By: Morgan Kane

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Contemporary American Fiction: 603-102-MQ

Jeffrey Gandell

October 16th, 2017

Running Towards the Unknown

            In the short story “Moving On” by Diane Cook, the author emphasizes the idea of an unwanted and uncertain future.  After the death of the main character’s husband, she is put in a facility where she will be chosen by a new husband and given a new life.  She is mostly left alone, aside from taking up many classes and activities. She follows a manual that instructs her on how to skip the process of grieving and learn to move forward with her life.

The main character is thinking about what has become of her life in the facility. “We are women with very little to do and no certain future. Aside from the daily work of bettering ourselves, we are mostly left alone” (47).  What does it mean to truly better our self? What kind of daily work is required to renew our perception of our self? Perhaps it is the tasks of always changing. As humans, we are always learning and becoming a “new self”, meaning who we once were no longer exists. These women no longer have a say in their future, therefore it is uncertain. The main character is contemplating her future and what it will look like now that her husband is gone. “What I want. I can’t have. My husband is gone. So my future will be something much quieter. It won’t be some dramatic feeling in the wild unknown” (54). Why

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not? Why can’t her future be something spectacular? To describe a future as “something much quieter” sounds like a future that is unfulfilling and empty. Yet the “wild unknown” is more than a feeling. Maybe it’s a leap of faith and taking that first step into something worth running towards.

The main character follows the manual that tells her change is needed in order to move on with her life. “Maybe I’ve changed. The manual says that in order to move forward we must change. But this change feels more like a collapse. And that is not how the manual says it will feel” (51). How can she know if she has changed when it feels like a “collapse”? I believe that she is feeling an emotional shut down, meaning her body can no longer suppress her sadness and grief. Perhaps she has reached a breaking point in life, where she feels she is moving backwards, rather than moving forward. Moving forward is complicated. You can’t put a time limit on feeling grief. Feelings come and go; they decide when you move on. The main character has a Case Manager who is guiding her in all the wrong directions of how to handle the process of grieving and taking the next step in her life. “She says that if I can hold on to it and skip over the bewildering grief that follows I’ll be better off. The grief-stricken spend more time here. Years in some cases. Practice, practice, practice, she always says” (46). You cannot “practice” to not feel sad. Practice doesn’t always make perfect. You can find many distractions to avoid feeling sad, but it won’t make the grief disappear. How can you skip your own feelings? No one asks to be filled with grief. Maybe grief never goes away. Grief can stay with you your whole life so in reality, you can move on but never let go.

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The main character is grief-stricken and struggles to find who she is without her husband. She does not know who she is on her own and she has lost her way amongst the loss and sadness. The main character envisions escaping the facility and running away, out into the forest, with her window friend, so they can be together. “I feel hopeful to be running across the field, and then I suddenly know why they do it. They are running toward what they believe is best for them, not what the manual claims is best” (51). I believe the author chose a forest as the only way of escape from the facility because the forest represents the future, unattainable and unknown. They are running towards something that is out of their reach. So close, yet so far. The main character tries to understand and make sense of this grief. “We all deal with things differently. At night, some women cry. Other women are bullies. Others bake. Some live one life while dreaming of another. And some women run” (53). She does not know where to begin with dealing with her own grief. The idea of running is very interesting because where do you go? How can you escape yourself? You can run, but you can’t hide. Dreaming of another life sounds like being trapped in the one you’re living right now. Maybe as humans we always feel trapped, in one way or another. We feel trapped in our heads, our feelings and even our lives, at times. Why live one life when you’re too busy thinking of another? The women in the facility had their futures taken away from them, and so they dream of another life where they still had a choice of how they wished to live it.

The main character is reading a letter she wrote to her husband, describing what their life would have been like if he was still here. “I insist we’ll be the lucky ones. We’ll have a

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family, a house with a yard” (52). The term “lucky ones” is very powerful because as humans we never believe that we achieved happiness on our own, we blame it on luck. Even the happiest person in the world would say “I just got lucky.” Perhaps there is no such thing as luck and everything happens for a reason, whether we believe it or not.  The main character sees herself as the unlucky one because now she is left alone without someone to love. She is dreaming of a fantasy, living in the “what if”. The main character has found a new husband. “I am not ready for this. But I’ve heard that someday I’ll barely remember that I ever knew my first husband” (54). When is anyone ever ready? If you wait until you’re ready, then you’ll be waiting your entire life. There’s no such thing as “being ready”. She has clearly not moved on and having a new husband changes nothing. It’s strange to think that she honestly believes that she can forget her first husband when that was true love while now she must learn to love her new husband. I don’t believe you can learn to love someone because you can’t choose who you love. You can’t find love, love finds you.

I enjoyed this story because it made me realize how important it is to grieve after the loss of a loved one because trying to run only makes life a lot harder than it has to be. It made me realize how life is filled with choices and sometimes others choose for us, whether we like it or not. “As the manual often states, it’s my future. And it’s the only one I get” (55). A manual shouldn’t choose your future and tell you how to live your life. The future is a funny thing because you can always change it, it is not constant.

Work cited:

Boyle, T. C., editor. “Moving On”. The Best American Short Stories 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2015.