It wasn’t until I went to boarding school for the second time that I learned that survival is a matter of actively making the system work for you rather than attempting merely to survive it.
I learned that the greatest camouflage of all is consistency. If you do something often enough and at the same time and in the same way, you become invisible. One of the shadows. Every recidivist knows this. In prison, to be successful, plans have to be laid long term. Habits have to be established little by little, each day or week or month or even year, a minute progression towards the ultimate goal. When a routine is finally set, authorities no longer see it for what it is, a deception; but accept it for what it isn’t: an authorised routine. The prisoner enjoys the advantage over his keeper of continuity.
She will always be this to them now: at best the girl who got raped, at worst the girl who lied. They will never let her be anyone but that. In every room, on every street, in the supermarket and at the rink, she will walk in like an explosive device. They will be scared to touch her, even the ones who believe her, because they don’t want to risk getting hit by shrapnel when she detonates.
The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil.
A team is waiting in a locker room, sticks in hand, waiting for a game to start. A little brother is waiting on a bench with a phone in his lap, waiting to see what his friends will write about his sister on the Internet when they find out what’s happened. A law firm gets a call from a wealthy client, and at another law firm a mother starts a war. The girl goes on playing her guitar until her best friend falls asleep, and in the doorway stands a father, thinking that the girls will survive this. They’ll be able to deal with it. That’s what he’s afraid of. That that’s what’s going to make the rest of the world go on thinking that everything is ok.
There will be days when Maya is asked if she really understood the consequences of going to the police and telling the truth. She will nod. Sometimes she will believe that she was actually the only person who did understand. Much later, in ten years’ time, she will think that the biggest problem here was actually that she wasn’t as shocked as all the adults were. They were more innocent than she was. She was fifteen and had access to the Internet; she already knew that the world is a cruel place if you’re a girl. Her parents couldn’t imagine that this could happen, but Maya simply hadn’t expected it to happen to her.
Peter and Kira wake up happy. Laughing. That’s what they will remember about this day, and they will hate themselves for it. The very worst events in life have that effect on a family: we always remember, more sharply than anything else, the last happy moment before everything fell apart. The second before the crash, the ice-cream at the gas station just before the accident, the last swim on holiday before we came home and received the diagnosis. Our memories always force us back to those very best moments, night after night, prompting the questions: “Could I have done anything differently? Why did I just go around being happy? If only I’d known what was going to happen, could I have stopped it?”
The storm of laughter from all the juniors makes the room shake. In the end even David smiles, and he’ll think back to that moment many times afterward: whether a joke is always only a joke, whether that particular one went too far, whether there are different rules inside and outside a locker room, whether it’s acceptable to cross the line in order to defuse tension and get rid of nerves before a game, or if he should have stopped Lars and intervened by saying something to the guys. But he does nothing. Just lets them all laugh. He’ll think about that when he gets home and looks his girlfriend in the eye.
Being a parent makes you feel like a blanket that’s always too small. No matter how hard you try to cover everyone, there’s always someone who’s freezing.
What has Aaron heard about me? What have they been telling him? There is that feeling when your own story is out of your hands. someone else is making you up behind your back, and it gives you a shiver of
This little island that I’d built for myself, this family that had seemed so safe and stable, was dissipating beneath my feet. I watched as Aaron forked noodles into his mouth, and they were yellow like warning signs on a construction site. I felt a gaze pressing on my back.
I nodded. We walked through these steps nearly every time we went over his “case,” and sometimes he repeated himself almost word for word. It was like a zoo animal circling in a cage, thinking that this time he was going to find an opening.
Come now, they always said, and then you arrived to find two people waiting to get micro braids and still the owner would tell you “Wait, my sister is coming to help.”
To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.
You know what you learn when you study the legal system? Poor people pass down damage the way rich people pass down an inheritance.
