Educated - by Tara Westover
Tara’s skillful use of vivid verbs stands out. I also greatly admire her bravery in distancing herself from abusive family members.
Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:
Behind me a gentle hill slopes upward and stitches itself to the mountain base.
Dad and his mother got along like two cats with their tails tied together. They could talk for a week and not agree about anything, but they were tethered by their devotion to the mountain.
the cold put an ache in his bones.
Mother did her makeup every morning, but if she didn’t have time she’d apologize all day, as if by not doing it, she had inconvenienced everyone.
She stopped wearing makeup, then she stopped apologizing for not wearing it.
“Don’t give them any more rope to hang me with than they already have.”
Mother often described herself as a pleaser: she said she couldn’t stop herself from speculating what people wanted her to be, and from contorting herself, compulsively, unwillingly, into whatever it was.
threw Dad an angry look
The word “slaughter” came to mind, because slaughter is the word for it, for a battle when one side mounts no defense.
There was never any more talk of a hospital. The moment for such a decision had passed, and to return to it would be to return to all the fury and fear of the accident itself.
“A man can’t make a living out of books and scraps of paper,” Dad said. “You’re going to be the head of a family. How can you support a wife and children with books?”
He leans forward, jaw set, eyes narrow, searching his son’s face for some sign of agreement, some crease of shared conviction. He doesn’t find it.
Learning in our family was entirely self-directed: you could learn anything you could teach yourself, after your work was done.
He learned algebra, which felt as natural to his mind as air to his lungs.
I was not to shout, not to hit anyone or tear through the kitchen at full speed.
Having returned to my father, I felt the power of his person. A familiar lens slid over my eyes and Grandma lost whatever strange power she’d had over me an hour before.
After the first she came home sickly and pale, as if bringing that life into the world had taken a measure of her own.
If I was skeptical, my skepticism was not entirely my fault. It was the result of my not being able to decide which of my mothers to trust.
- “People want a miracle,” she’d told me. “They’ll swallow anything if it brings them hope, if it lets them believe they’re getting better. But there’s no such thing as magic. Nutrition, exercise and a careful study of herbal properties, that’s all there is. But when they’re suffering, people can’t accept that.” ***
But when I sat down to study I nearly always fell asleep. The pages were glossy and soft, made softer by the hours I’d spent hauling scrap.
Perhaps he thought if he could just distract me for a few years, the danger would pass. So he made up jobs for me to do, whether they needed doing or not.
Richard would pull the book to his nose and read in the dark; he wanted to read that badly. He wanted to read the encyclopedia that badly.
The skill I was learning was a crucial one, the patience to read things I could not yet understand.
It pierced the inside of my leg, an inch below my knee, sliding into the tissue like a knife into warm butter.
trying to find a pitch that would pierce through the drone of the engine.
I was shaking, gulping mouthfuls of air that never made it to my lungs.
it was as if I thought the sound, and by thinking it brought it into being. But reality had never yielded to my thoughts before.
Sometimes he played the part of an agent or manager, correcting my technique or suggesting songs for my repertoire, even advising me about my health.
Before Christmas, we continued our preparations as if every action, every minor addition to our stores might make the difference between surviving, and not;
Nostalgia turned to fatigue.
He seemed smaller to me than he had that morning. The disappointment in his features was so childlike, for a moment I wondered how God could deny him this. He, a faithful servant, who suffered willingly just as Noah had willingly suffered to build the ark.
I thought things would get better when Shawn dumped Sadie—I suppose I’d convinced myself that it was her fault, the things he did, and that without her he would be different. After Sadie, he took up with an old girlfriend, Erin. She was older, less willing to play his games, and at first it seemed I was right, that he was doing better.
The only thing worse than being dragged through the house by my hair was Tyler’s having seen it. Given the choice between letting it play out, and having Tyler there to stop it, I’d have chosen to let it play out. Obviously I would have chosen that. I’d been close to passing out anyway, and then I could have forgotten about it. In a day or two it wouldn’t even have been real. It would become a bad dream, and in a month, a mere echo of a bad dream. But Tyler had seen it, had made it real.
that Shawn hated himself far more than I ever could.
