The Possibility of Everything: A Memoir

The Possibility of Everything: A Memoir

by Hope Edelman


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In the autumn of 2000, Hope Edelman was a woman adrift, questioning her marriage, her profession, and her place in the larger world. Feeling vulnerable and isolated, she was primed for change. The Possibility of Everything is the story of the change that found her. A chronicle of her extraordinary leap of faith, it begins when her three-year-old daughter, Maya, starts exhibiting unusual and disruptive behavior. Confused and worried, Edelman and her husband make an unorthodox decision: They take Maya to Belize, suspending disbelief and chasing the promise of an alternative cure. This deeply affecting, beautifully written memoir of a family’s emotional journey and a mother’s intense love explores what Edelman and her husband went looking for in the jungle and what they ultimately discovered—as parents, as spouses, and as ordinary people—about the things that possess and destroy, or that can heal us all.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345506511
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/31/2010
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.77(d)

About the Author

Hope Edelman is the author of five nonfiction books, including the bestsellers Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers. A graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, she has published articles, essays, and reviews in numerous magazines and anthologies. She lives in Topanga, California, with her husband and two daughters.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Topanga Canyon, California
September 2000

The soft clinks of a metal spoon against stainless steel filter upstairs from the kitchen as Carmen prepares Maya's dinner. Tonight it's pasta with red sauce and a side dish of peas. Carmen hums as she cooks, low thrumming vibrations occasionally broken by a string of high- pitched la- la- la- las. I glance at the digital clock at the bottom of my computer screen. Five twenty-six P.M. In four minutes, I'll go down to sit with Maya for dinner, and relieve Carmen for the evening. Then I'll give Maya her bath and read her The Red Balloon, for the fourth time this week. I'll put her to sleep, watch some TV, get into bed with a book, and wait for Uzi to come home.

The ceiling fan churns above my head in determined, repetitive circles. I pinch the fabric of my white cotton tank top away from my chest and angle an exhale between my breasts, trying to dry the thin film of sweat that's settled there. It's late September in southern California, our hottest month of the year, and heat rises precipitously in a house with a wall of windows downstairs.

I move my fingers across the keyboard faster, as if the speed of my fingers might stir up a breeze. Today I'm working on a dual review for the Chicago Tribune, two Jewish- themed books that have little in common beyond the religious angle. Whoever paired them probably didn't realize that, and it's my job to figure out how to make them work together in the same review. The first book is a history of New York's Lower East Side, packed with detail and research. The second is a memoir by an American psychotherapist, a single mother who moved to Jerusalem with her school- age daughter to jump- start a new phase of her life. I felt predisposed to like this one, as the American wife of an Israeli- born husband, but each time the mother wrote about putting her rapturous love for her adopted country ahead of her daughter's well- being, I had to force myself to keep reading. As a reviewer I'm supposed to be objective and keep my focus on the text, but I've had to work hard at that with this one. As a mother I found too many times in the book when I wanted to grab the author by the shoulders and shout, "Snap out of it! And put your daughter on a plane back to the United States!" I'm trying to figure out if my reaction reveals a weakness in the book or if it's just a reflection of my parenting and the different choices I imagine I'd make. I know how much sweat and lost sleep goes into every book that's written, and I'm loath to review one harshly until I'm certain my criticism is valid.

 Downstairs, Carmen sets Maya's sectional plate and sippy cup on the dining table, the sound of plastic kissing wood. Then there's the scuff of a wooden chair being dragged back across the red tile floor.

"La Ma- ya!" Carmen sings out. "It is time for dinner now, please!" I'm still not used to this, having someone else take charge in our kitchen. For the first few weeks after Carmen came to work for us four days a week, we kept circling each other awkwardly at the refrigerator at breakfast, bumping elbows in front of the sink at dinnertime, unsure of who should be doing what and when. Before I moved in with Uzi I'd lived alone for ten years, and I'd developed a highly particular way of getting things done. This is not to say I'm tidy or organized by nature— sadly, I am not— but I've always maintained a semblance of order in the kitchen. It's the singular achievement that gives me a sense of domestic competence, as if being able to find the cutting board in the same place every time I need it offers proof that no matter what kind of sorry state the living room might be in at that moment, I do know how to manage a household, after all. Now, whenever I find the bread knife lying in the silverware drawer instead of poking out of its designated slot in the wooden knife block or see leftovers stored in glass bowls covered with plastic wrap instead of locked into the Tupperware containers I've been using since college, I feel a surge of disoriented panic, as if I've somehow been rendered unnecessary in my own home.

Uzi says I struggle with this because I have trouble relinquishing control. I don't entirely disagree, but I think it's more that I have trouble giving up responsibility. For Maya's first two years, while Uzi was pulling ninety- hour weeks launching a dot- com start- up, I did all the evening shifts at home alone. I was the one who mashed Maya's peas with the blue whale fork, cut her chicken into bite- size cubes, and wiped ketchup smears from her chin with a damp paper towel. Before I went back to teaching and Carmen moved in to help, I was the one who scraped the dinner residue off all the plates, sponged down the table, and refrigerated the leftovers. In the Tupperware I've had since college. Isn't that what mothers are supposed to do?

 "La Ma- ya!" Carmen sings again, slightly louder this time.

"Where is La Ma- ya?"

I press the "save" icon on my computer. Where is Maya? Probably in her room, getting into costume. Yesterday she was Snow White. The day before, a black- and- gray bat.

"Maya," I call out. "Carmen is looking for you."

