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Aug 07, 2007

Pat Conroy Calls Home

My_losing_season

Pat Conroy calls home from the Citadel, collect:

"Don't make this a habit, young man.  You know this family isn't made of money.  How you're first couple of weeks in college going? You having a ball?"

I began weeping and couldn't stop.  I'd suffered a mild breakdown of spirit and character as I lost grip on all the words I'd planned to say to my mother.  For thirty seconds I sobbed until I could gain control.  "Mom, you sent me to a torture chamber," I gasped out finally.

"Well, it'll be good for you.  It'll make a man out of you."

"It'll make a man like Dad out of me," I snapped back.

"Just how bad is it?" Mom asked.  "Give me an example."

"It's worse than Dad--that's how bad it is.  I'd much rather be living with Dad than going to this school."

After a long pause, my mother said, "Oh, my God."

Then my father took the phone, and I heard his despised, mocking voice.  "It sounds like my little baby boy's having some boo-hoo time with Mommy.  If baby boy wants to do some whining he can talk to Daddy-poo."

"I don't like the Citadel, Dad," I said, controlling the quaver in my voice.  "I'm thinking about coming home."

I heard my father's laughter, then the hardening of his voice as he asked, "Where's home, son? You no longer have a home."  He hung up before I could talk to my brothers or sisters.

I read this and hate to remember that My Losing Season is not a work of fiction.  And yet, Conroy lives grateful.

Listen to Terry Gross's 2003 interview with Pat Conroy, here at Fresh Air.

11:30 PM in Quotables | Permalink

Comments

I read The Prince of Tides before the movie came out, and loved it. I gave it to my Mom who cried through the whole thing and said that it was beautiful, perfect, and much too close to the bone to ever read again. Her family was a lot like that. Maybe I'll pick this one up and read it.

Posted by: Celeste | Aug 8, 2007 8:01:55 AM

My own father's last words to me before I walked across tarmac to climb exterior stairs to a plane at Charlotte International Airport enroute to my induction at the US Air Force Academy were, "If you don't like it there, son, you can always come home." In many ways, that made either staying at or leaving a place for which my affection has steadily diminished since day one a more difficult decision whichever way it went, because it made it all mine. It was my idea to go, my decision to stay. Leaving would have been no disgrace, no great act of defiance. Staying was no vicarious fulfillment of anyone else's dream nor any expected compliance with any family tradition. It was, mostly, inertia.

But, by the time I left, I was keenly aware that not all my classmates were so paternally blessed. One girl I knew (mine was the second class with women) told me in a hallway during finals after our first year that this would be her last semester. I was surprised to learn that she would be staying in Colorado Springs after outprocessing rather than returning to Hawaii. "I can't," she said. "I have nowhere to go. My father told me that if I left the Academy, I had damned well better not come home." Another classmate, I dated years after she had also left that same summer. She was working to put herself through school. "My father told me that if I would just try the Academy for one year, that if I didn't like it, he would pay for my college elsewhere. Well, I didn't like it, but when I left he said, 'If you're going to throw away a free education, surely you don't expect me to pay for one.'"

Free. We used to refer to it as "a two hundred fifty thousand dollar education crammed up your ass a nickel at a time."

Conroy's experience resonates because it is far from unique. What makes people love a writer, is that he or she thinks or feels what the reader feels, but can express it far better.

Posted by: Doc | Aug 9, 2007 1:06:39 AM

This is some heavy stuff, from Conroy and commentators. As for me, I was lucky in that my family was not very ambitious or hard-ass, and I never had such pressure. Or, maybe I'm not so lucky, 'cause now I am the least ambitious person I know who went to a fairly selective and success-oriented university like Duke.

Posted by: Elrond Hubbard | Aug 10, 2007 3:06:29 PM

I think I remember that Fresh Air interview, and as I recall it was fascinating. And Conroy told an anecdote that included mention of Reynolds Price.

Posted by: minty | Aug 10, 2007 6:55:53 PM