Tyler seemed to read my thoughts. “You know Sister Sears?” he said. Sister Sears was the church choir director. “How do you think she knows how to lead a choir?” I’d always admired Sister Sears, and been jealous of her knowledge of music. I’d never thought about how she’d learned it. “She studied,” Tyler said. “Did you know you can get a degree in music? If you had one, you could give lessons, you could direct the church choir. Even Dad won’t argue with that, not much anyway.”
Dad had little formal education in mathematics but it was impossible to doubt his aptitude: somehow I knew that if I put the equation before my father, he would be able to solve it.
orienting his better ear toward them, rather than his eyes.
The next morning I found Mother mixing oils in the kitchen. “I’ve decided not to go to BYU,” I said. She looked up, fixing her eyes on the wall behind me, and whispered, “Don’t say that. I don’t want to hear that.” I didn’t understand. I’d thought she would be glad to see me yield to God. Her gaze shifted to me. I hadn’t felt its strength in years and I was stunned by it. “Of all my children,” she said, “you were the one I thought would burst out of here in a blaze. I didn’t expect it from Tyler—that was a surprise—but you. Don’t you stay. Go. Don’t let anything stop you from going.”
I woke up every morning at six to study—because it was easier to focus in the mornings, before I was worn out from scrapping. Although I was still fearful of God’s wrath, I reasoned with myself that my passing the ACT was so unlikely, it would take an act of God. And if God acted, then surely my going to school was His will. The ACT was composed of four sections: math, English, science and reading.
Something broke in me, a dam or a levee. I felt tossed about, unable to hold myself in place. I screamed but the screams were strangled; I was drowning. I had nowhere to go. I couldn’t afford to rent an apartment, and even if I could the only apartments for rent were in town. Then I’d need a car. I had only eight hundred dollars. I sputtered all this at Mother, then ran to my room and slammed the door.
“Are you trying to kill someone?” he said. “Because I got a gun in my truck that will make a lot less mess.” Dad couldn’t suppress his grin. I’d never seen him so enraptured.
Dad seemed to grow five inches. Shawn bent unsteadily and lifted a piece of heavy iron, then heaved it toward the Shear.
I’d never seen Shawn give way to Dad, not once, but he’d decided to lose this argument. He understood that if he didn’t submit, I surely would.
For several moments he stood still, letting the abuse wash over him, then he stepped into the pickup and drove off, leaving Dad to shout at the dust.
I remember the awe I felt as I watched that pickup roll down the dirt road. Shawn was the only person I had ever seen stand up to Dad, the only one whose force of mind, whose sheer tonnage of conviction, could make Dad give way. I had seen Dad lose his temper and shout at every one of my brothers. Shawn was the only one I ever saw walk away.
I applied to BYU a week later. I had no idea how to write the application, so Tyler wrote it for me. He said I’d been educated according to a rigorous program designed by my mother, who’d made sure I met all the requirements to graduate.
But whatever the outcome, I knew I would leave. I would go somewhere, even if it wasn’t to school. Home had changed the moment I’d taken Shawn to that hospital instead of to Mother. I had rejected some part of it; now it was rejecting me.
Mother hugged me. Dad tried to be cheerful. “It proves one thing at least,” he said. “Our home school is as good as any public education.”
So what if there were rotting peaches in the fridge and dirty dishes in the sink? So what if the smell slapped you in the face when you came through the door?
The atmosphere in the apartment was tense. Shannon looked at me like I was a rabid dog, and I did nothing to reassure her.
“Read the textbook” turned out to be excellent advice.
I wanted to punch the air, give Vanessa a high five. Then I remembered that she didn’t sit with me anymore.
“But if you don’t help, you can’t stay here. You’ll have to live somewhere else.”
The word and the way Shawn said it hadn’t changed; only my ears were different.
For as long as I could remember, whenever I was in pain, whether from a cut or a toothache, Mother would make a tincture of lobelia and skullcap. It had never lessened the pain, not one degree. Because of this, I had come to respect pain, even revere it, as necessary and untouchable. Twenty minutes after I swallowed the red pills, the earache was gone.
That night, after I left the bathroom, I stopped at the sink in the hall and washed my hands. With soap.
Charles said my behavior was self-destructive, that I had an almost pathological inability to ask for help. He told me this on the phone, and he said it so quietly it was almost a whisper.
I said it did. It was a long shot, but I was the queen of long shots.
We met one final time, in a field off the highway. Buck’s Peak loomed over us. He said he loved me but this was over his head. He couldn’t save me. Only I could. I had no idea what he was talking about.
