Learning to Accept What Cannot be Changed in I Was Here by Gayle Forman
In this literary analysis, J.V. describes and analyzes the theme of acceptance that Gayle Forman portrays in her novel, I Was Here.
The novel, I Was Here, by Gayle Forman, is one abounding with grief, love, and healing. Among the many themes portrayed in the novel is the message that there is no true explanation for suicide. It is simply a consequence of an illness. Forman criticizes that suicide is unfortunately sometimes a part of life that should, of course, be grieved over, but eventually learned to be accepted when it happens to loved ones.
The main character, Cody Reynolds, suffers a tragedy when her lifelong best friend, Meg Garcia, drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner and dies alone in a Tacoma motel room. Meg was an academic superstar who did not show any signs that she was contemplating suicide. This is ironic because Cody comes to find out that Meg had meticulously planned out her death, down to the time-delayed emails delivered to her parents and Cody.
Meg’s family undoubtedly suffers endless pain after Meg decides to take her life. The novel begins with countless memorial services held in Ellensburg, the small town in Washington where Cody and Meg grew up. “Joe and Sue look blasted into heartbreak, the hollows under their eyes so deep, I don’t see how they’ll ever go away. And it’s for them I find my least stinky dress and put it on.” Here Cody explains how much she dreads going to these services because she is forced to see the pain that Meg’s parents, Joe and Sue, still suffer from. Despite this, she realizes that suicide is a tragedy that must be faced together with the ones she loves.
Cody comes from a home consisting of her and her single mother, Tricia, who spends her days sleeping on the the couch and her nights working as a bartender. Tricia constantly reminds Cody of how she was born on accident and just simply a burden on her life, so Cody spent most of her childhood at the Garcia’s. They always opened up their welcoming home to Cody, and treated her as their own child. “But now there’s a different kind of constancy about the Garcia household, one that is far less inviting. Still, when Sue asks me over, much as I’d prefer to refuse the invitation, I don’t.” After Meg passes, all of the warm and welcoming aspects of the Garcia household such as the freshly prepared dinners and family time in front of the TV seem to vanish.
Her parents could not even bear to go to Cascades University, the school that Meg was attending, to collect her belongings. One of the regrets Cody has hanging over her head throughout the novel is that she never visited Meg at school like she had promised she would. There was a long period of time in which the two had stopped talking because Meg claimed she had Mono. Cody did not understand why she could not visit her for winter break like they had planned, yet she tried not to dwell over it much. She feels as if she must make it up to Meg in some way, so she sets off to Tacoma, where she will not only pack up Meg’s things for the sake of Joe and Sue, but also discover aspects of Meg’s life at school that she would have never expected.
When Cody arrives at Cascades, Meg’s roomates are very sympathetic toward her. They show her to Meg’s room, which was ironically left spotless with all her belongings in piles waiting to be packed without any hassle. Cody is shocked because Meg was never one to keep her room neat. Her roommates explain that Meg must have really known what she was doing for quite some time. She packed up her things when no one was around, and rented a hotel room where she could go about ending her life. She even tipped the room cleaner. At this point in the novel it is evident that this was what Meg really felt she needed to do with her life.
How could she not have known the pain her best friend was facing? This question haunts Cody. When asked to speak at a memorial held for Meg at the University that day, Cody cries, “You want me to tell you something about Meg? Meg was my best friend, and I thought we were everything to each other. I thought we told each other everything. But it turns out, I didn’t know her at all. She didn’t tell me that she found life to be so unbearably painful. But how can you not know that about your best friend? How can you believe someone to be beautiful and amazing and just about the most magical person you’ve ever known, when it turns out she was in such pain that she had to drink poison that robbed her cells of oxygen until her heart had no choice but to stop beating? So don’t ask me about Meg. Because I don’t know sh*t.” Here Cody becomes angry with herself for not knowing about Meg’s pain. She feels as though she should have been there more to support Meg, had she known the thoughts that were going on inside her head. She is enraged that she cannot change what has happened to her best friend, and feels that if she discovers why Meg felt the need to do this to herself, it would somehow rejoice some peace into her life.
