DO PEOPLE DISAPPEAR?
By NANCY PATRICK
I recently watched a 3-part movie entitled The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
(Him/Her/Them). Each segment focuses on one point of view to tell the same story of a
young couple’s love and marriage.
The main character, Eleanor Rigby, disappears both literally and figuratively after the unexplained death of her infant son. She believed the baby’s death had also ended the relationship between her and her husband Connor. Although the viewer never sees the child, his presence is palpable throughout the movie.
The plot focuses on how life’s circumstances encompass the spectrum of emotions related to various situations that befall all of us as we live in relationship with others. Some of the circumstances include marriages, careers, extended families, hopes, and dreams. Eleanor’s mother, a beautiful and talented French violinist, gave up a promising career to marry Eleanor’s father, a prominent American psychology professor. Together they have two daughters—Eleanor (named after a Beatles’ song) and her younger sister, Katy, who along with her son (father unknown), live with her parents.
Eleanor wants to disappear from her life with Connor in the disillusioned hope that
neither the marriage nor the child had existed. Following her first effort at disappearance—a failed suicide attempt— she returned to her parents’ home, seeking a
In her search for identify, she questions her parents about the meaning of their lives.
When she asks her father how he and her mother have stayed together for so long, he first responds, “endurance.” Then he adds an existential truth that we gain with age: everyone starts a marriage thinking it will last forever, but then life gets hard. Things don’t turn out according to plan, and many people want to run away.
Her mother, on the other hand, never appears in the movie without her glass of
wine. When she speaks honestly with Eleanor, she confesses her grief at having given up
her own dreams to sustain her marriage and family. Her wine glass is akin to intravenous valium. Her mother disappeared from her own life, but she does not want her daughters to follow that example.
This movie delves into many emotional and psychological issues that affect most of
us. Watching the pain of others prompts us to remember our own. How many times have
our plans and dreams gone awry by circumstances beyond our control? How many times
have toxic people entered our lives and poisoned us? Someone once said that some people, just by living, can damage another person’s life beyond repair.
I once wanted to disappear because my life seemed ruined beyond repair. I do not
need to elaborate on details because most people have had similar situations. Circumstances may vary, but results are comparable. We’ve made good choices, wise
decisions, fulfilled responsibilities, and planned for “happily ever after,” only to have the
intruder of tragedy plow into us.
I wanted to burrow a hole and bury myself in it. My tears, frequent and unpredictable, caused me to leave many gatherings for inexplicable reasons. No one could console me. One of the characters in Disappearance said, “Tragedy is a foreign country; we don’t know how to talk to the natives.” So true! Grief has no translatable language. I had to
learn my own form of expression.
Disappearing does not work well. We can drop out of society, change jobs, take classes, and even pretend that we can manage our emotions. Truthfully, most of us will not live happily ever after. We all have to make trade-offs in relationships. Rarely do the trade-offs provide equitable results, but we learn to live with them.
Other experiences offer no chance of change or barter. We cannot give life back to a lost child or reverse the effects of a bitter divorce and custody battle. We cannot deny a prison sentence, a violent act, hateful behavior, or destructive actions in our past; rather, we must face the truth, no matter how ugly.
Life does not provide a clear path for most people. Even the most fortunate among us face obstacles and hardships. Complications sometimes make us want to disappear, but disappearing does not resolve the pain or grief. Viola Davis, who plays Eleanor’s sardonic confidante, tells her that if she walks away from this pain, she will walk away from the next, thus beginning a history of walking away or disappearing. The wrecks in our lives make us neither irredeemable nor irreparable. Not only are we worth saving, but so are others.
Choose not to disappear!
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.