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Get in line, right?
Anybody who tells you he doesn't have mixed feelings about
his mother is either stupid or a liar. Granted, Virginia York is a special
case. Living with Virginia is like living with a myth. She's only
half-human; the rest is equal parts wolverine, hyena, goddess and
In other words, she's a poet.
But she smells great.
Know the way someone smells when they've been outside on a
chilly fall day? That's how Mom smells all the time. Like rain, and
wind, and leaf mold, and a faint hint of wood smoke. Hardly the
way a woman is supposed to smell, but trust me: if the Glade Air
Fresheners people could bottle her scent, you'd have her hanging in
your car and your bathroom and your kitchen.
Sorry. I didn't mean to get all Oedipal on you.
Mom and I just moved into this old Victorian house in Oakland,
New Hampshire. I grew up in Chicago, but Mom was offered a job
at Cassidy College and we decided to get the hell out of Dodge.
My dad Frank died last year. The coroner said it was a heart attack
but what really happened is a poem got caught in his throat like a
chicken bone and he choked to death.
I'm not making this shit up.
He was in his library, listening to Chopin's Nocturnes on the
stereo and reading poetry for one of his classes. When Mom found
him in his armchair there was a book splayed open upside down on
his lap; he'd been reading Herman Melville by W.H. Auden. Dad
hated Auden. He called him "an overrated, pretentious queer with a
penchant for sentimental excess."
Mom loves Auden. So do I.
The night Dad died I was in my room, painting. Mom was in
her study writing. I thought I heard some odd noises coming from
the library but I didn't think much about it. Dad seemed himself at
dinner. A little tired, maybe, but cheerful and relaxed. He gently
teased Mom for picking the olives from her pizza; he laughed at
me for wolfing three slices in the time it took him to eat one. When
Mom went to tell him she was going to bed, his body was already
growing cold. She came to get me. The two of us stood on opposite
sides of his chair waiting for the paramedics. I think I was trembling,
but neither of us cried. Real life seldom makes us cry. The
only thing that gets to Mom and me is the occasional Kodak commercial.
I'm seventeen. My name is Noah. (Don't blame me; Dad had a
thing for biblical names. It could have been worse, I suppose-Enoch,
or Amalek, for instance.) I'm going to be a senior this
September. That's still a month away. I want to get a job, but Mom
won't let me until she and I get the house remodeled. She's probably
right. The place is a mess. Plaster dust, nails, boards, spackle,
paint cans, caulking guns, and a shitload of boxes. We'll be lucky
to have it finished by the time school starts. I keep telling her she
should hire somebody to do the harder stuff, but she gets pissed
and tells me she's "not going to hire some goddamn carpenter and
pay him my firstborn son (and that means you, mister, by the way)
to do what any idiot with a hammer and the brains of a squirrel can
do, so just suck it up and get back to work."
Like I said, Mom has some issues.
I don't really mind working on the house. It's dirty, sweaty work
but fun in a sick puritanical kind of way. By the end of each day
I'm filthy-my hair is clotted with dust, my clothes stick to me and
when I clean my ears the Q-tip comes out black with crud. But I
like doing something where you can see your progress. We've finished
a lot of the downstairs and it's nearly livable. The hardest part
is stripping the woodwork. Some moron painted over every square
inch of wood in the house (except for the mahogany banisters), and
most of it is oak and maple. Sometimes I feel like Michelangelo,
chiseling away at all the crap until nothing is left but the exquisite
thing in the middle that no one else sees until it's uncovered for
them. Or was it da Vinci who said that was the way he worked?