I was worried: Dad’s expectations were so high, and Richard’s fear of disappointing him so intense, it seemed possible that Richard might not take the ACT at all.
Shawn knocks. I slide my journal under the pillow. His shoulders are rounded when he enters. He speaks quietly. It was a game, he says. He had no idea he’d hurt me until he saw me cradling my arm at the site. He checks the bones in my wrist, examines my ankle. He brings me ice wrapped in a dish towel and says that next time we’re having fun, I should tell him if something is wrong. He leaves. I return to my journal. Was it really fun and games? I write. Could he not tell he was hurting me? I don’t know. I just don’t know.
I write this until I believe it, which doesn’t take long because I want to believe it. It’s comforting to think the defect is mine, because that means it is under my power.
To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.
He talked and I sat, wordless as a brick.
It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you, I had written in my journal. But Shawn had more power over me than I could possibly have imagined. He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.
Besides, the pain had lessened: either the nerve had died or my brain had adjusted to its shocks.
Curiosity is a luxury reserved for the financially secure: my mind was absorbed with more immediate concerns, such as the exact balance of my bank account, who I owed how much, and whether there was anything in my room I could sell for ten or twenty dollars.
I wonder now if the day I set out to steal that tax return wasn’t the first time I left home to go to Buck’s Peak. That night I had entered my father’s house as an intruder. It was a shift in mental language, a surrendering of where I was from.
I began to experience the most powerful advantage of money: the ability to think of things besides money.
I was angry at myself for the slip, and didn’t let it happen again.
I swallowed the pills. Perhaps it was desperation because I felt so poorly, but I think the reason was more mundane: curiosity. There I was, in the heart of the Medical Establishment, and I wanted to see, at long last, what it was I had always been afraid of. Would my eyes bleed? My tongue fall out? Surely something awful would happen. I needed to know what.
I leaned back into my pillow and fell asleep almost instantly, but before I did I laughed out loud. She hadn’t sent any remedies for the strep or the mono. Only for the penicillin.
“It’s Dad,” she said. “If you hurry—leave right now—you can say goodbye.”
Mother tried to take him to the hospital, but between rasping breaths he whispered that he’d rather die than see a doctor. The authority of the man was such that she gave way.
The doctor said he would send a chopper that very minute but Mother said no. “Then I can’t help you,” the doctor said. “You’re going to kill him, and I want no part of it.”
Once, an hour before dawn, his breath left him and I was sure it was the end: he was dead and would not be raised. I rested my hand on a small patch of bandages while Audrey and Mother rushed around me, chanting and tapping.
“I’d like to hear more about them classes,” he rasped one morning near the end of the summer. “It sounds real interesting.” It felt like a new beginning.
could have surrendered the weight, let the relationship carry it and grow stronger. Instead I kept the burden for myself, and my friendship with Nick, already anemic, underfed and underused, dwindled in obsolescence.
I’d come to BYU to study music, so that one day I could direct a church choir. But that semester—the fall of my junior year—I didn’t enroll in a single music course. I couldn’t have explained why I dropped advanced music theory in favor of geography and comparative politics, or gave up sight-singing to take History of the Jews. But when I’d seen those courses in the catalog, and read their titles aloud, I had felt something infinite, and I wanted a taste of that infinity. For four months I attended lectures on geography and history and politics. I learned about Margaret Thatcher and the Thirty-Eighth Parallel and the Cultural Revolution; I learned about parliamentary politics and electoral systems around the world. I learned about the Jewish diaspora and the strange history of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. By the end of the semester the world felt big, and it was hard to imagine returning to the mountain, to a kitchen, or even to a piano in the room next to the kitchen.
I’d been wondering how I could be a woman and yet be drawn to unwomanly things.
I knocked on his office door quietly, as if I hoped he wouldn’t answer
I didn’t understand, so he repeated himself. “I could only help one student,” he said. “They have offered you a place, if you want it.”
A poorly written sentence was a poorly conceived idea, and in his view the grammatical logic was as much in need of correction. “Tell me,” he would say, “why have you placed this comma here? What relationship between these phrases are you hoping to establish?” When I gave my explanation sometimes he would say, “Quite right,” and other times he would correct me with lengthy explanations of syntax.
“I have been teaching in Cambridge for thirty years,” he said. “And this is one of the best essays I’ve read.”
