A Review of Laurie Easter’s All the Leavings
November 15, 2021 § 5 Comments
By Sandra Eliason
The things we leave behind, from the first home with a lover to the view of who we are, from our youthful sense of invulnerability to life’s inevitable losses, are described in lyrical detail in All the Leavings, a memoir in essays by Laurie Easter.
Her daughter Akela’s near death from a ruptured appendix in “Her Body, a Wilderness,” colors Easter’s future ways of thinking. After a forest fire, she does not want the burnt residue managed. Instead, she wishes the wilderness left to its own regeneration. When Akela becomes septic, Easter witnesses the wilderness of her daughter’s body raging with fire. She understands the body is as vast a wilderness as a forest.
Just as “humans have tried to conquer the wilderness of outdoor nature to wield it to serve and benefit our own desires,” she muses, “we seek to control our inner wilderness by conquering disease. Similarly, we have tried to conquer our inner wilderness by manipulating and controlling disease and pain within our human shells….”
While Akela’s wilderness recovers, it is “not by any natural process of recovery, but by the commitment to dominate, subdue, and manage that wilderness.”
The essay “Relics” describes a memento box holding reminiscences of past people and events, followed by the lyrical essay, “Something to do with Baldness,” an ode to a friend dying of cancer. Although Easter has difficulty explaining why she shaved her head, she knew by becoming “bald sisters,” they had “stripped down to the bare minimum, exposed, nothing left but pure essentials.”
Reading how Easter lives off the land reminds me of dreams I had years before marriage and career took me in other directions. She describes a daughter’s birth on a plywood living room floor between a woodstove and bathtub, an outdoor shower she uses in winter and summer, feeling a cougar’s eyes penetrating her in the dark, and listening to the scream of animals being caught in the night. Her husband encounters a bear. Her children catch tadpoles and release frogs. These experiences are foreign to me, yet in Easter’s voice, they are accessible and understandable. These circumstances and others speak to the grit she needs to navigate her daily life, while her losses speak to the grit her heart needs to navigate all the leavings.
In “Crack My Heart Wide Open,” Easter describes an adolescent suicide, her daughter Lily’s crush, someone who had confided his intent to Lily, but promised he wouldn’t do it. Easter sees the boyfriend’s mother at school at the moment the son kills himself at home. How does a mother comfort her daughter, help her not blame herself? Easter ponders her own period of suicidal thoughts and wonders what it takes for someone to follow through. Seeing the sorrow and guilt the community experiences after a suicide helps her to put aside suicidal ideation.
A meth-addicted friend who disappears, her husband’s diagnosis of hepatitis C, and a friend dying of AIDS and has knowingly infected others, prompt Easter to ponder disease, choices, and medical decisions.
“The Polarity of Incongruities” describes money Easter receives from a friend’s estate—money that allows opportunities that otherwise would be unavailable; thus, she experiences “gratitude and grief—simultaneously.”
The essay “All the Leavings” is a perfect meditation on endings, goodbyes, and leavings. Easter explores the disparate words and phrases, tones and colors used for leaving:
Children are often expected to run along; then, as adolescents, they learn how to give the slip, and later, in defiance, tell adults to take a hike. Sometimes it is best to let one alone to solve her own problems. Sometimes, though, when problems seem insurmountable, she may withdraw into herself, which presents a bigger challenge than, say, withdrawing money from the ATM before disappearing from town or withdrawing before climax because no condom was handy. Sometimes there is an urge to ride off into the sunset. Always, if there is a fire, one needs to exit the building.
Set against the rugged backdrop of an Oregon forest home, Easter’s book gives poignant, readable, and gentle observations in the ways loss and remembrance affect a life.
Sandra Hager Eliason is a retired doctor who won the Minnesota Medicine Magazine’s Arts Edition writing contest in 2016. She has been published in Bluestem, Brevity blog, and in the ebook anthology, Tales From Six Feet Apart. She has a piece forthcoming in West Trade Review. Find Eliason on twitter @SandraHEliason1 or Instagram @sheliasonmd.