On "Where I'm Calling From"

“Roxy takes my hand. She’s a tall, good-looking woman in a knit cap. She has on a coat, a heavy sweater, and slacks. I recall what J.P. told me about the boyfriend and the wire cutters. I don’t see any wedding ring. That’s in pieces somewhere, I guess. Her hands are broad and the fingers have these big knuckles. This is a woman who can make fists if she has to.”

I read “Where I’m Calling From” again and I realized why (or at least one of the reasons) I like it so much. It’s mystified me a bit before because there is so much darkness in it: broken marriages, alcoholism, violence, etc. I thought before that I liked it because all that stuff was in it. Real stuff. Not a fairy tale. And Raymond Carver writes it in such a matter-of-fact way that you can’t cry or get dramatic about it. It’s not for catharsis or for an inspirational ending. But I realized that the reason I like it is because the character Roxy is so awesome.

“They told Roxy she should take the kids and clear out. But Roxy said it was her problem. She got herself into it, and she’d solve it.”

She goes ahead and kisses the narrator when he asks. She kisses him for luck when it’s the first time she’s met him.

“She moves over. She takes me by the shoulders—I’m a big man—and she plants this kiss on my lips. ‘How’s that?’ she says.
‘That’s fine,’ I say.
‘Nothing to it,’ she says. She’s still holding me by the shoulders. She’s looking me right in the eyes. ‘Good luck,’ she says, and then she lets go of me.”

She’s not perfect. When J.P.’s drinking gets really bad, she gets a boyfriend. She breaks J.P.’s nose, stuff like that. But when she comes to visit J.P. at Frank Martin’s Drying Out Facility, you can tell that she loves him. Her wedding ring’s gone, her husband has the shakes, and still. “Then—she can’t wait any longer—she slips her arm around J.P. and kisses him on the cheek.” Her support extends even to the narrator, a man she doesn’t know, who we know has cheated on his wife, cares kind of about his girlfriend’s cancer (or whatever it is), who is trying to dry out like the rest of them to get things figured out. She kisses him, tells him “good luck,” and she means it.

That takes something, but I don’t know exactly what. Love. Presence of mind. Forgiveness. Empathy. Bravery. Awesomeness. Fool’s hope. I don’t know; it’s something. Remarkable at least.

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