I could tolerate any form of cruelty better than kindness. Praise was a poison to me; I choked on it. I wanted the professor to shout at me, wanted it so deeply I felt dizzy from the deprivation. The ugliness of me had to be given expression. If it was not expressed in his voice, I would need to express it in mine.
“You’ve made an impression on Professor Steinberg,” Dr. Kerry said, falling into step beside me. “I only hope he has made some impression on you.”
Dr. Kerry said he’d been watching me. “You act like someone who is impersonating someone else. And it’s as if you think your life depends on it.”
Dr. Kerry smiled. “You should trust Professor Steinberg. If he says you’re a scholar—‘pure gold,’ I heard him say—then you are.”
“You must stop yourself from thinking like that,” Dr. Kerry said, his voice raised. “You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Not in Cambridge. In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself—even gold appears dull in some lighting—but that is the illusion. And it always was.”
The church had ended the temporal practice of polygamy in 1890, but it had never recanted the doctrine. As a child I’d been taught—by my father but also in Sunday school—that in the fullness of time God would restore polygamy, and in the afterlife, I would be a plural wife. The number of my sister wives would depend on my husband’s righteousness: the more nobly he lived, the more wives he would be given.
I had never made my peace with it. As a girl I had often imagined myself in heaven, dressed in a white gown, standing in a pearly mist across from my husband. But when the camera zoomed out there were ten women standing behind us,
But in the end, Professor Steinberg had written such a powerful letter of recommendation that there was little left for me to do.
I was the third BYU student ever to win a Gates scholarship, and the university was taking full advantage of the press.
I said nothing. Dad took it as an apology.
After the ceremony I stood alone on the lawn, watching the other students with their families. Eventually I saw my parents. Mother hugged me. My friend Laura snapped two photos. One is of me and Mother, smiling our forced smiles; the other is of me wedged between my parents, looking squeezed, under pressure.
It was as if Dad wanted to give me until the last second to change my mind. We walked in silence.
“If you’re in America,” he’d whispered, “we can come for you. Wherever you are. I’ve got a thousand gallons of fuel buried in the field. I can fetch you when The End comes, bring you home, make you safe. But if you cross the ocean…”
“Wing it,” she said. “Distance is nothing to living energy. I can send the corrected energy to you from here.” “How fast does energy travel?” I asked. “At the speed of sound, or is it more like a jetliner? Does it fly direct, or will it have to lay over in Minneapolis?”
From what I could tell, Dad was on track to become the best-funded lunatic in the Mountain West.
unsure whether to be my father’s son or his wife’s husband.
The hours passed; it was late afternoon; and still she felt distant from me, still she refused to meet my gaze.
Her mouth hung open in a perfect circle.
It was the shock of it that I couldn’t shake. Somehow, it had never occurred to me that my sister might have lived my life before I did.
THAT TERM, I PRESENTED myself to the university like resin to a sculptor. I believed I could be remade, my mind recast. I forced myself to befriend other students, clumsily introducing myself again and again until I had a small circle of friends.
You were my child. I should have protected you.
My life in Cambridge was transformed—or rather, I was transformed into someone who believed she belonged in Cambridge.
It had come from those moments on the floor, from knowing that Mother was in the next room, closing her eyes and ears to me, and choosing, for that moment, not to be my mother at all.
“The least you could do,” Mother said, “is fill out these thank-you cards. It was your mother, after all.” “That’s wifely work,” Dad said. “I’ve never heard of a man writing cards.”
Eventually she tossed the cards on the table and said, “Fill them out or don’t. But if you don’t, no one will.” Then she marched downstairs.
The next morning I found Dad in the kitchen, dumping flour into a glue-like substance I assumed was supposed to be pancake batter. When he saw me, he dropped the flour and sat at the table. “You’re a woman, ain’tcha?” he said. “Well, this here’s a kitchen.” We stared at each other and I contemplated the distance that had sprung up between us—how natural those words sounded to his ears, how grating to mine.
He was the first boyfriend in whom I confided about my family—really confided, the truth and not just amusing anecdotes. Of course all that is in the past, I said. My family is different now. But you should know. So you can watch me. In case I do something crazy.
From that moment it was an interrogation. Every time I suggested that Shawn was violent or manipulative in any way, Dad shouted at me: “Where’s your proof? Do you have proof?” “I have journals,” I said. “Get them, I’m going to read them.”
