In Casual Water by Don Lee, the story addresses the many challenges that are faced when attempting to cope with loss, as well as demonstrating the subtle distinctions between abandonment and departure. Lee uses the Fenny family to represent the universal fears of Isolation, abandonment, and regret that transpire within all of us. Lee begins the story with the Image of a desolate and abandoned airstrip, only accessible by boat as ” the road bridge washed out by years of storms and erosion and neglect” (22). This airstrip is a metaphor for Brian, the younger brother who has tethered years of storms and neglect.
He is only accessible through his boat, his lifeline to the world, his older brother Patrick. Yet like most boats, Patrick fears the idea of being tied down and yearns to venture out and explore, but his parents abandonment has already left Brian battered and worn down, with severe emotional issues. While Brian struggles to cope with the abandonment of his parents as well as the gradual loss of his brother, Davis and Patrick struggle to cope with the idea of abandoning their respective dreams, VGA golf and going to Annapolis, to stay home ND raise Brian.
Brian and Patrick are accustomed to although not comfortable with abandonment. Early on their father had an obsession with golf and trying to revive his career even going as far as to “be on the road for thirty-five consecutive week” leaving their mother and them both at home. (33). Because of the isolation and the subsequent departure of her husband, who insisted he would always return but rarely did, Lit felt the need to leave her life and return to the Philippines, abandoning Patrick and Brian in the process. Lee emphasizes the subtle nuances between departure and abandonment especially with his creation of Lit.
In her eyes she needed to leave, she felt alone and isolated with no friends or relatives, she stated ” there I have no life” (33). She was fighting to give herself a new life, a new beginning. However In the eyes of her sons she was destroying their old lives, forcing upon them a new way of living with loss and the feeling of being unwanted. Brian struggles with the emotional baggage attached to abandonment. He subdues his emotions, trying to cope with the loss of his mother and father as well as he possibility of losing his brother, and inevitably his sense of home in the process.
This heavy emotional weight starts to take its toll. His teacher Evelyn Young recognizes this when Brian attempts to harm himself by slamming his head onto his school desk. Evelyn ” had wondered why he seemed so sad” compared to the other children in the class who were ” giddy anticipating the onset of summer vacation”(25). Another person who notices Briar’s distress is Julie Filcher, a social worker who Backbend, the police officer who continually deals with the Fenny family, calls in to alp Patrick and Brian.
When she petitions the courts for Brain to become a dependent of the court she describes Brian as ” experiencing Intense feelings of refection and abandonment from his father’s absence and his brother’s Impending departure, compounded by his mother’s prior relocation to the Lee illustrates the varying degree’s of abandonment: Davis absence from his home and happiness, and shows us the only difference between abandoning or departing is the perspective of the person being left behind. Patrick struggles with the internal conflict, should he leave and go to Annapolis ND follow his dream, or should he stay behind and take care of Brian?
Would he end up resenting him for giving up everything, like his dad does with him? According to Davis they were like “an old married couple”, “their relationship one of accumulated resentments”(30). If Patrick didn’t leave he would end up resenting Brain for the life he didn’t live, the dreams he didn’t chase. Lee creates these conflicts to demonstrate the inner challenges that force a person to choose to either abandon their responsibilities or move on to accept new ones. The climax of the story is when Patrick realizes what he “had feared most was being forced to stay with him”(40).
Patriot’s clarity causes his extreme guilt and he questions if Brian hates or resents him for wanting to leave like his parents. But Patriot’s motivation for leaving are beginning to out weigh the responsibilities keeping him home. He is too afraid of losing is youth and carrying around ” the burdens of domestic duties and part-time jobs, every minute taken up caring for Brian or working, the flying lessons and girlfriends he’d never have”(38). This fear pressures him to leave for Annapolis and entrust Briar’s care to Evelyn Young, his math teacher.
Lee foreshadows Davit’s “fundamental character flaw- the inability to carry through with anything” (32) when he impulsively drops out of college and forfeits a promising golf career to Join the Marines. Davis shows us that he set a precedent for abandonment, not only for himself but inevitably for his family as well. Because of his inability to carry anything out ” Davis wasn’t satisfied. He expected to be a star, not a journeyman” (32). This dissatisfaction follows him throughout his life and finally he eels the need to leave, to run away from it all and do something for himself, something he wanted.
He confronts Patrick and finally reveals his true feelings about their situation, ” I gave up my VGA career for you, and now I’m asking for one lousy bucking year” (38). Lee’s portrayal of Davis emphasizes the selfishness that leads to abandonment. The definition of departure, the action of leaving typically to start a journey, emphasizes a tone of rebirth, new life and starting over. However the definition of abandonment, to surrender one’s claim to or interest in, illustrates a one of finality, something one can never come back from.
Lee illustrates this point when Davis tells Patrick where he is really going and why, Patrick realizes he and Brian are being abandoned again and tells Davis ” You don’t exist. You’re dead to me”(40). In Davit’s case, he isn’t leaving to start a new Journey, he is abandoning his family to chase down an old life, one he regrets giving up and refuses to do again. His refusal to depart with his past and move on with his life lead him to abandon his responsibilities and his family. He inevitably forced his wife to leave by isolating her and marrying his golf instead.
She felt ” snubbed by the other tour wives” and “had no friends, nothing to occupy her time”(33). This weaves directly into Lee’s them of abandonment and departure, isolation and regret. The cycle of abandonment infected the family the moment Davis left. After that it spread until the only person father, mother and brother did. In Casual Water by Don Lee the thin line between abandonment and departure is examined and established, as nothing more then differences in perspectives and the astigmatic behind the reasons for leaving.
Therefore abandonment and departure, while each having dictionary definitions, cannot be clearly defined. It varies from each person and situation. In regards to Davis Fenny, he was abandoning his family to chase down a dream he might never fulfill, while Lit went homes a refugee from the isolation brought on by Davit’s leaving and the emptiness it left behind. Patrick wanted to depart and move on with his life, and escape the possibility of losing his youth and taking care of Brian.
He wanted to fulfill his dreams so he wouldn’t end up like his father chasing them around forever, Just out of arms reach. Lee creates multiple themes of regret, abandonment, loss and the challenges created by these emotions. He shows us the varying degrees of abandonment and how one mans abandonment is another mans last chance to live the life he wanted. How one woman’s fleeing from isolation and pain is a catalyst to inflict that same pain on her sons. Or how one brother’s dream is another brother’s nightmare, to leave and to be left behind.