I listened to almost all of Eleanor and Park while I was training for my race this spring. I had a little over an hour of it left after I came back from Colorado, and I eventually got around to listening to it last week while I was making dinner.
It felt strange to play it while I was indoors, to take it from the paths where I had run, feet pounding, brain half engaged with the story and half with the pull of my breath.The story made less sense to me there, in the kitchen, then it had in the hot sunlight of Saturday mornings. Park and Eleanor were more real when I was pushing myself to go just a little further, a little faster. In that vulnerable state, running more than I ever had before, a part of me opened up to their story. The mix tapes and their awkward conversations seemed familiar. I could remember high school the way it really was, sharp and exciting and new, rather than the way it seems when I look at pictures, or listen to songs I used to play on endless repeat in my car.
In two days, I’m going to be spending a week with thirteen high schoolers. We’re going on a mission trip to work with an organization that is trying to put an end to human trafficking, and even though I’ve known these kids for two years, listening to this book reminds me of how much space exists between us. When I look in the mirror, it sometimes seems like I could still be seventeen, but when I sit and talk with them, I’m just…old. The heady rush of emotion that Rowell writes so well is always just under the surface for them; I can’t believe how big everything seems. SATs. Prom. Pop quizzes in Spanish class. Everything is in technicolor when they tell me about it, as though the world is constantly imploding around them every day.
It’s exhausting. I try to keep up with what they like, and who they like, but in the end, it doesn’t matter because a book like Eleanor and Park reminds me that, emotionally at least, I’m much closer to being the parent of a teenager than I am a teenager myself. It’s not that I don’t feel things deeply, but there is a contained element, even to my eruptions. There’s been a sanding down of intensity that happened so slowly, so subtly, I didn’t even realized it until my edges were soft.
That may be one of the reasons I love books like this. It reminds me of what it feels like to be on the verge of exploding out of my own skin. Of being young and in love and frightened of how little is controllable. These kids, when I’m with them, they’re in constant motion, even when they strive to be still. I listen to the rush of them all around me and wonder if every person who knew me at fifteen felt like this, like a rock in the stream of my life.
For more about Rainbow Rowell, go here.