Monthly Archives: September 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

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Skip the beginning. Start in the middle.
My education, my father liked to point out, was wider than it was deep. He said this often.
Every exchange contained a lesson, like the pit in a cherry. To this day, the Socratic method makes me want to bite someone.
The rest of us were frozen— forks halfway to our mouths, spoons dipped in our soups, the way people were found after the eruption of Vesuvius.
Nothing was ever said to me about the tampons. It was just blind luck I didn’t smoke them.
He didn’t shave, and he usually shaved twice a day; he had an exuberant beard. Grandma Donna used to say his four-o’clock shadow was just like Nixon’s, pretending that was a compliment but knowing it irritated the hell out of him.
Antagonism in my family comes wrapped in layers of code, sideways feints, full deniability.
Psychologists didn’t leave their work at the office. They brought it home. They conducted experiments around the breakfast table, made freak shows of their own families, and all to answer questions nice people wouldn’t even think to ask.
What have you learned? my father asked, and I didn’t have the words then, but, in retrospect, the lesson seemed to be that what you accomplish will never matter so much as where you fail.
About this same time, I made up a friend for myself. I gave her the half of my name I wasn’t using, the Mary part, and various bits of my personality I also didn’t immediately need. We spent a lot of time together, Mary and I, until the day I went off to school and Mother told me Mary couldn’t go. This was alarming. I felt I was being told I mustn’t be myself at school, not my whole self.
Fair warning, as it turned out— kindergarten is all about learning which parts of you are welcome at school and which are not.
We settled on a wintry silence.
A golden wedding anniversary. “Like having just one husband in your whole life is something to brag about,” she said.
Our parents, on the other hand, had shut their mouths and the rest of my childhood took place in that odd silence.
She was especially fond of dead people; Grandma Donna was a great reader of historical biographies and had a particular soft spot for the Tudors, where marital discord was an extreme sport.
Lowell smelled too, not bad, but sharp to my senses, because his smell had changed. At the time, I thought the difference was that he was so mad; I thought that it was anger I was smelling, but of course he was also growing up, losing the sweetness of childhood, beginning to sour.
The things I had to say would collect in my chest until they were so crowded together I was ready to burst.
Certainly Fern was hyperaware of any favoritism and responded to it with vigor and vinegar. Unfairness bothers chimps greatly.
Language is such an imprecise vehicle I sometimes wonder why we bother with it.
But sometimes Lowell and Kitch were on the bed together, fully clothed, but vigorously trying to occupy the same space anyway.
Voice full of nails.
Harlow blows through the door like a hurricane, if hurricanes were tall, sexy girls in blue T-shirts and angel-fish necklaces.
Her gray hair sprang from her head like a blown dandelion, only dented on one side.
You learn as much from failure as from success, Dad always says.
Though no one admires you for it.
My brother’s face across the table was more and more like our dad’s. They both had the lean and hungry look that Shakespeare found so dangerous.
My sister, Fern. In the whole wide world, my only red poker chip.
So friendly. Face like a shovel, flat and open. Big, open heart. The kind of woman he was born to disappoint.
Thomas More says that humans learn to be cruel to humans by first being cruel to animals.”
A man of action. A domestic terrorist. Every girl’s dream, if she can’t have a vampire.
Snap! Like the devil, he was gone.
No more drama major, everyone-look-at-me bullshit.
Grandma Fredericka was morphing from her faux-Asian period into full-blown Pottery Barn.
“WHERE YOU SUCCEED will never matter so much as where you fail,”

 

They need more surprises in their lives.