God, it's hot in this room. I pluck my tank top away from my chest and let it snap back again a couple of times, just for the tiny rush of air under my chin. I reach down to shut off the computer— and there's a sudden blur of red and purple to my left and a blunt, painful collision of bone against bone on my left thigh.

"Ow!" I cry out, instinctively.

She's gone as quickly as she was upon me. I press the heel of my left hand hard into my leg. The pain echoes harshly, then fades into a dull ache. I can tell I'll have a bruise tomorrow.

"You hit me!" I say loud enough for Maya to hear, rising from the desk. "Maya!"

"Maya?" Carmen calls from the bottom of the stairs, her voice sounding a lot less certain now.

I find Maya in her bedroom, backed into the corner between her nightstand and the mirrored closet door. She's wearing a red-andpurple gypsy dress with a gold- coin sash, a hand- me- down from my college roommate's daughter. She holds her hands pinned tightly behind her back, an edgy Esmeralda, all pent- up energy and tension and doubt.

She thrusts her chin at me defiantly, as if she's expecting punishment, and that softens me a little. I'm not a mean mother. At least I don't want to be a mean mother. Or the kind of mother prone to frustrated, spontaneous outbursts, which, more and more frequently these past few months, I seem to have become.

Stay calm, I tell myself. Remember. To breathe.

I sit on top of the Pooh comforter stretched across Maya's double bed and fold my hands in my lap.

"So," I say. "Do you want to tell Mom what that was about?"

She uncoils in a rush. "It. Wasn't. Me!" she shouts, pounding her clenched little fists against her thighs to emphasize each word. When she does this, I see four fists pumping up and down, her two real ones and the two reflected in the mirror. It's like watching Maya and her angry, identical twin throwing perfectly synchronized tantrums.

"What do you mean, it wasn't you? I was sitting there and you ran in and hit me. I saw you."

"Mommy," she wails, and her face crumples into a pinched- up wad.

"It wasn't me! It was Dodo!"

"It was who?"

She rushes at me, and I rear back a little, anticipating another hit.

But this time she hurls her arms around my knees and clings to them.

"I didn't want to," she sobs. "Dodo made me."

"Who's Dodo?" The kid has an imagination the size of Guam, but I've never heard mention of a Dodo before.

"He's just . . . Dodo!" She smashes her face into my leg. The cries erupt from her in jagged little sobs.

"It's okay," I tell her, rubbing the back of her head. "I'm not hurt.

Shh. It's okay." I stare at the image of us in her closet- door mirror, the sobbing child and the mother with her dark eyebrows knit into the cartoon symbol for "confused." Maya can be stubborn and difficult to manage, but she's never been physically aggressive before, especially not toward an adult. She hit me with the intent to hurt: there was no ambiguity there. I'm already thinking about whether to tell Uzi about this later and, if I do, how to avoid putting a worrisome spin on it. The last thing he needs right now is hyperbole or drama from me, and the last thing I need tonight is hearing about how hard it is to live with someone who thrives on hyperbole and drama, like me.

Carmen's voice sails up to us from the bottom of the stairs.

 "La Ma- ya," she calls. "The dinner is waiting for you now."

Table of Contents

Introduction Cayo District, Belize, December 24, 2000 xiii

Chapter 1 Topanga Canyon, California, September 2000 3

Chapter 2 Los Angeles, California, October 2000 21

Chapter 3 Los Angeles, California, October-December 2000 45

Chapter 4 Guatemala City, Guatemala, December 23, 2000 85

Chapter 5 Cayo District, Belize, December 24, 2000 115

Chapter 6 San Antonio Village, Belize, December 24, 2000 131

Chapter 7 Cristo Rey, Belize, December 24-25, 2000 151

Chapter 8 Cayo District, Belize, December 25, 2000 165

Chapter 9 San Ignacio Town/Cristo Rey, Belize, December 25, 2000 183

Chapter 10 Tikal National Park, Guatemala, December 26, 2000 203

Chapter 11 Cayo District, Belize, December 27, 2000 253

Chapter 12 Placencia, Belize, December 27, 2000 281

Chapter 13 Placencia, Belize, December 28, 2000 315

Acknowledgments 327

Reading Group Guide

1. In the beginning of the book, Hope and her husband have very different belief systems, which give them very different ideas about how to address their daughter’s imaginary friend. Did you identify more with Uzi’s character or with Hope’s? Why?

2. How would you describe Hope’s definition of trust at the beginning of the story? How would you describe it at the end?

3. Did you find Maya’s behavior surrounding her imaginary friend normal or troubling? Was there a point in the story where your opinion of this changed or solidified? Did you still have the same opinion at the end?

4. If you’re a parent, have you ever had a time when your intuition told you that the “experts” were wrong about your child? Did you follow your intuition or take their advice? What was the outcome?

5. Did any parts of this book make you laugh? Which ones? Did any make you cry?

6. The theme of being an outsider in a foreign and unfamiliar culture is important to this story. How did this dissociation affect the narrator’s experience, and possibly the outcome of events? How do you imagine that this story might have unfolded if it had taken place somewhere else?

7. Some readers have said that the passages about Maya history were their favorite parts of the book. Others have said they found themselves skipping over those sections to get back to the story of the family. What did you think about these parts of the book?

8. Why do you think Dr. Rosita was the one who had the greatest effect on Hope, and on the whole family?

9. At one point, Hope says, “If faith is a belief in the unseen, as I believe it is, then the opposite of faith is not disbelief. The opposite of faith is fear.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

10. Have you, like the protagonist of this book, ever been faced with a situation that you had difficulty explaining with contemporary language or scientific reason? How did you react?

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