The house is great. When you walk in the front door it's like
stepping into another century. There's an ancient chandelier hanging
overhead as soon as you're inside, and even though it looks like
it's been dipped in dirt it's still something to see, with hundreds of
pieces of glass shaped like diamonds and rectangles. There's an old
steam radiator next to the door that Moses himself probably installed,
and over that is a window facing west, made with some of
that thick, leaded glass that has little waves in it. To the left of the
entryway is the living room (with a fireplace big enough to roast a
goat), to the right is the staircase leading upstairs, and straight
ahead and down a short hall is a massive kitchen with a giant ceiling
fan. There's a dining room on the other side of the kitchen, with
windows facing east and south, and if Mom owned enough china
to host a dinner party for twenty people she'd still have no problem
storing all the dishes in the colossal wall cabinet in there. Upstairs
are four bedrooms and a bathroom, and as if that isn't enough
house for the two of us, we've also got a basement and a full-sized
The best part of the house, though, is the wraparound porch. I
love sitting out there at night in front of the house, watching the
cars go by. (We live right on Main Street, but Main Street in
Oakland is just a two-lane brick road.) There's a porch swing, but I
prefer sitting on the steps. I like the solid feel of concrete under my
You can separate people into types by what part of a house they
like the most. Mom is a kitchen person. Kitchen people like late
nights and early mornings, and they spend a lot of time at the sink,
staring out the window at nothing while they wash the dishes. They
like cooking for people and don't mind a friendly conversation
about the weather, but if you ask them a serious question they hop
up to take care of the boiling water on the stove or to get a loaf of
bread out of the oven, and by the time they sit back down they've
forgotten what you asked them. It's like they're always waiting for
someone to come home, so they can't pay much attention to anybody
already in the house with them because they're too busy listening
for footsteps on the front walk.
I'm a porch person. Porch people also love late nights and early
mornings, but we're more likely to answer your questions than a
kitchen person is, and we don't mind if someone wants to sit on the
steps with us as long as he never mentions the weather. We sit with
our chins in our hands and our elbows on our knees until we get
uncomfortable, then we lay back and put our fingers behind our
heads and let the breeze blow over us, tickling the hairs on our
legs. I suppose we're also waiting for someone to show up, but we
want to know who it is before he gets as far as the door.
I'm not sure what kind of person Dad was. Maybe a study person.
Study people are off in their own world even more than
kitchen people and seem to be genuinely shocked when they look
up and see another human being in the room with them. Not displeased,
really. Just shocked. Like they've read about other people
but never expected to actually see a live specimen.
Jesus. I am so full of shit. Where was I?
We got the house dirt cheap. A place like this would have cost
three or four times as much in Chicago, but Oakland only has two
thousand people in it, and thirteen hundred of those are college
students. Mom was worried about moving here right before my senior
year, but I like it. I hated Chicago. Chicago is dirty and loud,
and full of people with really shitty taste in music. Mom thinks I'm
a snob, but Mom has a tin ear for everything except language-she
even likes rap. I don't mind the lyrics so much (how can you dislike
something where every other word is "fuck"?) but the music is
mind-numbingly repetitive-it's like a little kid pulling on your
sleeve, screaming "notice me, notice me, notice me." It drives me
Anyway, Oakland is quieter, and cleaner, and you can walk anywhere
you want without worrying about getting beaten up or shot.
When Mom is writing I like to go out late at night and walk around
town. She never would have let me do that in Chicago even though
we lived in a nice neighborhood. Here she doesn't even ask me
where I'm going or when I'll get back. Since we moved here a
week ago she's been writing every night-she shuts herself in her
room (the only room in the house that we haven't torn apart) and
scribbles away until two or three in the morning. She's always up
before me, too. I think sleep is against her religion, or something.
My current project is my bedroom. It's going to be great when I
get it finished. It's the first room on the left at the top of the stairs
and it has the most character of any of the bedrooms, with a recessed
window seat and a view of the entire backyard. There's a
walk-in closet that's almost half the size of the room, and I'm
thinking I may eventually put my bed in there so I'll have the bedroom
itself to use as a painting studio. Until I get it done, though, I
have to sleep downstairs on the couch in the living room. I figure
another day or two and I can move upstairs and have a door to shut
again. I could have started sleeping up here last week but the wallpaper
would have given me nightmares-bulbous purple flowers
on a pink background. Godawful. It was so old, the paper had been
sucked into the wall. When I tried to get it off, big chunks of plaster
came with it, so we decided to tear the walls down and start
"Don't be so dainty."
