I finished reading Heidi Cullinan’s Carry the Ocean recently. As I am apt to do by the nature of the movements of fate I believe, I somehow found and read yet another novel that touched so many things that I have rattling around in my brain. First, I’ll start by saying that I recommend this book as Cullinan has created excellent characters and the lovely world of the Roosevelt that I’m looking forward to the other books. It was a lovely read.
Emmett, Jeremey, and all the folks of the Roosevelt encounter a world that has established roadblocks and obstacles to their success. The mantra of the novel is that there’s no such thing as “normal.” This has long been the central tenant of my philosophy of life. Many people truly believes there is something called “normal,” and the attempts to prove one’s normality comes at a very high price for the individual. Normal is an individual thing really—it’s more of an individual baseline—one’s own measure of what’s “normal” for them. There truly is no normal, only what we have built as the norm in our own brain. For some the scars and differences are worn upon the exterior of our bodies, and for others, the scars, traumas, and differences are invisible to the world. While Jeremey and Emmett reject the notion of being “broken,” I have always found the idea of being “beautifully broken” and the manner in which those cracks in ourselves are simply reminders of the lives that we live. Some of us ensure that our bodies visualize our difference through body modifications and other methods that we can control even when the disorder, the difference, the trauma feels uncontrollable. Tattoos can become that visible marker of the invisible difference, such as Caden in Laura Kaye’s Hearts in Darkness who marks his body in order to distance himself from others.
In Carry the Ocean, Cullinan introduces the reader to a spectrum of visible and invisible mental health issues, differing abilities, and disorders. I kept finding within the novel moments of identification not only with the characters but also with their emotional lives and their abilities to modify the world around them to be more conducive to difference. I’ve been thinking about coping and defensive mechanisms and modifications that help us live our lives. As we see with Emmett and Jeremey, modifications for interacting with the world become incredibly important. For many people, finding positive coping mechanisms feel completely impossible. I love that Emmett creates mechanisms that help him interact with the world and that he helps Jeremey determine modifications for his depression.
Sometimes the coping mechanism becomes a dangerous defensive mechanism. Edward “Easy” Cantrell in Laura Kaye’s Hard to Hold on To creates defensive mechanisms that damage his sense of self and ultimately his well-being. Suicidal ideations are a part of Jeremey and Easy’s mental illnesses—major depressive disorder and PTSD respectively. Their disorders—their differing abilities—hide in plain sight until Easy and Jeremey are willing to acknowledge the problem. In Felice Stevens’ A Walk through the Fire, Asher Davis’s self-harming behaviors serve dual purpose, as a release valve of the emotional trauma but also as a self-enacted punishment. Asher’s self-harm is more concrete than what many of us engage in. Recklessness often becomes the easiest defensive mechanisms. It is the moment of Vishous’s swandive from the balcony of his apartment in Lover Unbound. I’ve spoken in a previous post about my love for the damaged hero in romance novels, but I’m equally drawn to characters who are different—those who understand that there is no normal. Some of those embrace their difference as Emmett and eventually Jeremey do, while others struggle with their own worth. Trying to discover coping mechanisms that actually work and are not reckless or self-destructive can be very difficult for many struggling with invisible disabilities. It is for this reason that I appreciate all of the novels mentioned in this post, especially Cullinan’s Carry the Ocean, because it shows characters that are actively seeking to better understand their interactions with the work around them.