Authors: Stephen Chbosky
Tags: #Social Issues, #Emotions & Feelings, #Epistolary fiction, #High school students, #Juvenile Fiction, #Bildungsromans, #Diary novels, #Coming of Age, #Homosexuality, #Epistolary novels, #Friendship, #School & Education, #Death & Dying, #Adolescence
"Oooo. Big words." My sister rolls her eyes better than anyone.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Was anyone talking to you? I happen to be telling my younger brother about my girlfr.
Kelly says that she hopes a good Democratic candidate will challenge George Bush. Kelly says that her hope is that the E.R.A. might finally pass if that happens. That's right. The E.R.A. that you always squawk about. Even cheerleaders think about those things. And they can actually have fun in the meantime."
My sister folded her arms in front of her and started whistling. My brother was too much on a roll to stop, though. I noticed that my dad's neck was getting very red.
"But there's another difference between you and her. You see ... Kelly believes in women's rights so much that she would never let a guy hit her. I guess I can't say that about you."
I swear to God, we almost died. My dad hit those brakes so hard that my brother almost flew over the seat. When the smell from the tires started to fade, my dad took a deep breath and turned around.
First, he turned to my brother. He didn't say a word. He just stared.
My brother looked at my dad like a deer caught by my cousins. After a long two seconds, my brother turned to my sister. I think he felt bad about it because of how the words came out.
"I'm sorry. Okay? I mean it. Can'mon. Stop crying."
My sister was crying so hard, it was scary. Then, my dad turned to my sister. Again, he didn't say a word. He just snapped his fingers to distract her from crying. She looked at him. She was confused at first because he wasn't giving her a warm look. But then, she looked down and shrugged and turned to my brother.
"I'm sorry I said what I said about Kelly. She sounds nice."
Then, my dad turned to my mom. And my mom turned to us.
"Your father and I don't want any more fighting. Especially in the family's house. Understood?"
My mom and dad make a real team sometimes. It's amazing to watch. My brother and sister both nodded and looked down. Then, my dad turned to me.
It is important to say "sir" at these moments. And if they ever call you by your first-middle-last name, you better watch out. I'm telling you.
"Charlie, I would like you to drive the rest of the way to my mother's house."
Everyone in the car knew that this was probably the worst idea my dad ever had in his whole life. But no one argued. He got out of the car in the middle of the road. He got in the backseat between my brother and sister. I climbed in the front seat, stalled the car twice, and put on my seat belt. I drove the rest of the way. I haven't sweat that much since I played sports, and it was cold out.
My dad's family is kind of like my mom's family. My brother once said it was like the same cousins with different names. The big difference is my grandma. I love my grandma. Everyone loves my grandma.
She was waiting for us in the driveway as she always did. She always knew when someone was coming.
"Is Charlie driving now?"
"He turned sixteen yesterday."
My grandma is very old, and she doesn't remember things a lot, but she bakes the most delicious cookies. When I was very little, we had my mom's mom, who always had candy, and my dad's mom, who always had cookies. My mom told me that when I was little, I called them "Candy Grandma" and
"Cookies Grandma." I also called pizza crust "pizza bones." I don't know why I'm telling you this.
It's like my very first memory, which I guess is the first time I was aware that I was alive. My mom and my Aunt Helen took me to the zoo. I think I was three. I don't remember that part. Anyway, we were watching these two cows. A mother cow and its baby calf. And they didn't have a lot of room to walk around. Anyway, the baby calf was standing right underneath its mother, just kind of walking around, and the mother cow took a "dump" on the baby calf's head. I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen in the whole world, and I laughed about it for three hours. At first, my mom and Aunt Helen kind of laughed, too, because they were happy that I was laughing. Supposedly, I didn't talk hardly at all when I was a little kid, and whenever I seemed normal, they were happy. But into the third hour, they were trying to make me stop laughing, but it only made me laugh harder. I don't think it was really three hours, but it seemed like a long time. I still think about it every now and then. It seems like a rather
After hugs and handshakes, we went into my grandma's house, and the whole dad-side-of-the-family was there. Great Uncle Phil with his fake teeth and my aunt Rebecca, who is my dad's sister. Mom told us that Aunt Rebecca just got divorced again, so we shouldn't mention anything. All I could think about was the cookies, but Grandma didn't make them this year because of her bad hip.