I turn around and Mom is standing in the doorway watching me
work. I'm tearing down plasterboard with a hammer. She walks
over and takes the hammer.
"Hit it like this." She smacks the wall and uses the claw to rip
out big chunks around the hole she made. She spent a couple of
summers when she was in college working for some carpenter guy
and now she thinks she's Mrs. Fix-it. Granted, she's pretty good at
this kind of stuff, but I grew up helping her with various projects
and I'm not bad with a hammer myself.
"Go away, Mom. This is my job, remember?" I try to take the
hammer back and she swings again; plaster explodes from the wall
and peppers us both with white dust. A big clump gets caught in
her black hair and she yanks it out and grimaces when it snags. She
Christ. "Don't you have some other wall you can beat up on?"
She pauses. "Just don't be so delicate." She hands the hammer
back and walks out of the room.
Mom almost always wears jeans. If she's not barefoot she
wears sneakers. She likes tank-tops and flannel shirts, and almost
everything she wears is either blue or white, except for when
she's feeling daring and puts on something bright red. She's
about five-foot-four, thin and tough and restless. Dad was a lot
taller than either Mom or me. He was six-three, and I'm only
five-seven. He had big shoulders and meaty hands, but I take
after Mom. I'm thin and small, like her. But I act a lot more like
Dad than like my mom. He was quiet, mostly, and even-tempered.
Mom is kind of high strung-funny and wild, but easy to upset.
When she got a bad review for her last poetry collection she called
the reviewer and told him she didn't know that buttholes could read
poetry, let alone critique it. Dad tried to get the phone away from
her. He should have known better. After she finished with the
newspaper guy she went after Dad and screamed something about
whose side was he on anyway and he could just go to hell if he
didn't like her attitude. As usual Dad didn't say anything, which
just made her madder.
She's gotten worse since Dad died. She's always been unreasonable
when somebody hasn't liked her work, but lately she even gets
insulted when her name is misspelled on junk mail. She got a letter
from some credit card company last week addressed to 'Virginger
Yirk' and instead of laughing it off she went ballistic. She ripped
the letter into shreds and threw the pieces all over the kitchen. I
told her she was acting like a spoiled brat and she yelled "Shut up
and clean up this goddamn mess," then stomped out of the room
like an autistic five-year-old.
Sometimes I set her off without meaning to-like when I interrupt
her when she's working or when I forget to wash the dishes
when it's my turn. But sometimes I do it on purpose, just for fun. I
mean, come on, what are my options? When she takes herself so
seriously, what can I do but fuck with her? Some salesguy came to
the door the other day peddling cleaning products and I introduced
Mom to him as 'Mrs. Vagina Pork.' The poor bastard took one look
at Mom's face and scurried away like a rat with diarrhea. I thought
she was going to kill me. She stood with her hands balled into fists
at her sides and glared at me until I mumbled an apology, then she
finally tore out onto the porch and slammed the door behind her
hard enough to make the whole house shake.
If Dad were alive, she still would have been pissed. But she
eventually would have laughed, too.
* * *
"Hey. Take a look at this." I'm holding an old mason jar, crusted
with dirt and dust and cobwebs. It's rusted shut and it feels empty,
but when I shake it I can hear something inside, clanging lightly
against the metal lid.
She takes it from me. "Where'd you find it?"
"It was sitting on a little shelf behind the wall I just tore down in
my room. I can't get it open."
Finding it was the weirdest thing. I ripped out a chunk of wall
and once the dust settled there was this jar sitting all by itself,
framed perfectly between two wooden spars, like somebody anal
had gone to the trouble of making sure it was smack in the middle.
