The Future Tense of Joy: A Memoir

The Future Tense of Joy: A Memoir

by Jessica Teich


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580055697
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Publication date: 09/27/2016
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jessica Teich graduated summa cum laude from Yale and received an M.Phil degree from Oxford, where she was a Rhodes scholar. Her previous book, Trees Make The Best Mobiles: Simple Ways To Raise Your Child In A Complex World, appeared in Vanity Fair, People, Us, and The Chicago Tribune, and was featured on the Today show. For almost a decade, Teich worked as a literary manager at the Mark Taper Forum, commissioning and developing plays. She subsequently received a grant to write and direct a movie for the Directing Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute. Teich served as head of the Biography committee for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two daughters, and dog.

Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction

Survivors remember things in pieces. Not necessarily “before” and “after,” which would be easier. It’s more like time melts into Dali-like puddles; or convulses, slamming together faces and events. Psychologists often speak of a distortion in time afterwards, as though the trauma occurred only moments before, but sometimes the pain is so buried it ceases to exist. Then it springs up suddenly, like an allergy, even when it seems there’s no irritant. Or descends, like a fine but malevolent mesh.

That was true for me, but I could never write about my experience as a “survivor.” Even the word seemed bloodless, badly lit. I’d had so many privileges: an education at Yale, then at Oxford as one of the first women Rhodes Scholars. I had a lovely husband and children; two daughters with their father’s long lashes and love of puns. But I felt trapped behind a scrim, like the smoked glass of an antique mirror, with life on the other side, tantalizing and remote. What happened when I was a child was holding me hostage, as surely as if I’d been stolen away.

There is a moment, stepping onto a plane, when you may hesitate at the threshold, nervous to leave the safety of one world, uncertain of the world beyond. This book takes place at that juncture, a crucial moment for my family, when I tried to make the pieces of my life cohere. Its sections are like those shards of experience, but the path they chart is not specific to me. For we have all been broken or betrayed.

Life is the part that happens after. When we move toward hope, toward peace, toward the healing of our hearts.


From Chapter 2

That night, I was lying awake, thinking about Isabel, thinking about that crosswalk, thinking about Charlotte, who had just turned six. Outside the bedroom window, the owls hooted furiously, or maybe that was Michael snoring. What’s more, he was a snoring denier, which even in a loved one can be maddening.

Down the hall our daughters slept, warm and flushed and hopeful, the sound of their breathing usually a comfort, but not tonight. So I wandered downstairs to the living room, seeking solace in the stillness of objects: the tilt of the lampshades, the stoicism of the couch.

On the coffee table was a pile of magazines, perpetually unread, and I grabbed one, expecting it to be a copy of Architectural Digest, or one of those exuberant shelter magazines with tips on raising heritage chickens and canning plums. Only when I turned on the light did I discover, disappointedly, that it was something drier, more demanding: a ten-year-old copy of The American Oxonian, a quarterly journal about Rhodes scholars. Volume LXII. I paged through it, past articles like “The Cauldron of Mitteleuropa: Summer 1938,” the title alone more potent than any sleeping pill.
So I turned to the Index page.

At the bottom was a list of scholars who had died recently; all men, all in their eighties. And a woman, a young woman.

Lacey Cooper-Reynolds.

I flipped to the back of the issue, where the actual obituaries loomed like tiny tombstones.

Lacey gave “gave meaning to the very idea of being alive, ” wrote the friends who composed her obituary. “If our time on earth can be measured not in years, but in moments of intensity, emotion and adventure, then Lacey lived longer and more completely than any of us could ever hope to.”

Yet she took her own life, leaping from the balcony of a high rise in Century City. She was 27, and a newlywed.

I was captivated by the force of her promise, pushing through the seams of every sentence. She flamed into being that night, like a border skirmish, or a hologram. I could see her, her fierce dark eyes and rosebud features, chestnut-colored hair falling down her back. I could hear her, shouting across the stiffened room at a formal luncheon for Rhodes scholars, when a young man stood and said he was at St. Antony’s: “You— I’m at your college. Turn around so I can see your face.”

Brilliant, the obituary said. Radiant. Beguiling. Clearly this woman was talented and beloved. Why would someone who had everything choose to kill herself? Did she mean to die, or just to send a signal of distress?

On the face of it, Lacey and I had only one thing in common: We were both Rhodes scholars, at a time when there were still few women among our ranks. Like astronauts, we had been launched into a rarefied world, liberating and terrifying, where the view was glorious. But it could be difficult to breathe.

That was true, even now, even in middle age, but there was something else that bound us. Already I could sense that, subcutaneously. Lacey died only eight miles from where I lived, but some other proximity drew me to her; a sadness; a chaos we could not quarantine.

I looked again at her name: Lacey Cooper-Reynolds.

And the date of her death: July 4, 1995.

She killed herself on a holiday, a day of drowsy beauty; the beginning of summer’s slumber.

Independence Day. That was the day she chose to free herself.


From Chapter 6

The world seemed aqueous, with Michael, a distant point. Cheerful. Legible. Looking with his heart. I couldn’t find my heart, but that didn’t mean I didn’t love him. I did, and I adored my children. (I wasn’t sure about the dog.) But in those days, it was hard for me to feel those feelings. Any feelings. In truth, I was trying not to feel. All the while, life was full of sudden jolts and unsuspected longueurs, as if a stage machine had run amok, shifting scenery in a noiseless haze.

Then I stumbled upon Lacey’s obituary, and the whole world shuddered on its axis. What made her vaporous presence so powerful? Did she feel as estranged from her life as I felt shipwrecked in mine? I knew so little about her, but our connection felt almost visceral. In her buried heart, I could hear an echo of my own.

Late at night, I would creep downstairs to re-read her obituary, never daring to bring the Oxonian upstairs, where my daughters slept.

Upstairs, life was sanguine, peaceable, if predictable. It had nothing to do with the heart-broken writing I could not wait to read:

If you did not know Lacey, imagine Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s: the world was in her spell in public, but in the confidence of friends she was a different person, delicate and vulnerable.

One friend called her “the most likely to succeed among the most likely to succeed, and yet such an unlikely success.”

She was funny and fluent and generous, unafraid of the bold gesture or the brazen remark.

No one, it seemed, was less likely to take her own life.

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