When Cody comes across Meg’s laptop, she finds a break in Meg’s emails, ones that she had deleted, right around the time they were fighting. This had also been just before she killed herself. She finds a sent message to a mysterious Ben McCallister, that says “You don’t have to worry about me anymore.” Reading deeper into the conversation, Cody discovers that the two had a one night stand, and then he broke her heart. It just so happens he left his shirt at Meg’s place and Cody finds it. Desperate to meet this “Ben” who she is convinced caused her best friend’s death, Cody sends an email to him insisting he come fetch his shirt.
After meeting Ben, Cody is completely charmed, and he convinces her that he could not have been the reason for Meg’s death. He demands that there must have been more to it. Cody wonders, is this how he played his game on Meg? Did he charm her and make her fall for him just as was doing to her? Was it wrong that she may have been falling for a guy who broke her friends heart? She was not positive on what she did and did not want from Ben, she just knew she needed to keep searching for the reason behind Meg’s death.
After a few days at the University, Cody finds an encrypted file on Meg’s laptop that matches up to the weeks Meg deleted from her emails. One of Meg’s roomates, Harry King, studies computers and helps Cody work at breaking into the files. After weeks of failure, Harry finally unlocks the file that reveals Meg had been contacting a man named Bradford Smith from an online suicide support group through her username “Firefly.” This support group was “supportive,” not in the way that they would try to convince you that you are worthy of living a happy life, but they would help you plan out going about taking your life.
The only thought that lingered in Cody’s mind at that moment was that Bradford Smith had killed Meg, and she is determined to have this man locked up. Harry tracks Bradford down to Laughlin, Nevada, and Cody sets out to find him, bringing along Ben for support. They stay in motels along the way, and as predicted, they fall in love and end up sleeping together. Still, she manages to stay on task.
She arrives at Bradford’s apartment and explains why she’s there. “So she did it,” he says. “Because of you. You killed her,” Cody snaps. Bradford seems so confused. He explains that he had never once met Meg, and had only ever sent her “references,” never “instructions.” She goes on to try and prove Bradford guilty of Meg’s death until she sees inside that he himself has his own son. “What would you do if someone did to him what you did to Meg?”, Cody questions. With that said, Bradford orders Cody to leave. She is infuriated at the fact that someone who has a child himself encouraged the death of someone else’s child.
Cody feels that Bradford holds all responsibility for Meg’s death, and believes he needs to be revealed to first Meg’s parents, and then the police. Her final hope is that if she finally tells Joe and Sue everything that has been going on, that they will be able to make sure this “support group” is shut down and Bradford is arrested.
After revealing all that Cody knows about Meg’s death, Joe and Sue exchange a glance and explain to Cody that Meg suffered from depression. “But it was him,” Cody insists. “Meg wouldn’t have killed herself if not for him. He’s the reason.” At this point in the novel, it is evident just how much experiencing suicide of a loved one can take over conscious thoughts when it is not accepted for what it is. Forman criticizes that suicide is, without a doubt, a devastating tragedy that no one should have to experience. However, learning to accept it is the first step to allowing yourself to peacefully heal.
Sue goes on to explain that depression ran in their family, and that was the sickness she had when she would not let Cody visit her. She never really had mono. Sue also explains that the police would not be able to do anything with Bradford Smith and the files that were found. Bradford was very wise in the way that he simply sent her links to the places she could buy her poison, but never actually told her to kill herself. Joe and Sue admit that they have done all they could to try to help Meg overcome her depression, and that there was nothing that Cody could have done to save her. “You were the world to her. You were her rock back here,” Joe and Sue cried. At that moment, Cody realizes that she was all she ever could have been for Meg. She was her best friend, someone Meg knew she could rely on. Unfortunately, there was just no changing how Meg felt about her life.
Forman criticizes that it is too often that people take the life of their loved ones for granted. She alludes to the message that we must tell those we care about that they are loved, and that they have many people who care for them and will be there for them always. Depression is too common to be overlooked and taken lightly. You never truly know what someone goes through each and every day of their lives. Although we cannot change the decisions that others make for themselves, we can have a positive impact on their thoughts and decisions by being loving, supporting individuals.
(J.V. 2016)