Dad said I wouldn’t be happy until Shawn was rotting in prison, that I’d come back from Cambridge just to raise hell. I said I didn’t want Shawn in prison but that some type of intervention was needed.
And it was more than a year before I understood what should have been immediately apparent: that my mother had not confronted my father, and my father had not confronted Shawn. Dad had never promised to help me and Audrey. Mother had lied.
Then I wonder if perhaps my mother, who had always reflected so perfectly the will of my father, had that night merely been reflecting mine.
“I can’t decide,” he said. He paused, and I thought perhaps the connection had failed. “Whether I should kill you myself, or hire an assassin.” There was a static-filled silence. “It might be cheaper to hire someone, when you figure in the cost of the flight.”
Reality became fluid. The ground gave way beneath my feet, dragging me downward, spinning fast, like sand rushing through a hole in the bottom of the universe. The next time we spoke, Mother told me that the knife had never been meant as a threat. “Shawn was trying to make you more comfortable,” she said. “He knew you’d be scared if he were holding a knife, so he gave it to you.” A week later she said there had never been any knife at all. “Talking to you,” she said, “your reality is so warped. It’s like talking to someone who wasn’t even there.” I agreed. It was exactly like that.
Our father had testified to her that Shawn had been cleansed by the Atonement of Christ, that he was a new man. Dad had warned Audrey that if she ever again brought up the past, it would destroy our entire family. It was God’s will that Audrey and I forgive Shawn, Dad said. If we did not, ours would be the greater sin.
Audrey told Dad that she had accepted the power of the Atonement long ago, and had forgiven her brother. She said that I had provoked her, had stirred up anger in her. That I had betrayed her because I’d given myself over to fear, the realm of Satan, rather than walking in faith with God. I was dangerous, she said, because I was controlled by that fear, and by the Father of Fear, Lucifer.
The situation was perverse but not without irony: a few months before, Audrey had said that Shawn should be supervised around children. Now, after our efforts, the one who would be supervised was me.
WHEN I LOST MY SISTER, I lost my family. I knew my father would pay my brothers the same visit he’d paid her. Would they believe him? I thought they would. After all, Audrey would confirm it. My denials would be meaningless, the rantings of a stranger. I’d wandered too far, changed too much, bore too little resemblance to the scabby-kneed girl they remembered as their sister.
The change was repeated with every member of my family. My memories of them became ominous, indicting. The female child in them, who had been me, stopped being a child and became something else, something threatening and ruthless, something that would consume them.
Questioning these trivial facts, and my ability to grasp them, allowed me to doubt whether anything I remembered had happened at all.
Shawn was violent, dangerous, and my father was his protector. I couldn’t bear to hear any other opinion on the subject.
I saw your brother,” he would say, emphasizing this last word as if he were spitting on it,
I began to read—Hume, Rousseau, Smith, Godwin, Wollstonecraft and Mill. I lost myself in the world they had lived in, the problems they had tried to solve.
special obligations to kin against their obligations to society as a whole.
I told him about Shawn, how I’d lost him, how I was losing the rest of my family. He listened quietly, then let out a long sigh and said, “Have you ever thought maybe you should just let them go?” I hadn’t, not once. “It’s not permanent,” I said. “I can fix it.” “Funny how you can change so much,” Charles said, “but still sound the same as when we were seventeen.”
All I had to do was swap my memories for theirs, and I could have my family.
I closed my eyes and tried to believe that this simple act could bring the miracle my parents prayed for.
But I felt nothing. Just cold rock.
His faith was no longer a faith, he said, but a perfect knowledge.
I searched myself, reaching deep, groping for the words he needed to hear. But they were not in me, not yet.
“I didn’t need to have it tested,” she said. “I muscle-tested it. It was cancer. I cured it.”
“I will offer, one final time, to give you a blessing,” he said.
Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind.
What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon: it was me.
I STOPPED GOING TO my French group, then to my sketching class. Instead of reading in the library or attending lectures, I watched TV in my room, working my way through every popular series from the past two decades. When one episode ended, I would begin the next without thinking, the way one breath follows another. I watched TV eighteen or twenty hours a day. When I slept I dreamed of home, and at least once a week I awoke standing in the street in the middle of the night, wondering if it was my own cry that I’d heard just before waking. I did not study. I tried to read but the sentences meant nothing. I needed them to mean nothing. I couldn’t bear to string sentences into strands of thought, or to weave those strands into ideas. Ideas were too similar to reflection, and my reflections were always of the expression on my father’s stretched face the moment before he’d fled from me.
