- Happily Lost
University of Georgia Press
186 Pages; Print, $14.95
Not every day do we leave behind our job and new husband for a cross-country car trip to Amarillo, Texas in search of a homeless man we’ve only recently come to know. Yet that’s the opening of Sarah Einstein’s book, Mot: a Memoir, a story of her unlikely friendship with a homeless and mentally ill man she befriends in West Virginia at her job as coordinator of a drop-in center for adults with mental illness. Einstein meets sixty-six-year-old Mot in the final months of her job at Friendship Room, a few weeks after being assaulted by one of the center’s residents, and credits Mot’s company with helping her get through her final days at the center. Convinced that her work at the Friendship Room and previous experience at a homeless shelter has done nothing to help the homeless, Einstein pours all the hope she had for the job into her friendship with Mot, not only to better his life, but her own. She travels to Amarillo and, a few months later, to Oklahoma City in hopes of continuing her friendship with Mot and possibly convince him to return to West Virginia.
Einstein makes clear that she is lost in life, an overweight forty-year old recently married to a fellow social worker who spends most of his time obsessing over his own needy client, Rita. Einstein claims Mot is the first new friend she has made in many years. She invites Mot to live with her and her new husband only a month after meeting him at the shelter, insisting that she believes it a sin to have empty rooms while people are living on the streets. Mot fixes things around the house, and Einstein soon finds herself looking forward to Mot’s impromptu poetry readings or working with him in the garden while her husband disappears to help Rita. Yet, Mot leaves their house a few weeks later, buying a beat-up old car with his social security check and heading to Texas. Partly to escape the stressors of her own marriage, Einstein heads out to Texas a few months later. After a less-than-auspicious meeting in which she finds Mot in the local Wal-Mart parking lot pissing in a soda can in the front seat of his beat-up old sedan, the two rekindle their relationship for a week of drinking beer and reading prose together at the local KOA camp ground before Einstein returns to her husband and former life back in Morgantown.
So who is Mot? He’s an aging veteran–Tom is his actual name—plagued by the “Big Guys Upstairs,” the name he affectionately gives to the voices in his head. These voices range from a competent “Know-It-All” character to more suspicions types spouting forth anti-Jewish or anti-Vietnamese sentiments, feelings Mot tries to suppress. Ultimately, he is at the mercy of these voices, as he explains to Einstein on their visit to Oklahoma City. “I don’t think they’re going to let you hang out much longer,” he tells her. “I don’t know what they’re going to do, but if I were you, I’d keep on my toes. Lot of bad guys over here, like I said.” Mot insists he had a somewhat normal childhood, one of five children he refers to as the “Five Easy Pieces,” although he remembers his mother spending much of his childhood in and out of a psychiatric hospital. Several times he tells Einstein that his mother preferred girls, and she tried to “pinch off” his penis, an incident that Einstein credits with developing Mot’s ambiguous feelings toward women, feelings that provoke tension in their relationship. Yet Einstein refuses to judge Mot too harshly, looking past his sexism, homophobia and xenophobia as symptoms of his illness: “I wouldn’t hold this grown man responsible for anything that poor, broken child might have done.” She makes an exception when learning...