Julie Hayden, “Walking with Charlie”

thelistsofthepastA woman takes her seventeen-month-old nephew for a walk in the park on Halloween. 

(from The Lists of the Past)

…We wave farewell to the moon, to the Park and all its kind and dangerous inhabitants. On the sidewalks outside the Park, the first small pirates and witches and Batmen will already be out begging; next year Charlie will be among them. I wish there were more that I could do for him.

Did I ever care so much for another person that even his clothes were holy to me?

I am thirty years old and I have no child and no attachments. If Robert came to me barefoot across the meadow I would turn my back on him, having mastered the knowledge that you can love someone and not be able to live with him, and that there are no grownups who can tell you what to do.

Upon first read I was slightly underwhelmed by this story. Like many people, I was introduced to Julie Hayden’s work via “Day-Old Baby Rats,” which was chosen by Lorrie Moore for The New Yorker Fiction Podcast (3/19/2010). It is a masterpiece that led to the reprinting of Hayden’s collection.

“Walking with Charlie,” though not as affecting as “Day-Old Baby Rats,” is moving in its own right. It is the story of a thirty-year-old childless woman who takes her nephew for a walk in Central Park on Halloween. It’s filled with wonder, nursery rhymes, and lost love. I wish I had mastered the knowledge that I can love someone and not be able to live with him. I think I’m pretty close to having mastered the knowledge that there are no grownups who can tell me what to do, however, which may be one of the reasons that I can love people I can’t live with, or who can’t live with me.

It is difficult to read this story without thinking of the author. Hayden died in her early 40s, an unmarried and childless alcoholic. The end of her life was horrible. She was diagnosed with cancer but did not follow through with chemotherapy: “She grew overweight, rarely showered, and kept odd hours.”

I wish Hayden had lived to write more books for me to read. I wish she had lived long enough to find someone to love that she could also live with.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>