect you’ve tried to leave him already, haven’t you?”
“Two hundred times.”
“So you went back, two hundred times, too.”
The Cracks in Our Armor, Anna Gavalda
Leaving him. Getting yourself addicted to something else instead of a hopeless love. Making yourself busy. All of it is for the sake of returning back to his side. Two hundred times.
“I’m afraid to leave him. I’m afraid of solitude. I’m afraid I’ll regret it, and miss him. I’m afraid I’ll never live so fully again.”
The Cracks in Our Armor, Anna Gavalda
I remembered I once had a love like that. No one was at fault. I just refused to let go, and he just refused to hang on. After all, both him and I, we were too afraid of the loneliness, the solitude, the regret, the loss – whatever you want to call it – that we would be leaving behind when we let go of each other’s hand.
My therapist says that there is a chance I believe I do not deserve better. And I refuse to believe in what she believes. Don’t get me wrong, she is a kind, gentle soul and by far, the best therapist I had.
Nevertheless, it was, and never will be, because I believe I do not deserve better. It is, rather, the fear of losing what we already had.
My favorite song composer, Trịnh Công Sơn, in an interview about loss and death, has put it better in words: “I don’t fear death itself. I fear losing everything I have ever had in this life. That is the most devastating thing in death.”
I won’t say that the cracks in our armor will be equal to what Trịnh Công Sơn feared in death. But if there is one universal fear, I think it is what Trịnh Công Sơn has put into verses and beautiful songs: The fear of losing everything.
“If I had known I loved him that much, I would have loved him even more.”
The Cracks in Our Armor, Anna Gavalda
Indeed, if only we had known better. If the protagonist had known better, she would have loved her suicidal husband more. If the husband had known better, perhaps it would save him from being suicidal. If Mathilde had known better, she might have been able to leave at the 201th time, and not turning back. If only, and if only.
The gripping fear of it – of knowing afterward, that if only things had been different, if only we had chosen a different path – grasps onto our heartstring, pulls on it, tears it apart, and seeing it broken, the fear laughs. Because it had won the war.
But that’s not everything.
Sure, the fear of losing everything is this big and other-worldly thing we might not have the chance to overcome. And even if we do have the chance, who are we to say that we will not choose the opposite direction? Yes, sir, I know I could have done better. No, sir, I prefer to immerse in this sorrow.
Because when the sorrow is at its highest, the love is at deepest.
For example, the protagonist in the short story whose quote I used to start this week’s podcast with. He had the chance to leave the dog by the roadside. He had the chance to keep on living in the house with his wife, who was obssessed with sorrow and cleaning. He had the chance to leave. There are many chances and choices. Even after he had adopted the dog, he still refuses to get attached to him by not giving him the name.
But we are far too familiar with the stories of the nameless and the name. And who are we to judge if the choices made are the right ones or the wrong ones.
It is, after all, always a matter of choices. And the choices we made are the cracks in our armor. And like all the other antiques, or like the golden-plated cracks in the Japanese porcelain arts, the cracks in our armor are what make us beautiful.
So wherever you are, whatever you do, no matter what situation and shithole you are in, make the choices. Don’t give up. Keep pushing. You don’t have the right to rid the ones who love you of someone they love. And it might be cruel to you right now to hear this, but let the fear slips in. Let your armor cracks. Do you know what that’s called?
That’s called living.
This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.