I started reading bits when Mom was asleep or when other family members were around to help. I went from reading a few pages to staying up until 3:00 or 4:00 every morning, grudgingly setting it aside when I realized I needed to be up in a few hours to meet the hospice nurse.
What was it about Mrs. Dalloway that was so riveting? Was it my being caught in a stream of moments, when the past, present and future were fused into a unrelenting blur? Making distinctions as to what was happening when was irrelevant since every thing I did was imbued with memories of the past and terror about the future. Even the act of washing the battered plastic rice paddle my mother used since I was in elementary school ended in tears over a kitchen sink.
It was the case of a book that spoke to me at a painful moment of life. And though the novel echoed my existence, in an odd way it kept me going. It helped to know that someone somewhere knew how the joy and pain of living burns through you by simple acts of existence, be it a flit of delight when opening french windows to the unbearable sadness of folding laundered cotton shifts that would be later buttoned over medical tubing and frail arms. And it meant the world to me that someone loved it enough to write about it.
After it was all over, I moved back to San Francisco. Months later I tried recreating that sense of sanity, that hope of things would get better by starting To The Lighthouse, but it didn’t work. I still try every year or so since, but what enthralled me about Virginia was gone. Maybe that’s good. I don’t know. But what I do know is that once again, unexpectedly, I was touched by the heroicism of a book.