The Empty Bed

Broken Pencil - - Book Reviews -

Maybe it’s be­cause I read this less than two weeks af­ter a break up, but Robert Day­ton’s post-break up book had me go­ing through it.

The Empty Bed com­piles draw­ings and writ­ing about ev­ery thought, urge and feel­ing Day­ton had around his re­la­tion­ship ended: sad­ness, self-doubt, horni­ness — it’s all in there. At times, it feels like a lot. The pages, with their bold, black hand­writ­ten let­ter­ing feel loud with pain and self-dep­re­ca­tion. Some­times, I wanted to reach into the pages, grab Day­ton by the shoul­ders, and say, “get ahold of your­self, man.” It felt too hon­est, too ex­posed. It’s al­most a re­lief when you reach the quiet mo­ments of the book, though they’re filled with empti­ness and a hol­low ache. Just as un­ex­pect­edly, the mo­ments of lev­ity, of

jokes, of in­ter­ludes come upon the scene — like one seg­ment called “The ‘Death­wish’ Guide to Loss,” which talks about how film char­ac­ter Paul Kersey dealt with his grief in the su­per healthy way of shoot­ing up bad guys (hey, what­ever works).

There were mo­ments when I felt dis­gusted, like when Day­ton writes, next to a draw­ing of a sex doll, “No mat­ter how much of your scent I put on this doll it still falls short.” Gross, dude.

And there are mo­ments when I stared at a page for a full minute be­cause the very words I’d once thought, but had never spoke aloud, were there, writ­ten out. Like a bizarre telepa­thy across time and pages.

If any of this sounds sen­ti­men­tal, it’s be­cause sen­ti­men­tal­ity is at the core of The Empty Bed — nos­tal­gia, af­ter all, is what makes break-ups so painful — but thank­fully Day­ton never veers into sap­pi­ness. (Not that this re­view won’t.)

My favourite part comes near the end, when Day­ton ded­i­cates sev­eral pages to an in­ter­view with his now-de­ceased mother, Mar­garet Day­ton. It’s called “Di­vorce & Death” and in it Mar­garet talks about her di­vorce from her sons’ abu­sive fa­ther, and her even­tual mar­riage to a good man.

I don’t know Mar­garet, and I don’t know her late hus­band, Bob — both of whom this book is ded­i­cated to — but their re­la­tion­ship, com­ing af­ter many pages of Day­ton’s pain over los­ing some­one he deeply loved, feels so ten­der and peace­ful. Mar­garet, hav­ing been through di­vorce, and then out­liv­ing her hus­band by nine years, ex­pe­ri­ences empty beds over the course of her life, and that helps put Day­ton’s empty bed in per­spec­tive. Not to say Day­ton or any­one else’s pain is less great, but some­times shared suf­fer­ing help us heal.

There were parts of this book I could have done with­out. But it feels wrong to dic­tate to Day­ton what parts of his breakup to tell. Pro­cess­ing loss means deal­ing with all the good, the bad, the nasty and the vul­ner­a­bil­ity that comes with it. And as a reader, that means you can take what you need from this book, but it also means ac­cept­ing the rest for what it is, even if it doesn’t speak to your own ex­pe­ri­ence.

At the end is a draw­ing of a large heart, which reads, “Put your heart to this heart so you can heal too.” So, I did. (Hey, I did say this might get sappy.) And it was just what I needed. So, thanks for shar­ing, Day­ton. At the very least you helped me feel less alone. (Anisa Rawhani)

Robert Day­ton, Im­pulse[b:], im­pulse-b.com, $20

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