It was the sort of view that might command a slight premium during gentler, more prosperous times, but would be most undesirable in times of conflict, when it would be squarely in the path of heavy machine-gun and rocket fire as fighters advanced into this part of town: a view like staring down the barrel of a rifle. Location, location, location, the realtors say. Geography is destiny, respond the historians.
It never occurred to him that she might have been exaggerating, that the grief she felt over losing her mother had distorted her vision, that she had pushed away her stepmother without giving her a chance, turning her into an enemy for no other reason than the fact that she was not her mother and never would be, that her overworked father was doing the best he could for his enraged and obstinate daughter, that there was, as there always is, another side to the story. Adolescence feeds on drama, it is most happy when living in extremis, and Ferguson was no less vulnerable to the lure of high emotion and extravagant unreason than any other boy his age, which meant that the appeal of a girl like Anne-Marie was fueled precisely by her unhappiness, and the greater storms she engulfed him in, the more intensely he wanted her.
His mother looked agitated, more confused and distraught than Ferguson had ever seen her, no longer acting as the rock of composure and wisdom he had always thought she was but someone just like himself, a fragile being prey to sadness and tears and hopelessness, and when she put her arms around him he felt frightened, not just because his mother’s store had burned down and there would be no more money for them to live on, which meant they would have to move to the poorhouse and subsist on porridge and dried-out pieces of bread for the rest of their days, no, that was bad enough, but the truly frightening thing was to learn that his mother was no stronger than he was, that the blows of the world hurt her just as much as they hurt him and that except for the fact that she was older, there was no difference between them.
The driver of the ambulette brings in a wheelchair.
Mother lets herself be placed without a murmur,
as though this happened every day.
Amazed, we suddenly remember how to breathe.
I fetch her doctor’s order:
“DNR — Do Not Resuscitate”
off the kitchen wall.
My hand bursts into flame.
But that was the point—that was what gave her diary the power to make the nightmare real. To expect the great callous and indifferent world to care about the child of a pious, bearded father living under the sway of the rabbis and the rituals—that was pure folly. To the ordinary person with no great gift for tolerating even the smallest of differences the plight of that family wouldn’t mean a thing. To ordinary people it probably would seem that they had invited disaster by stubbornly repudiating everything modern and European—not to say Christian. But the family of Otto Frank, that would be another matter! How could even the most obtuse of the ordinary ignore what had been done to the Jews just for being Jews, how could even the most benighted of the Gentiles fail to get the idea when they read Het Achterhuis that once a year the Franks sang a harmless chanukah song, said some Hebrew words, lighted some candles, exchanged some presents—a ceremony lasting about ten minutes—and that was all it took to make them the enemy.
Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly. Philadelphia had the musty scent of history. New Haven smelled of neglect. Baltimore smelled of brine, and Brooklyn of sun-warmed garbage. But Princeton had no smell. She liked taking deep breaths here. She liked watching the locals who drove with pointed courtesy and parked their latest-model cars outside the organic grocery store on Nassau Street or outside the sushi restaurants or outside the icecream shop that had fifty different flavors including red pepper or outside the post office where effusive staff bounded out to greet them at the entrance. She liked the campus, grave with knowledge, the Gothic buildings with their vine-laced walls, and the way everything transformed, in the half-light of night, into a ghostly scene. She liked, most of all, that in this place of affluent ease, she could pretend to be someone else, someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club, someone adorned with certainty.
Her fears that the break-up of her marriage to Charles might portend a life of solitary, uninvited, ostracized, divorced neglect had not of course been fulfilled, but neither had they been wholly without foundation.
He also tried to write the great pedestrian realistic working-class novel of the 1970s and 1980s, but he had moved to London, married a middle-class wife, and acquired too good an education to write what he wanted, as he wanted.
She knew that despite their fondness for her, they were sure to find something almost satisfactory in watching her plunge and flounder and skitter off course — a plunging and floundering and skittering that their sharp, informed eyes could clearly detect, behind the confident public progress, the illusion of purpose, of direction. They knew quite well that Liz had lost purpose (momentarily, permanently, who could tell) and they were not wholly displeased. She had been too confident, too knowing, too rich: she had assumed privileges, she had lived in her own charmed world, had despised those who had been less certain, less secure. Let her taste confusion.
