The Time Traveler's Wife Book 1, Chapter 9 Summary
How It All Goes Down
Christmas Eve, Three
- Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, December 24, 25, 26,1991 (Clare is 20, Henry is 28)
- Henry and Clare are on their way to Meadowlark House to celebrate Christmas with her family. Henry is very nervous about meeting Clare's family for the first time in "real" time. Clare reflects on how much better it feels to be with Henry in the present: "Henry is constantly touching me, kissing me, making love to me… And he tells me things… But the best things of it all is that I see him for long stretches of time… I know where to find him" (1.9.1).
- During the drive, Henry explains his own theory of time travel to Clare. Stress seems to be the number one trigger. Running, meditation, and sex seem to help him stay in the present. Secondly, although he has no control whatsoever over where and when he goes, his travels gravitate to events in his past, rather than the future. He doesn't mind because he feels more solid in the past while in the future feels very insubstantial. "I always feel like I'm breathing thin air" (1.9.26).
- Once they reach Meadowlark House, the housekeeper, Etta, and the cook, Nell, welcome the couple first. When Clare shows Henry her room, she struggles with the fact that nothing in it means anything to Henry yet. They're assigned to separate rooms.
- During lunch, Henry meets the rest of the family: Clare's parents, Philip and Lucille; her siblings, Alicia and Mark; Mark's girlfriend, Sharon; and Great Aunt Dulcie. Henry senses that Philip and Mark have seen him before. He doesn't know when and where and they both do their best to act normally. Philip asks Henry about his family. Everyone is awed to find out that his father is a renowned violinist and that his mother was the famous singer Annette DeTamble.
- When everyone's out skiing, Henry hangs out with Nell. She tells him she's going to feed him plenty because he's too thin. Walking through the house, Henry feels like he's in an "ad for Pottery Barn" (1.9.78). It turns out Mark's girlfriend, Sharon, has also stayed home. She reveals to Henry that she and Mark are getting married because a baby is on the way. It's obviously a marriage of necessity, not love. Mark's parents, especially his mom, are not thrilled about the whole thing. Clare enters the room. She has just heard of the wedding and the baby, and hugs Sharon to congratulate her. Later, Sharon tells Henry, "I think you've got the only nice one" (1.9.100).
- Clare takes Henry to the meadow where they first met. Henry doesn't recognize it. When Henry and Clare, all dressed up, meet the family for Christmas dinner, Alicia makes some hand gestures at Clare to warn her that their mother is a bit on the edge. "Watch out for Mama, she's messed up" (1.9.118). Clare learns from Alicia that her mother doesn't approve of Mark's choice of Sharon and that she has turned to drinking in her room. During dinner, the tension in the room is palpable. Everyone makes a toast. Henry toasts to the future.
- Henry ponders the fact that everyone in the family is navigating Lucille's mood, "buggering her, protecting her" (1.9.149). But when dessert comes, Lucille breaks down crying about Mark's bad choice of a bride. Aunt Dulcie reminds her that she married Philip for the same reasons, implying that those two got married just because she was pregnant. Her words shock Lucille into silence.
- After Clare and Etta put Lucille to bed, Henry asks her about her mother. She reveals to him that Lucille lost a baby and tried to commit suicide over it. Since then, she has been manic depressive. When Henry tells her that she's kept a lot of things about her family from him, she counters by saying that he hasn't even introduced her to his father yet. He says he will when he can "stand it."
- Clare and Henry witness an argument between Alicia and Philip Abshire over Lucille's behavior at dinner. Alicia calls her a wacko and Philip, of course, defends Lucille. Later, Alicia relates to them how their parents screamed at Mark after he told them about the baby and his decision to marry Sharon. Unfortunately, Alicia and Sharon overheard the whole thing in the next room. Alone with Clare, Alicia confides to her that Henry looks exactly like a guy she once saw stark-naked in the basement of the house, but when she returned with Mark that day, the stranger was gone.
- At night, the entire family is attending Catholic mass. Henry is supremely uncomfortable. The last time he attended a religious service was for his mother's death. A group of musicians, including Alicia on the cello, is playing "Silent Night." It sounds terribly dissonant and Henry realizes that it's because of Alicia. For fear he will time travel with this stress, Henry heads to the bathroom during the sermon. There, he prays that if there is a God, please let him stay. But pop! He's gone back in his apartment in Chicago, and pop! Shortly after, he's back in church where Clare has been anxiously waiting for him. On their way out, they meet two old school friends, Helen and Lauren. Helen remembers Henry. They invite the couple to come to a party the next night.
- Philip Abshire has scolded Alicia for her mistake during "Silent Night." She complains that he doesn't actually care about her. Henry argues that he does and that her troubled relationship with her father is nothing compared to the broken, hurtful relationship he has with his own father.
- Henry sneaks into Clare's room and they spend the night together. On Christmas morning, everyone seems to be in high spirits, but Henry notices that everyone is just playing "model family" again. He's relieved to leave with Clare to go to her school friend Laura's party. Nancy, one of Clare's friends, tells Henry that the story of how the Ouija board brought up his name as "Clare's husband." Clare tells Helen the half-truth that she has known Henry for a long time, but that she kept it a secret because he was so much older than her. Henry hangs out with two awkward punk teens, giving them suggestions on good music.
- On the drive home, Clare asks Henry if he would stop time traveling if he could and he says yes. At the same time Clare admits that she wouldn't want Henry to miss all the time they spent together in her childhood. The next morning, Henry and Clare return to Chicago.
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