Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Little, Brown and Company, 2013
“You ever feel like you sending out the light but no one sees it?”
Rating: 4.25/5 stars
How do you start a review for a book like this? I don’t have the answer. I’ll just write and let my words carry me towards the end.
In Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, we enter Leonard’s frame of mind from the time he finalizes his plan of killing a student and himself, through the giving of his parting gifts to the persons he care the most, towards the point of executing his plan. In reading the story, we delve into the murky life of the main character and his deep anger and sadness and resentment to the world he lives in, to the persons in his life and the events and circumstances (and lack thereof) which made them such persons.
Here you go.
You got your wish.
First Gift: Big ball of hair for his mother, Linda.
Is it really mostly the fault of parents that teenagers became suicidal? In this book it seemed so, but then the story was told in the first person point of view, that of Leonard, so we could not get any objective answer on this one. But looking into the character of Linda, a person who is so self-absorbed, “oblivious,” I could not help it but agree on the fact that only if parents try to understand their children and made an effort to actually care for them, then the Leonards that we have today should not suffer from this loneliness that they are feeling.
But then again, it is not fair for me to say that it is only the parents’ fault that such sad realities exist.
“When he has the Bogart hat unwrapped, he says, “Hot digitty dog!” all corny and nestles the hat down on his white hair.”
Second Gift: A Bogart hat for Walt.
Most of us don’t have Walts in our lives. That rich and understanding neighbor that you could be counted upon to if you want to just sit and watch some classic movies in peace, while silently contemplating about life. I am sort of happy that Leonard has Walt as a friend. But why Leonard did not confide in him his anxieties, the reasons for his sadness? And why the mere presence of Walt in his life did nothing to prevent him from committing suicide?
The answer might be because Walt is like Leonard himself: lonely and in dire need of company. He is like Leonard’s mother in someways, self-absorb. I am not saying that he is a bad person. He cares for Leonard as much, which was evident on the fact that he tried to let Leonard talked about it when he sensed that something was wrong. No, it might be because Walt is just old, nearing the end of his life. He might be just focused on the exit, to tired and have not enough energy to fathom and solve the miseries around him.
Leonard did not talk to him about his problem with Asher? And why? It is because he hold Walt into such high esteem that he is afraid that it might change everything between them, and he will lose the only company that he has.
“It may just look like I’m sitting in the back of the room sleeping, but it’s so much more than that—your music gives me something to look forward to each day—and it’s like a friend to me.”
Third Gift: A check for his friend Baback
Baback is not really Leonard’s friend. He’s this talented guy who secretly practices playing his violin in the gym every lunch and Leonard got permission to just sit down inside and listen to him play music all throughout their high school years. They did not hang out, nor speak to each other. Ever. That is why he could never be of help to Leonard even if he wanted to. He’s an outsider, and like Linda, he is absorbed in his own miseries and to his own future to care much about anyone else. It’s not that he does not care at all, he just don’t fully understand Leonard.
This is evident on the thing he said to Leonard on the day was presented the gift: “Listen, you obviously have problems, Leonard. I’m sorry for that. I really am. But there are people with worse problems than yours, I can assure you this. Leave this town once in a while and you’ll see that I’m right. First-world problems. That’s what you have.”
First-world problems, as if that could lighten up the suffering of those lonely and confused and sad and angry people around the world. I agree that you could not say that the problem of other people is much greater just because it is more acute. As Leonard asked: “How do you measure suffering?”
“She sucks her lips in between her teeth and then her mittens come off and she’s unwrapping the paper, which makes me so so so happy.”
Fourth Gift: A silver cross on a silver chain for the Christian girl Lauren
This one, this girl named Lauren is so annoying that I could barely read the chapters where she is concerned. She’s this character who has the words “Jesus loves you” inserted in her every dialogue. Of course she could not understand Leonard, because she herself could not find answers on her own, answers not written on an ancient book but on life itself, that she was mostly lost whenever Leonard opened up to her. The guy was just smitten to her, being that she is “different” than most of the girls in his school.
“That’s why people give presents, right? Because they don’t know how to express themselves in words, so you give gifts to symbolically explain your feelings.”
Fifth Gift: His grandfather’s Bronze Star medal for Herr Silverman
I wish we could all have a Herr Silverman in our lives. Someone who understands you, and really care for you, value you for who you really are. I like the way he communicated with Leonard on those fateful moments when he is in the brink of killing himself.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes. And don’t hang up. I’m going to stay on the phone with you… I’m walking down the stairs in my apartment building, getting closer to you. Okay, now I’m on Walnut Street looking for a cab. Here’s one now. I’ve got my hand in the air. He sees me. He’s pulling over. I’m getting into the cab.”
The emotions brought up by this scene is unforgettable to me, mostly because I felt the concern and the love of a person who is not really related to you but who cared enough to risk his life just to save you. If we could just have that one person in our lives, I think this world would be in a better place.
