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Book & Movie Club - One Day

There are those who come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. For Dexter Mayhew, Emma Morley was all three.

And for me, One Day has been a tearful examination of my human heart as a book (which I read in one day and is the only novel to ever make me cry), a movie (which I also cried in) and now a limited run series on Netflix.

One Day tells the story of Dexter and Emma who nearly hook up on graduation night. Dexter is the class bicycle - everyone has hooked up with him at some point. Emma has her sights on becoming a fascinating grownup. She decides against becoming another anonymous hookup and wants to get to know Dexter instead.

This decision launches a years-long courtship where the two star-crossed lovers become the adults the other person needs them to be. They find each other in their 30s. Marry. Decide to have children. Struggle with fertility. And in on one fatal day, just when you think they have their happy ending, Emma unexpectedly dies after getting hit by a car.

The book, film and TV show follow the same format where we see Dexter and Emma on the same day, July 15, every year of their relationship. And then we continue with Dexter on that day as he grieves the loss of his biggest love.

It’s brilliant and moving and everything you want in a love story.

I fully expected to cry after that scene in the TV series. I didn’t expect to cry in nearly every episode, especially following Dexter’s arc as he struggles with fame. 

See, Dexter was born with all the good luck in the world: good looking, charming, born wealthy. The story is set in the UK, so he’s “posh” and everything that involves. Success happens. He’s never had to work for anything or doubt himself.

Naturally he lands an early career as a TV presenter for youth-focused programming in the 1990’s.

Success and celebrity come easily to him. Big feelings do not. 

This conflict plays out artfully in Episode 5, when Dexter visits his mother who is dying of cancer. Dexter is not dealing with this in a healthy way. He’s numbing himself with alcohol, drugs, one-night-stands. The very same culture his TV career also exploits.

He arrives at his parents house, three hours late. Still high from last night’s coke binge. His mother, frail and accepting her time is nearly over, can barely summon the strength to parent this young adult trainwreck.

She scolds him for being three hours late. Then informs him she needs a nap and asks for help getting out of her chair.

Dexter looks to the house, hoping to summon someone to help. Then he takes her arm, lifts her out of the chair. He carries her up the stairs, helps her into bed. Then raids her bathroom cabinet, finds some Valium, and downs a bottle of champagne.

Passed out in his childhood bedroom, his mother yells for him to wake up. She informs he’s missed two meals now and then lays into him.

He was born with so many gifts and now he’s wasting them on a fruitless career. He’s host of a late-night show, Britain’s Ugliest Girlfriend, which even he dismisses as post-pub silliness. 

His only defense? He’s a celebrity. But mum isn’t having it. Her dying wish is for Dexter to stop the nonsense and do something useful with his life.

The parenting doesn’t stop here. His father refuses to let Dexter drive drunk back to London. Dexter is driven to the train station where he gets even more parental tough love.

Dexter is forbidden from showing up to their home drunk ever again. His father accuses Dexter of not being there for his mother.

“But I carried her up the stairs,” he says through tears.

This moment did not reach me when I read the book. I don’t think it even shows up as a scene in the movie. But in the show? It haunted me.

His father gives a look of disgust and storms off. At first it looks like parental neglect. Then it dawns on you.

He carries his wife up the stairs everyday. Multiple times a day. Of course he’s not going to congratulate Dexter for doing this once.

Dexter is numbing his fear of losing his mother with booze, drugs, and his own celebrity. He’s confusing the love from an anonymous audience with what he’s terrified of losing - the love of his mother.

The truth is what goes unsaid in the car at the train station. We are not put on this earth to be one thing to everyone. We are put on this earth to be everything to the one person who needs it most. 

To be there so consistently and honestly that the act of carrying a dying woman up the stairs isn’t remarkable. It’s what you do.


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