“You Still Drink From That Same River”

Quinn Norton’s interview with her mother, The Land That Has Never Been Yet, is a perfect counterpoint to Eli Saslow’s Opportunity’s Knocks (which I still haven’t yet gotten out of my head). Just the opening paragraphs are enough to hold you tightly to the piece until you have read it all:

It’s hard to write about your mom. She looms over you — at first literally — then over your life, like a mythic mountain laced with the river you drink from. And even as you travel away through time and she seems to get smaller, you know she never is, and you still drink from that same river.

It’s hard to write about America for the same reason.

What follows is a talk with my mother, about poverty, health insurance, medical care, and working life. And it is one of the uncountable stories of the American soul.

Norton’s mother is not always poor. However, periods of poverty, exacerbated by the cost of medical care, circle around her like marbles in a drain. Eventually, the marbles settle.

It’s at this point where Norton’s mother gets a job as a certified nursing assistant — not quite the same job as the one Tereza Sedgwick wants in Opportunity’s Knocks, but an echo of the story — and, when she needs an emergency hysterectomy, is asked by her employer to “self-terminate” prior to the surgery, with the understanding that after she has healed she can apply again for her job.

Read the whole thing. It’s long — but well worth it.

Photo: Rene Schwietzke

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