My Foreign Cities by Elizabeth Scarboro

64 of 90
My Foreign Cities
288 pages; Liveright
Read the first page of Elizabeth Scarboro's memoir My Foreign Cities, and you're ready for the inevitable tears. Her husband, Stephen, has cystic fibrosis and is slowly dying. More unexpected is this writer's intelligent and gripping honesty. For Stephen and her, appreciating every moment is their only option. How she describes this reality, however, is what makes you understand it in a whole new way: "Stephen and I appreciated without meaning to, it just happened all over the place. It was sharp and glorious and not at all relaxing. I'd always thought it was what Stephen got, in exchange for all the years he'd lose. But now I wondered if appreciating life wasn't a rare opportunity that crisis gave you, but a coping mechanism." From the beginning of their relationship, she knows Stephen's life expectancy is around 30 years. He's young and quite healthy. Their story is painful and simple: They love, they fight, they live with death, they act like any aimless 20-somethings. All the while, Scarboro keeps us hooked with her unsentimental reflections, admitting that she doesn't always know how to deal: People call her an angel for her devotion to her husband, but she doesn't want to be an angel; she doesn't want to be the one who likes hospitals. Stephen is no angel, either, but, as Scarboro writes him, a complex character living what is for most of us an unimaginable life. When he is recovering from the lung transplant they hope will save him, Stephen tries to make a list of things he has to do. His friend takes the pen and makes him a new list of things he must do: "1. Breathe 2. Rest 3. Heal." This is not a writer who makes an early death seem endurable or who assures you that Stephen lived his life to the fullest so his passing seems less painful. It wasn't. And yet, she survives, and in writing this book provides certain comfort to others who know what she knows about "returning to the strange country I lived in now," the one called life.
— Amy Shearn