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May 4, 2022

An Excerpt from EASY BEAUTY by Chloé Cooper Jones

EASY BEAUTY is Pulitzer Prize finalist Chloé Cooper Jones’ groundbreaking memoir about disability, motherhood, and a journey to far-flung places in search of a new way of seeing and being seen. In anticipation of Mother’s Day, Chloé was kind enough to share with us an excerpt from her book. She told us, “I write a lot about my mother in EASY BEAUTY, but this brief section --- a portrait of us on a rare family vacation --- reveals the most about our relationship by simply sketching the intimacy of our everyday conversations and the way we tease, deflect, scold and protect each other. When I’m away from my mother, as I will be this Mother’s Day, I miss our commonplace conversations and how they show me our easy bond and understanding of each other.”


My mother is hungry.

“Order whatever you want,” I tell her.

“I’ll just go upstairs and eat some nuts I packed,” she says.

“Ask them for a menu,” I say.

“Ask who for a menu?”

I point to guys in sunglasses standing behind a tiki bar, the roof of which is thatched with fake, plastic grass. Wolfgang is swimming. It is autumn, three days before his seventh birthday, which we’ll celebrate here, at this oceanfront hotel in Miami. We’ve managed to drag my mother along, too. It is our first true family vacation.

“I’ll just go back to the room and eat some nuts I packed,” my mother says again. She’s happy to be with us but also a little miserable. She does not want to go on vacation to relax, she wants to go on vacation to ride more horses, preferably hard-to-ride horses on a treacherous trail in Montana or New Mexico. We sit stiffly in pool chairs. I signal for a menu. My mother flips it back and forth in her hand, reading both sides several times.

“I’ll just go up for the nuts I brought in my suitcase,” she says.

“OK,” I say.

“Fine! Fine!” she says, and she orders a coconut smoothie. She watches Wolfgang. He flails about in the shallow end. My mother’s smoothie arrives on a silver platter — this and the pile of manicured fruit arranged on top horrifies her.

“You can’t bear it.”

“No,” she says.

“Not a chore in sight.”

“You’re making fun of me,” she says. She sips her smoothie. “You think I’m too country for this nice hotel.”

“I think you can only enjoy things acquired through arduous labor.” Wolfgang floats by on a white unicorn. Another kid swims over to Wolfgang and grabs him by the leg and flips him off the floatie. Wolfgang is too scared to see how safe he is, still in the shallow end. All he must do is straighten his legs and he’ll be on solid ground. But he’s lost to panic and starts to sink. Andrew shakes himself free from a half nap, levitates above his lounger, dives in.

My mother says, “Not all songs need covers.” The resort has hidden speakers everywhere. Reggae “Karma Police” is playing. She says, “I need a break from” — she gestures to the palm trees — “the party.” Reggae “Take on Me” plays next. She says, “This nice resort needs to learn to leave some songs alone.”



“Where are all your chores?”

Her horse, Jimmy, had died the week before. She says, “Jimmy couldn’t eat hay toward the end. I’d mix him up beet pulp. I’d cut a crack in a carrot and shove his pills in that way. I made his dinner special every night and took it down to him and tucked him in and now he’s gone and I’ll never get to do that again.”

“I’m sorry about Jimmy, Mom.”

She says, “I knew Jimmy wouldn’t last forever. I knew that.” She looks at me, lost in a thought. Her eyes close and her face falls into a deep frown. “It is awful,” she says, shaking her head in disbelief, “what they’ve done to this song.” The hidden speakers play a reggae rendition of “Walkin’ After Midnight.”

We towel off and return to our room to rest. I switch on the TV and flip through channels. Andrew and Wolfgang cuddle on one of our two hotel beds and drift off. My mother and I lay awake on the other bed. “It’s light out,” my mother says. “Shouldn’t we be doing something?”

‘“Wanna watch CSI?” I say to my mother.

She says, “I don’t like murders. Shouldn’t we take Wolfgang to the park?”

“He’s asleep, Mom. Wanna watch Law & Order?”

“I don’t care for murders.”

We settle on a singing competition.

“My god,” she says. “So much HAIR on this stage.”

Endless commercials. In one, a boy comes home from college and his mom is so excited to see him, but he keeps being pulled away by one thing or another and then leaves his mom alone so that he can go hang out with his friends and the mom is sad. I look at Wolfgang. There’s a halo of sleep sweat on his pillow. His mouth is wide open, his lips twitch as he breathes a heavy breath, in and out. He has one leg and one arm slung across the torso of his sleeping father. I make a strange noise.

“What are you doing?” my mom whispers. “Nothing.”

“What’s the sound you’re making?”

“Dramatic sighing, I guess.”

“Stop that.” She pokes me. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m Wolfgang’s favorite person right now,” I say. “I don’t want there to be a day where I’m not his favorite person.”

“You mean you don’t want him to grow up.”

“He’s going to go to college and he’s going to think I’m so boring.”

“Oh, god,” my mom says, rolling her eyes at me.

“Were you sad when I went away to college?”

“Of course.”

“You didn’t say a thing when you took me to Boston. You just dropped me at my dorm and then were like, ‘See ya!’”

She says, “I was not like, ‘See ya!’ ”

“You left me in a big city so far away and you were so stoic about it.”

“Well, I was very scared.”

“You kept that from me. You hid that.”

“Yes, because I didn’t want you to be scared.”