I tried to get it open but my hands were too slippery.
She fights with it for a minute, then whacks the lid a couple
times on the door frame and tries again. It opens with a pop. I
reach for it to see what's inside, but she holds it away from me.
"Come on, Mom. I found it."
"Big deal. I bought the house." She pulls out a piece of paper,
neatly folded. She unfolds it and I can see typewritten words on it.
How cool is that?
"What is it?"
She laughs. "A poem! Of all the houses we could have bought,
we find one with a poem in the walls."
Sunset was an orange ball
rolling down the sky
it struck the trees without a sound
and tumbled off the earth to die.
I watched it go and felt undone-
as if I'd lost a friend.
I wish I'd held it in my arms
and burning, rose again.
Mom snorts. "An Emily Dickinson wannabe." She folds the
paper, puts it in the jar and hands it back to me. "Next time find
something more interesting. Like a lost Blake poem."
Excerpted from LEAVE MYSELF BEHIND
by Bart Yates
Copyright © 2003 by Bart Yates.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 13, 2009
I Also Recommend:
I must say that the cover made me shy away from this book, but i had seen in enough to finally read it. I am glad i did. The story line between the to boys is a unique show of love, but there is a very "cheesy" side story that involves the death of a little girl, but it does bring a reality to the other characters.
Here is a small excerpt that i loved.
"I took a break around three yesterday afternoon and went to sit on the front steps with a thermos full of hot tea. It was kind of cold out, but warm enough in the sun that I didn't need a jacket. I had my eyes closed and was half-dozing when some instinct made me open my eyes. J.D. was walking toward me, but he was still about two blocks away and hadn't seen me yet. He had his head down and kicking through the leaves on the sidewalk. I watched him come, and i sipped my tea, and i felt the sun on my face. And then he looked up and saw me.
"Did I say that my emotions weren't getting through? That's not what i meant. It's only the bad stuff that's temporarily leaving me alone. Because when J.D. finally lifted his head and saw me, it was like somebody had just told him that Satan was finally in therapy and Evil was a thing of the past. I have never seen such joy on a human face, and it was directed at me. Even more than that, it was because of me. And for one eternal instant, I swear to God I swallowed the sun, It's a wonder I wasn't cooked from the inside out, like a baked potato in a microwave. The moment passed and everything went back to normal, but I know it happened and will probably happen again. I may have granted the rest of my feelings and extended shore leave, but i don't seem to need a break from love."
From Leave Myself Behind -Bart Yates
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 8, 2008
I've made it a personal ritual of mine to read this novel at least once a year. I always learn something new everytime I read. The characters are always deep and the story keeps me coming back for more. It never gets old.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 28, 2015
Characters and scenes are so vivid, I could see them and felt I knew them. I read this while there were MANY other stresses in my life and it was a great distraction from them, taking my attention away from things I couldn't control and focusing me on an engaging story about a person I could relate to and understand. I even found myself identifying with his mother and his boyfriend's mother as well. It helped me extend understanding to people in my own life who were in need of it (or, for whom I needed to extend understanding and empathy in order for things to go better for ME). Yes, the book really did expose these things for me. It was a good read, I'd recommend it to almost anyone.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 5, 2013
Posted September 21, 2012
When i first read this book, it was completely by accident... my dad ordered a book over the phone called "me myself and i" and the guy taking the order put in "leave myself behind"! But im verrry happy that that mistake was made... this book is one of my favorites! The characters are amazing and vivid. When noah cries, i cried. When he was misunderstood, i understood him. I felt all his anger, joy, pain, and fear... this is absolutely a must read!!! <3Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 1, 2009
I Also Recommend:
This is a good novel. The main character, Noah, is a charming, sarcastic teenager living with his poet-Mother who is losing her grip on reality. Things come to a head when Noah finds out the kind of man he is.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 1, 2007
Holy crap. This novel is insanly accurate and so honest i hade to look away 'tho only for a moment' sometimes. The characters are so real, this couldn't have been more effective even if it here been a movie 'i'm kinda a cinephile'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 24, 2004
