BY PATRYK MAJEWSKI
Diane Cook’s short story “Moving On” introduces us to a world, where a regular person does not realize the craved attention they need from another human being. At the beginning of the story, we are introduced to the protagonist, who is emotionally broken down by the death of her husband. We are aware that she tries to make it sound better to the person reading it than it was to her. The main character only realizes what is right for her to do in this horrific situation when introduced to a manual – the guide to her life from now on. Through characterization in this story, we notice how desperate for any kind of support, comfort or connection, the main character is after the loss of her husband.
At the beginning of the story, the main character is not in the shelter yet but states “hopefully, another man will marry me” (Page 44). She does not feel independent anymore and hopes for another man to fulfill her life again, and get rid of the emptiness inside of her. At this stage, she is trying to be positive when the death of her husband was just not too long ago. When she gets to the women’s shelter, it is almost as it strikes her again from the very beginning, “I turn off my light I can see men like black stars in their bright rooms. I watch them move in their small spaces. I wonder what my new husband will be like.” (Page 45). The men’s identities are hidden from her. Is this why she cannot wait to know what her new husband will look like? It makes her think differently then back home. It takes an emotional toll on her, and changes her as a person from just physically being there. Right after her husband’s death she feels hopeful, does not know where to start, and wonders what life will be like from now on. When she gets put into the shelter this feeling goes completely away, there are people around her, people who sort of influence her to what she should, and should not do. As if no one believed in her independence. Physically she is in an area where there are lots of people, but at this moment inside of her, she feels lonely. We can assume that no one looks at her the way her husband did when they were together.
The first connection between the protagonist and another man is seen when she is awake and notices a light in a window, across her room: “I want to be seen, so I stand in my window. He sees me, steps to his window, and offers a quiet wave. I wave back” (Page 48). She feels something at this moment, something such as feeling wanted. She wants to be “seen” as she describes even though she is surround by people every day without a choice of actually wanting it or not. She craves attention from another individual that will look at her differently. Someone that will look at her as more than just a friend. She wants to have the feeling that someone cares about her, worries about her and cannot live without her to a certain point in their life. Although, later on the protagonist talks about marriage, and questions it a bit: “Had my husband kept some part of himself separate so he could give it to someone else if he needed to? Was it possible I too had managed to withhold something of myself without even realizing it? I hoped so” (Page 48). She hoped she could supposedly find something in another man now. Something that would impress her again. Her hopes were set to live a happy life and bring back the feelings she felt between her and her husband. It was not easy but, she had hope.
Being in this shelter, many questions come up to the protagonist’s head, “Is there a difference between us beyond a few letters in our names?” (Page 50). This question was asked when the protagonist’s room was changed, and another woman was placed into her old room. Their names were similar and often would be mistaken. The women here have the choice of doing several different things but, they are all under authority in a closed area – it makes her feel almost as if she was in a prison. She gets shifted to a different floor because of close contact with another man. The protagonist does not enjoy it anymore, she misses her friends, and feels lonely. Women are put into this shelter to come back on track with their life. It comes to a point where the character enjoys small things, small things that apply interactions in them. “I’ve started throwing them away, but I won’t say anything because I like it that they still think of me” (Page 51). The cookies were from a couple days ago, but the fact that they remembered about her was the point she makes. It makes her happy. She does not enjoy living on this floor, and does not look at this shelter the same way as she did when she had people she seemed to like around her. People that were around her previously gave her attention, something she craved from the very beginning.
Another point we can notice is when the main character describes that the runners that try to escape this place, “[t]hey are running toward what they believe is best for them, not what the manual claims is best. It should be the same thing but isn’t” (Page 51). Everyone wants to get out of here! Is this the moment where she realizes this shelter is not what she thought of before arriving?
While she relies on the manual at some point he feels reckless and hopeless cause this is the only thing to guide her and it is not working, “[t]he 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” (Page 51). This can add up to where she stated; “I’ll also look to see if anyone is missing. I still secretly hope she, whoever she was, made it, and I feel twinges of curiosity at the thought of that life. But they’re just twinges. Not motivation” (Page 53). She describes this moment as if the runners and her had a connection. It was great at the beginning, but things have changed. She looks out almost as if she was in the runners’ shoes, and hopes they get what they feel is right.
Towards the end of the story, the protagonist is chosen by a man named Charlie. She seems happy and “glad to have a home” (Page 54). Nothing is better, than your own private place to live. She gives the reader such feeling of excitement that at one moment she says; “wish I had a piece of paper so I can take notes” (Page 54). The way she states it when the two have a talk, seems as if she was reborn at this moment. Wanting to write down everything she heard from him – as if she wanted to create a guide of her own. What comes, will come, and nature will decide the path of her life: “the image will disappear and I’ll never think of him again. I’m not looking forward to this day. But I won’t turn my back on it. As the manual often states, it’s my future. And it’s the only one I get” (Page 55). It is not easy for her but, to make things better she knows that she will have to move on. If this man has the ability to make her feel loved, and happy again, she will accept him and try to live the life she lived before – the life she craved as soon as her husband was gone.
Cook, Diane. “Moving On.” The Best American Short Stories T.C. Boyle, 2015. Print