We all sat down and watched television instead, and my cousins and my brother talked about football. And my Great Uncle Phil drank. And we ate dinner. And I had to sit at the little kids' table because there are more cousins on my dad's side of the family.
Little kids talk about the strangest things. They really do.
After dinner is when we watched
It's a Wonderful Life,
and I started feeling more and more sad. As I was walking up the stairs to my dad's old room, and I was looking at the old photographs, I started thinking that there was a time when these weren't memories. That someone actually took that photograph, and the people in the photograph had just eaten lunch or something.
My grandma's first husband died in Korea. My dad and my aunt Rebecca were very young. And my grandma moved with her two kids to live with her brother, my great uncle Phil.
Finally, after a few years, my grandma was feeling very sad because she had these two little kids, and she was tired from waitressing all the time. So, one day, she was working at this diner where she worked, and this truck driver asked her on a date. My grandma was very very pretty in that old photograph kind of way. They dated for a while. And finally they got married. He turned out to be a terrible person. He hit my dad all the time. And he hit my aunt Rebecca all the time. And he really hit my grandma. All the time. And my grandma really couldn't do anything about it, I guess, because it went on for seven years.
It ended finally when my great uncle Phil saw bruises on my aunt Rebecca and finally got the truth out of my grandma. Then, he got a few of his friends together from the factory. And they found my grandma's second husband in a bar. And they beat him up really bad. My great uncle Phil loves to tell the story when my grandma isn't around. The story keeps changing, but the main point is still the same. The guy died four days later in the hospital.
I still don't know how my great uncle Phil missed going to jail for doing what he did. I asked my dad once, and he said that the people that lived around his neighborhood understood that some things had nothing to do with the police. He said that if someone touched your sister or your mother, they paid the price, and everyone looked the other way.
It's just too bad that it went on for seven years because my aunt Rebecca went through the same kind of husbands. My aunt Rebecca had it different, though, because neighborhoods change. My great uncle Phil was too old, and my dad left his hometown. She had to get restraining orders instead.
I think about what my three cousins, who are Aunt Rebecca's children, will turn out like. One girl and two boys. I get sad, too, because I think that the one girl will probably end up like my aunt Rebecca, and the one boy will probably end up like his dad. The other boy might end up like my dad because he can really play sports, and he had a different dad than his brother or sister. My dad talks to him a lot and teaches him how to throw and hit a baseball. I used to get jealous about this when I was a little kid, but I don't anymore. Because my brother said that my cousin is the only one in his family who has ad chance.
He needs my dad. I guess I understand that now.
My dad's old room is very much the way he left it, except more faded. There is a globe on a desk that has been spun a lot. And there are old posters of baseball players. And old press clippings of my dad winning the big game when he was a sophomore. I don't know why, but I really understood why my dad had to leave this house. When he knew my grandma would never find another man because she was through trusting and would never look for anything else because she didn't know how. And when he saw his sister start bringing home younger versions of their stepfather to date. He just couldn't stay.
I laid down on his old bed, and I looked through the window at this tree that was probably a lot shorter when my dad looked at it. And I could feel what he felt on the night when he realized that if he didn't leave, it would never be his life. It would be theirs. At least that's how he's put it. Maybe that's why my dad's side of the family watches the same movie every year. It makes sense enough. I should probably mention that my dad never cries at the ending.
I don't know if my grandma or Aunt Rebecca will ever really forgive my dad for leaving them. Only my great uncle Phil understood that part. It's always strange to see how my dad changes around his mom and sister. He feels bad all the time, and his sister and he always take a walk alone together. One time, I looked out the window, and I saw my dad giving her money.