Mother was sliding biscuits into the oven when I entered the kitchen. I looked around, mentally searching the house. What do I need from this place? There was only one thing: my memories. I found them under my bed, in a box, where I had left them. I carried them to the car and put them in the backseat.
Soon after, I sent a letter to my father. I’m not proud of that letter. It’s full of rage, a fractious child screaming, “I hate you” at a parent. It’s filled with words like “thug” and “tyrant,” and it goes on for pages, a torrent of frustration and abuse.
cutting off contact with them
My mother begged me to find another way. My father said nothing.
“The PhD is exceptionally demanding,” he said. “It’s okay if you can’t do it.”
Our parents are held down by chains of abuse, manipulation, and control….They see change as dangerous and will exile anyone who asks for it. This is a perverted idea of family loyalty….They claim faith, but this is not what the gospel teaches. Keep safe. We love you.
The counseling did nothing at first—I can’t think of a single session I would describe as “helpful”—but their collective power over time was undeniable. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now, but there was something nourishing in setting aside that time each week, in the act of admitting that I needed something I could not provide for myself.
WINTER WAS LONG THAT YEAR, the dreariness punctuated only by my weekly counseling sessions and the odd sense of loss, almost bereavement, I felt whenever I finished one TV series and had to find another.
Then it was spring, then summer, and finally as summer turned to fall, I found I could read with focus. I could hold thoughts in my head besides anger and self-accusation. I returned to the chapter I had written nearly two years before at Harvard. Again I read Hume, Rousseau, Smith, Godwin, Wollstonecraft and Mill. Again I thought about the family. There was a puzzle in it, something unresolved. What is a person to do, I asked, when their obligations to their family conflict with other obligations—to friends, to society, to themselves?
Instead, it treated the Mormon ideology as a chapter in the larger human story.
I sent Dr. Runciman the draft, and a few days later we met in his office. He sat across from me and, with a look of astonishment, said it was good. “Some parts of it are very good,” he said. He was smiling now. “I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t earn a doctorate.”
Who writes history? I thought. I do.
I had built a new life, and it was a happy one, but I felt a sense of loss that went beyond family. I had lost Buck’s Peak, not by leaving but by leaving silently. I had retreated, fled across an ocean and allowed my father to tell my story for me, to define me to everyone I had ever known. I had conceded too much ground—not just the mountain, but the entire province of our shared history.
But seeing her now, standing watch over her fields and pastures, I realized that I had misunderstood her. She was not angry with me for leaving, because leaving was a part of her cycle. Her role was not to corral the buffalo, not to gather and confine them by force. It was to celebrate their return.
The past, she wrote, whatever it was, ought to be shoveled fifty feet under and left to rot in the earth.
I would set eyes on my home.
“I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “I’ll forget everything my dad has said about you, if you’ll forget everything he’s said about me.” She laughed, closing her eyes and throwing back her head in a way that nearly broke my heart, she looked so much like my mother.
I’d been looking at her through my father’s harsh lens.
Audrey and Benjamin chose a bench near the back. Audrey had arrived early, when the chapel was empty. She had grabbed my arm and whispered that my refusing to see our father was a grave sin. “He is a great man,” she said. “For the rest of your life you will regret not humbling yourself and following his counsel.” These were the first words my sister had said to me in years, and I had no response to them.
Now I thought about it, I realized that all my siblings, except Richard and Tyler, were economically dependent on my parents. My family was splitting down the middle—the three who had left the mountain, and the four who had stayed. The three with doctorates, and the four without high school diplomas. A chasm had appeared, and was growing.
For a moment it seemed pointless, this annual pilgrimage to a home that continued to reject me, and I wondered if I should go. Then I received another message, this one from Aunt Angie. She said Grandpa had canceled his plans for the next day, and was refusing even to go to the temple, as he usually did on Wednesdays, because he wanted to be at home in case I came by. To this Angie added: I get to see you in about twelve hours! But who’s counting?
Guilt is the fear of one’s own wretchedness. It has nothing to do with other people.
But what has come between me and my father is more than time or distance. It is a change in the self. I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her.
You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.
- I call it an education.