East of Anywhere But Here

WRITTEN BY: Steve Gilbert

Some many years ago, before Lia’s diagnosis for type one diabetes, before even Lia, herself, my wife, Franca, and I shared with one another the titles of favorite novels. It was a rich and deeply personal glimpse into the people we were before — and also after — she and I had become a thing. At the end of the conversation we each made a commitment to select one title off our own list for the other to read. She chose East of Eden, and I All the Pretty Horses.

Franca went first and what followed were many wonderful evenings discussing passages from McCarthy’s stark and beautifully rendered prose. His is a stripped-down, vigorous version of storytelling that I greatly respect and strive for in my own writing. Franca knows this, she encourages it and lifts me when I feel utterly incapable. More than that though, something happens when two people share in the reading of a good book. The relationship changes — it stretches, deepens, recalibrates. We are reminded again that the story of life is its journey and not merely where one winds up.

My turn was next and all I can say about that experience was that I tried, and I did try, many times to read her book. But on every occasion I started East of Eden, I failed to get past the novel’s memorable opening descriptions of the Salinas Valley long enough to become involved in the Cane/Abel story, all of which had been clearly penned by an enormously gifted writer. I kept putting it off until putting it off became the story. An inside joke, just between us.

“Starting it again?” she would ask whenever the novel would reappear on my nightstand.

“This time will be different.”

“Oh, okay.”

“No, really. It will.”

“Can’t wait.”

The night, then the days, then the weeks would pass, and eventually the book would find its way back to a more permanent spot on the bookshelf, as would my dedication to read it.

The years came and went and so too came diabetes, and our marriage shifted course once again as we became fiercely entwined in the administration of multiple daily injections, the factoring of carbs, finger pricks, nighttime glucose checks, and on and on … the battle with the constant, ever-present worry of what if something we did went wrong: a miscalculation, a grossly overstated carb count, sleeping through the one a.m. alarm. The people we were before — or were well on our way to becoming, our story — took a backseat to the worrisome defense against this invisible enemy. Ours had become an extreme reality, a celebration not of our favorite things or of growing closer together, but one of shock and survival; and our marriage felt more like a brotherhood, a saga of two war-weary soldiers facing the chaos together.

It was this feeling of detachment from her that finally brought me back to East of Eden, and this time I read it and as I did I could feel myself becoming part of this thing she so loved and has loved for many years. It renewed my strength and reminded me of the joy of simply being together. Of taking the time to talk, to reflect, to plan, to be in the moment. To do something kind for someone you love, just because. These are the emotional terrains of marriage, not some war zone.

So I finished the book and I knew then why she so loved it. The story was beautiful, brutal and rousing, all of the things she had promised. But more important than the novel and the harmony it inspired in me is what I hope my reading it said back to her: You’re important to me. You matter.

Read Unconscious by Steve Gilbert.


Steve Gilbert

Steve is a writer, husband and father of three, the youngest of which, Lia, was diagnosed with Type 1 in 2009 at the age of eight. Since then he has shared their story on the blog, Without Envy. Steve has served on his chapter’s executive board of JDRF, with his contributions embodying the spirit of community, outreach and raising awareness. He is also a novelist and serves as the Director of Operations and Social Mission for a small, friend-owned, natural products company operating out of Raleigh, NC. He, his wife, Franca, and family enjoy being outdoors, backpacking, cooking, and living a sustainable, health-conscious life. In 2013, they hosted a foreign exchange student from Germany who also has Type 1. Zuza has become like another daughter to them.