Jeanette writes that when she began writing Why Be Happy, she had “no idea how it would turn out”—she was writing in real time as she was “discovering the future” and attempting to reconnect with her birth mother.
Jeanette, as skilled a storyteller as she is, is still unable to see how the threads of her own life will come together sometimes. The story of Why Be Happy was one being written in real time—Jeanette was aware that it would be a story in its own right, but didn’t know what the outcome or lesson would be.
Jeanette still doesn’t know how she feels about having found Ann. She says that “the TV-style reunions and pink mists of happiness” that often surround adoption stories are unrealistic, and that every adopted child who finds their birth family will react differently.
Jeanette makes an important statement about unrealistic expectations of adoption stories—and reunion stories— by admitting that she is still uncertain about her own.
Jeanette describes having met Ann for a second time in Manchester, one-on-one. At their lunch, Ann reveals that Jeanette’s father had wanted to keep her, but had been living in awful conditions. At the time of Jeanette’s birth, Ann had worked in a factory making overcoats, and her boss at the factory had helped her find a mother and baby home. Ann’s memories are imperfect, and Jeanette notes that “memory loss is one way of coping with damage.”
As Jeanette begins to understand Ann’s whole story, she is able to see that Ann never wanted to abandon her, but was working through and trying to minimize “damage” of her own.
Jeanette believes that Ann would like her to “let [Ann] be [her] mother,” but Jeanette does not feel that having rediscovered Ann means she has an “instant family.” Jeanette is “warm but wary,” while Ann blames herself—and Mrs. Winterson—for Jeanette’s terrible upbringing. Jeanette actually believes herself “lucky,” and is grateful for her life, but is afraid that this will “undervalue” Ann’s feelings.
Jeanette is full of complicated feelings about her adoption, her childhood, and her rediscovery of Ann. Unable to receive feelings of instant gratification from her new “family” after years of trauma at the hands of her own, she lingers in an in-between space in which she contemplates how “lucky” she has actually been in the larger scheme of things.
Jeanette struggles with the fact that Ann is her mother, but “also someone [she doesn’t] know at all.” Jeanette does not feel any particularly strong emotional connection to Ann. Jeanette attempts to “respect [her] own complexity,” and accept the fact that she might never feel “right”—always caught between two worlds, and two mothers.
There is no instant connection between Ann and Jeanette, and Jeanette tries to allow herself to feel whatever she needs to feel without telling herself that her reaction to any situation is wrong (echoing Gertrude Stein’s quote about the road in Chapter 9). Jeanette accepts that perhaps the answer to her feelings will never be an easy or straightforward one.
Ann comes to London, a move that Jeanette describes as a “mistake.” The two fight, and lament the lack of love in both their lives. Jeanette reflects on the difficulties and possibilities of love itself—the point at which “everything starts [and to which] we always return.” Jeanette proclaims that she has “no idea what happens next.”
Jeanette ends the book on a note of cautious hope—just as when she left her home at the age of sixteen, she is uncertain of what comes next, but knows that she has a better foundation for the loving relationships in her life than she had then.