People Like That Are the Only People Here

by Marie Lorena Moore

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Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Suffering

One theme in the short story "People Like That Are the Only People Here" is the incomprehensible nature of the suffering of innocent children. When her baby is diagnosed with kidney cancer, "the Mother" finds herself in a world swirling in confusing contradictions. Doctors try to comfort her with words like "they just don't experience pain the way we do." The pediatric oncology section of the hospital overflows with little boys with bald heads. Parents try to comfort each other with stories of all they have endured: amputations, blood poisonings, learning delays, dental difficulties. Yet they keep pressing on with resolute strength.

The Mother also notes another mother who hasn't pressed on; instead, the pain was too much, and she has left her husband, remarried, and had another child. The Mother becomes close with this little boy's father. Joey, his son, has endured suffering for almost five years, and his father says, "Things are coming to a close . . . this is the end." He is resolute both in caring for his son and in helping Joey with his physical needs for as long as he lives.

The images of children suffering horrific diagnoses is compelling in the subtle way the narrator conveys the information, almost detached from the scenes that tumble one after another. Perhaps, the text implies, this is parents' means of survival when facing their children's cancer: an ability to detach oneself from the emotions of the moment in order to make one medical decision after another, life tumbling over itself.

Parents' Strength

Throughout the story, the Mother probes and illustrates the strength a parent needs in order to help her child through great physical pain. The Mother questions this strength early on:

From where will her own strength come? Prom some philosophy? From some frigid little philosophy? She is neither stalwart nor realistic and has trouble with basic concepts, such as the one that says events move in one direction only and do not jump up, turn around, and take
themselves back.

However, she is the one who volunteers to go back with her son for surgery and attempts to calm him through the process, which turns out to be horrifically different from the video she was shown. She has the needed conversations about which types of chemotherapy the doctors plan to give her son. When her son emerges from surgery, she whispers encouragement to him:

We gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do. We gotta get out of this place . . . there's a better life for me and you.

Although doubt creeps into the Mother's innermost thoughts at times, she consistently rises above the fear and meets the needs of her son in devoted resolution.

Detachment

In the end, Moore illustrates the necessity of detaching somewhat from other people's suffering in order to endure one's own. After remaining in the hospital with other parents whose children are enduring impossibly difficult diagnoses and trials, the Mother and her husband are allowed to return home with their child and without chemotherapy. He notes,

All these nice people and their brave stories. . . . Don't you feel consoled, knowing we're all in the same boat, that we're all in this together?

In reality, the Mother does not submit to this convenient adage. She considers this a "nightmare boat" and internally questions who would ever want to get into such a boat. As she leaves the hospital in the elevator, the same way that each parent must leave—regardless of how their child's fate plays out—she notes that she never wants to see any of those people again. Her child is a survivor and is allowed to leave, but she emotionally detaches herself from the suffering of all the other parents and children in order to move forward in caring for her own son.

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