My sister recommended that I read The Glass Castle. “It’s the book you’d write about our childhood,” she said, and then explained how the father reminded her of a more harmless version of our dad. “He draws you in,” she said. “He has this whole fantasy world, and he convinces everyone that it’s true.” She said that it was weird reading it, because she knew that most people would think that the story was so out there, but she found it close to home. Familiar.
I finished the book, but my impression is vastly different from hers. It was familiar, all right. I was angry the whole time – angry at parents who don’t make their children’s welfare a priority, angry at a father who would use his daughter to make money, angry at a mother who thinks she’s entitled to whatever small happiness catches her fancy no matter what the cost. And then I realized that my sister sees it as almost a fairy tale, and that she sees our childhood that way too.
It wasn’t the memoir I’d write. It was the memoir she’d write. We’d all be larger than life, and brighter – the king father, the exiled queen mother, we two princesses and our baby brother the prince. Our castle would not be made of glass, but it would be just as fragile.
I don’t see anything romantic about going hungry, or cowering in our rooms while our father raged about some stupid slight, or laying awake at night wondering how we were going to pay our rent. I never thought that running out of propane and having to wash my hair in cold water was an adventure. I hated waking up before dawn every weekend and loading up the car so that we could spend the day at the flea market, desperately hoping to make a sale so that we’d be able to eat that night. But then, I’m a pessimist. It’s easy for me to see the worst in everything, just like, for my sister, it’s easy to see the best.
We’ve taken our childhood experiences and run with them in dramatically different directions. She’s tight with her money; I spend as though there’s no tomorrow. We both sort of micromanage our lives, but I do it a lot more internally. She works 40+ hour weeks and rarely takes time off (but she loves her job); I’m following some silly dream to become a graphic artist. But it’s easy to see how similar our motivations are. We’re both reacting to the same stimulus.
Maybe if you put both of us together, the optimism and pessimism would cancel each other out and we’d have something close to the truth. But who needs truth? I’d much rather be a fairy princess.