Notes on “Quotes” from An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2019
“But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.”
As much as I have tried to convince myself that we can make our own reality, writing this book made me realize that this is sort of a fantasy. We don’t make ourselves up out of thin air. When Roy is young, he wants to believe this too. He doesn’t want to be a small-town boy for the rest of this life. But he comes to see that you can’t escape your origins. He comes to see that home shapes who we are, but luckily, this isn’t the end of the story. If life is a poker game, three out of five cards are up for grabs.
“If you have a woman, you recognize when you have said the wrong thing. Somehow she rearranges the ions in the air and you can’t breathe as well.”
This little moment is something of a true story. I was furious at my boyfriend and he said, “Stop doing that.” I said, “Stop doing what?” (At the moment I was very proud of my restraint. Yes, I was furious, but I was keeping it to myself— or at least I thought I was.). He said, “Stop doing whatever you’re doing that’s making it hard for me to breathe.”
“…we kissed like teenagers, making out under the bridge. It was a wonderful feeling to be grown and yet young. To be married but not settled. To be tied down yet free.”
Isn’t this what we all want? The best of both worlds? Celestial and Roy are newlyweds, at the sweet crossroads between new romance and the long haul. It breaks my heart that in just the short span of 15 minutes everything is snatched away.
“Love is the enemy of sound judgment, and occasionally this is in service of the good.”
I hesitated in writing this sentence. This was real-life advice that was given to me by my aunt when I was about seventeen. I took it as permission to make all manner of bad decisions in the name of love! But the key word in this passage is “occasionally”.
“‘Sometimes when you like where you end up, you don’t care how you got there.’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘The journey matters.’”
Isn’t it funny how we can forget the journey once we we have reached our destination? But I think it’s the journey that leaves it marks on us and determines how we feel about where we ultimately end up!
“He stood again and cried, not like a baby, but in the way that only a grown man can cry, from the bottom of his feet up through his torso and finally through his mouth. When a man wails like that you know it’s all the tears that he was never allowed to shed, from Little League disappointment to teenage heartbreak, all the way to whatever injured his spirit just last year.”
Because men are not allowed to cry in the same way that women are, a man’s tears are concentrated and carry the weight of a lifetime of unexpressed grief. In some ways, this is a book about masculinity. All the men in this book struggle trying to be whole and emotionally engaged. They don’t really have roadmaps to help them navigate all of their feelings. They learn as they go.
“Love makes a place in your life, it makes a place for itself in your bed. Invisibly, it makes a place in your body, rerouting all your blood vessels, throbbing right alongside your heart. When it’s gone, nothing is whole again.”
Falling in love makes you see that your emotions and your body aren’t two separate things. Heart and mind are always working together.
“None of this proposing via billboard or at halftime at the Rose Bowl. Marriage is between two people. There is no studio audience.”
Every time I see a man propose on television, I always wonder how the woman feels. I mean, can she really say no? It always seems to me like he is announcing to the audience that he is marrying her, more than actually asking her to share his life. It seems like the fireworks can get in the way of the real moment. This is one of the things that Celestial, Roy, and Andre have really struggle with. They have to separate real intimacy from the public performance of marriage and commitment.
“But how you feel love and understand love are two different things. Now, so many years down the road, I recognize that I was alone and adrift and that he was lonely in the way that only a ladies’ man can be. He reminded me of Atlanta, and I reminded him of the same. All these were reasons why we were drawn to each other, but standing with him outside of Maroons, we were past reason. Human emotion is beyond comprehension, smooth and uninterrupted, like an orb made of blown glass.”
When you are in the process of falling in love, when it has you in it’s thrilling grasp—you can’t say for sure WHY you are doing what you are doing. You just know it feels right. One of the many mysteries of love is that it is a product of your own heart and mind, but you can’t quite understand it. When people ask me what the orb of glass has to do with it, I remind them of the marble that Celestial made with Roys image swirled inside.
“That’s your fate as a black man. Carried by six or judged by twelve.”
Years ago, when I was riding a bus in Atlanta, I sat next to a little boy was about eleven years old. He was scribbling “6 or 12” on the cover of his notebook. Curiosity got the best of me and I asked him to explain. It was a heartbreaking moment. I have often wondered what became of him. Who put this idea in his head so that he already felt his fate was sealed. I pray that life has shown him something different, but you never know.”
Tayari Jones: is the author of four novels, including Silver Sparrow, The Untelling, and Leaving Atlanta.
I meet so many people who ask me if An American Marriage is my fist book. Actually it’s my 4th. If you enjoyed An American Marriage, you will like Silver Sparrow. It’s the story of two sisters who have the same dad, but only one knows the truth. All her life Dana has known she can never tell anyone her father’s name. Meanwhile, her sister, Chaurisse, believes herself to lead an ordinary life. What happens when their worlds intersect? Will they heal the damage their parents created?