I wonder what my aunt Rebecca says in the car on the way home. I wonder what her children think. I wonder if they talk about us. I wonder if they look at my family and wonder who has a chance to make it. I bet they do.
December 26, 1991 Dear friend,
I am sitting in my bedroom now after the two-hour ride back to my house. My sister and brother were nice to each other, so I didn't have to drive.
Usually, on the way home, we drive to visit my Aunt Helen's grave. It's kind of a tradition. My brother and my dad never want to go that much, but they know not to say anything because of Mom and me. My sister is kind of neutral, but she is sensitive about certain things.
Every time we go to see my Aunt Helen's grave, my mom and I like to talk about something really great about her. Most years it is about how she let me stay up and watch
Saturday Night Live.
And my mom smiles because she knows if she was a kid, she would have wanted to stay up and watch, too.
We both put down flowers and sometimes a card. We just want her to know that we miss her, and we think of her, and she was special. She didn't get that enough when she was alive, my mom always says. And like my dad, I think my mom feels guilty about it. So guilty that instead of giving her money, she gave her a home to stay in.
I want you to know why my mom is guilty. I should probably tell you why, but I really don't know if I should. I have to talk about it with someone. No one in my family will ever talk about it. It's just something they don't. I'm talking about the bad thing that happened to Aunt Helen they wouldn't tell me about when I was little.
Every time it comes to Christmas it's all I can think about ... deep down. It is the one thing that makes me deep down sad.
I will not say who. I will not say when. I will just say that my aunt Helen was molested. I hate that word. It was done by someone who was very close to her. It was not her dad. She finally told her dad.
He didn't believe her because of who it was. A friend of the family. That just made it worse. My grandma never said anything either. And the man kept coming over for visits.
My aunt Helen drank a lot. My aunt Helen took drugs a lot. My aunt Helen had many problems with men and boys. She was a very unhappy person most of her life. She went to hospitals all the time. All kinds of hospitals. Finally, she went to a hospital that helped her figure things out enough to try and make things normal, so she moved in with my family. She started taking classes to get a good job. She told her last bad man to leave her alone. She started losing weight without going on a diet. She took care of us, so my parents could go out and drink and play board games. She let us stay up late. She was the only person other than my mom and dad and brother and sister to buy me two presents. One for my birthday.
One for Christmas. Even when she moved in with the family and had no money. She always bought me two presents. They were always the best presents.
On December 24, 1983, a policeman came to the door. My aunt Helen was in a terrible car accident.
It was very snowy. The policeman told my mom that my aunt Helen had passed away. He was a very nice man because when my mom started crying, he said that it was a very bad accident, and my Aunt Helen was definitely killed instantly. In other words, there was no pain. There was no pain anymore.
The policeman asked my mom to come down and identify the body. My dad was still at work. That was when I walked up with my brother and sister. It was my seventh birthday. We all wore party hats.
My mom made my sister and brother wear them. My sister saw Mom crying and asked what was wrong. My mom couldn't say anything. The policeman got on one knee and told us what happened. My brother and sister cried. But I didn't. I knew that the policeman made a mistake.
My mom asked my brother and sister to take care of me and left with the policeman. I think we watched TV. I don't think I really remember. My dad came home before my mom.
"Why the long faces?"
We told him. He did not cry. He asked if we were okay. My brother and sister said no. I said yes.
The policeman just made a mistake. It is very snowy. He probably couldn't see. My mom came home.
She was crying. She looked at my dad and nodded. My dad held her. That's when I figured out that the policeman didn't make a mistake.
I don't really know what happened next, and I never really asked. I just remember going to the hospital. I remember sitting in a room with bright lights. I remember a doctor asking me questions. I remember telling him how Aunt Helen was the only one who hugged me. I remember seeing my family on Christmas day in a waiting room. I remember not being allowed to go to the funeral. I remember never saying good-bye to my Aunt Helen.