Mistakes to Run With is hard and honest – it’s a brutal life story of one woman fighting her way into her own reality.
It’s hard in the same way life is hard. At first, I didn’t like her story, her way with words. Her bluntness offended me, her crude phrases and raw vulnerability didn’t align with my own sensibilities.
But it’s not for me to agree with her life, her choices, her pain.
While reading Mistakes to Run With, I was confronted with both intense familiarity and startling difference. Yasuko Thanh’s choices are not mine. Her life began and veered down an extremely different road from my own. We are not the same.
Our differences aren’t in superiority, but in the way each and every one of us are living our own lives, our own realities. We are making our own decisions based on the life we’ve been given, the skills we’ve acquired and the values we’ve been instilled with.
Familiarity in her surroundings struck me and held me through the pages I initially didn’t want to finish. I didn’t want to hear about the torment of living on the street, of the struggles of selling her body for a meal, the acceptance that this life is hard, but it’s a life that belongs to her. I didn’t want to read about the pain.
But the setting hit close to home, and something about that familiarity pushed me through. For several years I lived in the same Vancouver neighbourhoods – though my experiences were different. I was very young and less aware of the darkness hiding behind those corners. I walked down those same streets. I spent time in some of the same spaces and could have walked right past her, likely with my eyes averted and a great deal of questions on my mind.
I was less aware of the darkness, but not a stranger to it.
I lived in a small hotel in Burnaby, BC. While my mother spent her days as a live-in hotel manager, I explored the long halls, listening to the faint sounds escaping each room, briefly meeting travellers passing through. I knew of the women who rented rooms for work. One of those women sat at our dinner table for Thanksgiving one year. A woman whose room was kept neat, a line of high heeled shoes and thigh high boots lining the walls.
I knew of these women, and the work they did. But it wasn’t a part of my world – I was simply peering in from the safety of my own existence. I knew enough to know it was something I needed to stay away from – because I was never going to be strong enough to hold my own in that world.
Reading the brutally honest account of what Thanh lived through, the darkness she endured and the way she fought her way through inspired me in a way I can’t explain. It reached me on a personal level, even though it was never going to be my own existence. The familiarity knocked me into her world briefly, and as I read – I experienced what she experienced, I learned of the strength she needed to evoke and the detachment she needed to feel.
What I experienced reading through her memoir is the exact reason I have been consuming more and more memoirs – that personal narrative and honest account of a life so unlike my own shows me how vast and infinite our world is. There are so many individual lives, so many stories and experiences but somehow, there’s familiarity in each one of them.
There's something to be learned from each person we meet, even if just to be kinder and more understanding of their individual stories, whether they have written deep and raw about those experiences or not.