This book is a very moving story about two boys, who find themselves in eachother. They find out that they have more in common than just being gay. I started reading it lastnight, and I couldn't put it down. I just finished it, and it was one of the easiest books for me to get intersted in, because it's on my level, being a gay 23 yearold, it spoke to me the way many books cannot.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2004
Posted June 3, 2004
It is true that this plot covers no new ground. Yet, this reader discovered rich and profound meaning in the development of the characters and the description of a small town in a particular place and time. In lesser hands, the clues-in-the-wall device would have seemed a gimmick to move a mystery plot forward. Yates' novel, however, transcends genre. I was surprised to see the book pegged as 'gay fiction' since that theme doesn't emerge until halfway into the novel. It could just as well be described a comedy, a horror novel, a ghost story, a coming-of-age memoir, a tale of sexual awakening, or a fish-out-of-water saga. Much like life, this novel is not all one thing. That Yates pulls off a successful interweaving of these varying moods and genres owes to his skill in fashioning the strong voice of his narrator. Noah York speaks in the present tense, an interesting approach given that three of the main characters are dead. The other three main characters are very much alive and anxious for the future. The tension arising from this state of affairs quickly would become tedious without Noah's quick and savage sense of humor. Noah is no dour, unstable Caufield. He has none of the misanthrope in him. Rather, Noah takes a sane, if skeptical, view of mankind. He protects himself even as he instinctively reaches out. To his surprise, if not to ours, he discovers that others need him as much as he needs them. The themes in this novel are nothing smaller than life and death, good and evil. The small town is one of the last places such dichotomies are so apparent. Noah reminds us that evil is real and bears consequences that outlast death. Yet he reminds us that life and goodness endures. It is a message worth hearing, made poignant in the authentic voice of Noah York. I look forwad to more of Mr. Yates' work.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 8, 2003
Working in a library, you often come across books that are just simply amazing. This was one of them. It's fresh, it's haunting, it's sweet, but more importantly, it's honest. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 11, 2003
Posted June 24, 2003
A few years ago my Uncle Bart began writing a book, not telling any of us in his family what it was about. He only told us that it was a coming of age story about a boy and the hardships he has to go through in order to live happily. And how he learned to cope with the prejadices of an outside world that is not ready. When I began to read this book I was quite surprised. Noah was funny, witty, strong. I cried when he cried. I felt what it meant to not be understood. And I didn't know if Noah would come out well in the end, but I'm telling you that I prayed for it. It doesn't matter that I'm related to the author, I'm glad I read this piece of Literature. And while I may not have picked it up had I not been, I advise you to. This is a story that helps one understand what they may not have been able to understand before. Thankyou...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 25, 2003
Well I am partial to this book because my best friend Nicole Yates Uncle wrote... I think it shows that ven in todays society there is still bumps and turns one must go through. Society itself is still not excepting and it goes much further than homeseuxality. Young adults today love to dwell on catagorization(sp) ex. if one listens to a spesific style of music they are now a drugie, punk, prep or anything else. Either way it is always negative being punk is never a positiv thing nor' is being a prep. So then why would being heterosexual be better that homosexuality. That's b/c it's not, but like many things in society it is not excepted... We allow steryotypes to gives us false pretenses about people. Wether your religouse or not one person should not be allowed to judge another person by their intrest or sexuality. Anyway... The book is wonderful and I recomend reading it! ****Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 13, 2003
Fresh, enjoyable, a page turner. Noah is a narrator that I fell in love with easily. The story is haunting and the style is different and enjoyable. J.D. and Noah's relationship is admirable. Recommended for any reader with any sexual preference.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 23, 2008
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