“Cousin!” said Ardashir, with a friendly grimace at the sight of Samad’s body curling cautiously around the door. He knew that Samad had come to inquire about a pay increase, and he wanted his cousin to feel that he had at least considered the case in all his friendly judiciousness before he declined.
Strangely, Daria was the final pulse of thought that passed through Archie just before he blacked out. It was the thought of a whore he met once twenty years ago, it was Daria and her smile that made him cover Mo’s apron with tears of joy as the butcher saved his life. He had seen her in his mind: a beautiful woman in a doorway with a come-hither look; and he realized he regretted not coming hither. If there was any chance of ever seeing a look like that again, then he wanted the second chance, he wanted the extra time.
I think revenge must be good. The Greeks knew—how blood calls out for blood. I think it must be inborn, in our genes, the instinct for ‘justice’. The need to restore balance.
A cruel counterthought mocked No, you’re just afraid of what you might discover.
In a flash it came to her: of course she’d known something had been wrong with her daughter, these past few days. Something not-right. Since Sunday. Since the telephone call. A mother always knows, can’t not know. But Corinne had been so busy, hadn’t gotten around to investigating. And hadn’t she always been proud she wasn’t the kind of mother to “investigate”—on principle. I want my children to trust me. To think of me as an equal.
Grace, in this family setting, was the tolerated outsider whose slightest false move would change her to the enemy; the seeds of enmity had been planted with her arrival as Michael’s unofficial wife but the rain- and sun-making forces necessary for their growth had been imprisoned within the seasonless weatherless world of the parents’ love for or indulgence of their son.
In the relentless morning sun Josie drove, exhausted and angry and tired of watching the bottle break across her face, but knowing she deserved it. What kind of person takes it from behind in a trailer park, with her children sleeping mere feet away?
“Dishes stacked in the sink…” Carl now said—he seemed to have given up the pretense of the key—and he made a tsk sound, like some grandmother from the fifties. And why are the dishes in the sink the universal emblem of domestic squalor and parental failure? Is it the stacking? Dishes shouldn’t be stacked—was that the conclusion? Or is it that they’re in the sink? It’s okay that they’re stacked, but not in the sink? Should they be stacked elsewhere? In a closet, on the bed?
These were the breed of people who had overtaken Josie’s town, had overtaken the kids’ school. No one seemed to work; everyone had matching lycra and found time to be at every one of the three or four hundred yearly events at school. How could someone like Josie have a job, be a mother, and yet not be a failure, a pariah, at this average school in this average town?
We drew out in the tick of time, I can vouch for that.
I quite agree, we are better here, in the shadow of the waiting room.
What terrible thing has happened?
Do not flatter yourselves for one moment, because I hold aloof, that my sufferings have ceased.
I am sorry for all this randam.
That is a nice way to treat your defenceless subordinates, hitting them without warning in the pitt of the stomach.
Are we very late? I have not the courage to look at my watch.
If I could believe (as convention tells us) that character is destiny and the past prologue et cetera, I might begin the story of what happened to Elena McMahon during the summer of 1984 at some earlier point.
Opinions vary as to whether the doorkeeper intends the announcement that he is going to shut the gate merely as an answer, or to emphasize his devotion to duty, or because he wants to arouse remorse and sorrow in the man at the last moment.
K. knew clearly now that it was his duty to seize the knife as it floated from hand to hand above him and plunge it into himself. But he didn’t do so.
I noticed how people played at being executives while actually holding executive positions… You maintain a shifting distance between yourself and your job. There’s a sort of self-conscious space, a sense of formal play that is a sort of arrested panic, and maybe you show it in a forced gesture or a ritual clearing of the throat… but it’s not that you’re pretending to be someone else. You’re pretending to be exactly who you are.