07 October 2008

Hallelujah, sister!

A new friend recommended The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls, to me on Thursday. I bought a copy of the book on Sunday. I have about five pages left to read, and I can't wait to talk about it. When I called my mother about it I said I would have been shocked if she hadn't read it; of course, she had, and had recommended it to me a while ago. My sister had read it too.

What a story, "of a girl growing up with extreme parents," as I just described it to a neighbor ("Were they really rich?" one of her sons asked. "No, in fact they were really poor -- and sort of chose to be," I said). The story is so plainly and beautifully told. I loved a couple of things best of all: Jeannette Walls' unerring instincts to do what was right and healthy for her (getting a job, encouraging her parents to do what parents are supposed to do, getting out from under her parents and going to New York as early as she possibly could). And I had a revelation when she described how proud she was of her brother when he graduated from the police academy and became a full-fledged officer while their father is saying he didn't know what he did wrong that his son was now part of the "Gestapo."

For me, that detail put so much in perspective. I saw how that wasn't about their father's world view; it was a symptom of his personality disorder. And it made me feel better about my own weirdly narcissistic, borderline father. It helped to think that those absurd words that have been rattling around in my head ever since he said them to me when I was proudly heading off to school at Berkeley ("I just can't support what you're doing with your life right now") weren't about his beliefs but about his own set of delusions. I knew it to some extent then but I really see now how his reaction didn't have anything to do with me or who I was. Like my mother said, there was no logic to it. In a sense, it wasn't "about" anything at all except the peculiarities of the brain of a man who had spent many years drinking and drugging himself into some kind of oblivion.

So thanks to everyone who led me to this book and these thoughts. I'm grateful to Jeannette Walls for believing in her own ideas of right and wrong, of health and illness. It makes me feel more compassionate for myself and everyone I know when I learn of others who have been able to rise above gnarly obstacles and choose healthy relationships, comfortable existences, stable places for themselves in the world, despite the lack of evidence during childhood that those things are possible.

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