mémère

And then, at the end, after all of that solitude and madness on a mountain in Washington State, after prostitutes in Mexico and Tangiers, and hipsters in New York and Paris,  after consumption of narcotics, and from-the-bottom-of-my heart chats with/about God and the nature of eternity and the universe, our faithful Beat Master Kerouac returns to his mother, “Mémère,” who makes him breakfast and does his laundry and makes his bed up with “clean sheets.” Just the mention that Adult Man Jack is doing anything unusual sets him off [“But wretched leering thieves of life say no, ‘If a man lives with his mother, he’s frustrated’“] and then more cozy remembrances of how she mends his bloody shirt with the silent grace of a martyred holy woman [“And I’m just sitting there enjoying and in-joying the sweet silly peace of my mother”].

This reminds me of Kerouac’s ill-fated affair with Mardou Fox in The Subterraneans, where he tries to give Mardou and Mémère equal doses of affection and attention, and fails, and his relationship fails, as all of his relationships with the opposite sex fail, because who needs a woman [“Who’d left me because I complained!”] when you can have Mémère mending your socks, and making you coffee, and making up your bed with clean sheets?

As Joyce Johnson notes in,  The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac, lonesome traveler Kerouac had several opportunities to set up some kind of symbiotic relationship with a woman other than his [clean sheets!] Mémère, such as with Bea Franco, that Mexican girl he shacks up with in On the Road, before he inevitably leaves her because, once safely back on Long Island [fresh coffee!] with Ma, he sees very clearly that it will never work out.

Besides, to do that would have meant betraying his father Leo, who, as he lay dying (at age 57, after years of alcoholism, of cancer, in 1946), made Pious Filial Catholic Jack promise to take care of his Mémère, which he did, ’til the end of his tragic and toxic days.

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