He understands Leonard, it is obvious why. He is different too and his compassion and open mindedness allows him to communicate with people who would open up to him, thereby helping them somehow ease the problems that they have, the suffering that they are enduring. Maybe if we could look closer we could find Walts and Silvermans in our lives.
“And I’ve looked into your eyes when I lecture. I can tell you get it—you’re different. And I know how hard being different can be. But I also know how powerful a weapon being different can be. How the world needs such weapons. Gandhi was different. All great people are. And unique people such as you and me need to seek out other unique people who understand—so we don’t get too lonely and end up where you did tonight.”
“It’s my birthday today. No one remembered.”
I like the fact that the author has fully built the world of Leonard, making it real, from the persons surrounding him, their stories, up to the letters from the future he wants to have for himself. The story is plain, simple, and real.
The novel did try to put up a reason why Leonard wanted to commit suicide aside from the bullying and being lonely parts. I am still not sure if it was wise to do so, but it helped in the building of the plot to its climax. But on helping understand the mystery and intricacies of teenage suicide? I do not know. That might be the reason why there is still something lacking about this novel, instead of going straight to bullying as prime reason of teenage suicide, it did resort to other reasons as well, not that it was not good, but it complicates matters. Is bullying the reason why Leonard does not like his “ubermoron” classmates? Or is it the reason why they bully him? Because of his past (on which they do not know)? I do not think so, because Leonard himself admitted that he was “weird” way before that. If it is the reason why he would kill Asher and himself, then bullying is not the problem. It is just a contributing factor. He has a problem with people who do not understand and helped him in his situation, but less so with the ones making his miserable life more miserable. It might be the reason why he did not attempt to make friends with other people, that and because he is an introvert. But I do not think it is reason enough to make yourself gloomy and all of that, sans his “history” with Asher. But in all fairness to Leonard, he does not seem to think that all his classmates are ubermorons, just majority of them are.
The novel has no clear answers about the problems it raised. It has, to some extent, just presented questions that we could contemplate in, questions about loneliness, being open to each other, caring, being different, about bullies and humanity as a whole.
“Hearing someone say “happy birthday”—I know it seems so fucking stupid, but it sort of makes me feel better all of a sudden.
Just two words.
It makes me feel like I’m not already gone.
Like I’m still here.”
“Do you remember when I was little—you used to make me banana pancakes with chocolate chips in them?” I say, because suddenly I have this deal.
Linda just looks at me like my head has spun around 360 degrees.
“You remember, right?” I say.
“What are you talking about, Leo? Pancakes? I wasn’t driven two hours to talk about pancakes.”
“You remember, Mom. We made them together once.”
Linda’s lipstick smiles when she hears me say the word Mom because she hasn’t heard me say that word in many years.
Ironically, she loves to be called Mom.
“Banana–chocolate chip pancakes?” Linda says, and then laughs.
I can tell by the look on her face that she doesn’t remember, but she’s faking like she does. Maybe she only made them once or twice—I dunno. Maybe I made up the memory in my mind. It’s possible. I don’t know why I’m thinking about this memory all of a sudden, but I am.
I remember making banana–chocolate chip pancakes when I was little—like maybe when I was four or five years old—and getting mix everywhere and Dad was softly strumming his acoustic guitar at the kitchen table and my parents were happy that morning, which was rare, and probably why I remember it. Mom and I cooked and then we all ate together as a family.
Normal for most people, but extraordinary for us.
For some reason, I must have banana–chocolate chip pancakes in order for everything to be okay. Right now. It’s the only thing that will help. I don’t know why. That’s just the way it is. I tell myself that if Linda makes me banana–chocolate chip pancakes, I can forgive her for forgetting my birthday. I concoct that deal in my head and then attempt to make her fulfill her end of the unspoken bargain.
“Can you make those for me now—banana–chocolate chip pancakes?” I ask. “That’s all I want from you. Make them, eat breakfast with me, and then you can go back to New York. Okay? Deal?”
“So the key is doing something that sets you apart forever in the minds of regular people. Something that matters.”
“I know that you really just want everything to end—that you can’t see anything good in your future, that the world looks dark and terrible, and maybe you’re right—the world can definitely be a dreadful place.
I know you’re just barely holding it together.
But please hold on a little longer.”
“Why they don’t use their freedom and liberty to pursue happiness?”
“Because you start a revolution once decision at a time, with each breath you take.”
“I want to believe that happiness might at least be possible for people prone to sadness.”
“I realized that the truth doesn’t matter most of the time, and when people have awful ideas about your identity, that’s just the way it will stay no matter what you do.
So I didn’t wait for change.
I got the hell out of there.”
“Different is good. But different is hard.”
“I’m sort of crazy. I’m mostly lonely.”
“You ever feel like you sending out the light but no one sees it?”
“Not letting the world destroy you. That’s a daily battle.”
“I dream of ubernothing.”