Головна Educated: A Memoir
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I am 11 and I love reading and this is my favorite website ❤???
Thank you for making it ?
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Educated is a work of nonfiction. Some names and identifying details have been changed. Copyright © 2018 by Second Sally, Ltd. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. RANDOM HOUSE and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA NAMES: Westover, Tara, author. TITLE: Educated : a memoir / Tara Westover. DESCRIPTION: New York : Random House,  IDENTIFIERS: LCCN 2017037645 | ISBN 9780399590504 | ISBN 9780399590511 (ebook) SUBJECTS: LCSH: Westover, Tara—Family. | Women—Idaho—Biography. | Survivalism—Idaho—Biography. | Home schooling—Idaho—Anecdotes. | Women college students—United States—Biography. | Victims of family violence—Idaho—Biography. | Subculture—Idaho. | Christian biography. | Idaho—Rural conditions—Anecdotes. | Idaho—Biography. CLASSIFICATION: LCC CT3262.I2 W47 2018 | DDC 270.092 [B]—dc23 LC record available at lccn.loc.gov/2017037645 International ISBN 9780525510673 Ebook ISBN 9780399590511 randomhousebooks.com Book design by Barbara M. Bachman, adapted for ebook Cover illustration: Patrik Svensson v5.2 ep Contents Cover Title Page Copyright Epigraph Author’s Note Prologue Part One Chapter 1: Choose the Good Chapter 2: The Midwife Chapter 3: Cream Shoes Chapter 4: Apache Women Chapter 5: Honest Dirt Chapter 6: Shield and Buckler Chapter 7: The Lord Will Provide Chapter 8: Tiny Harlots Chapter 9: Perfect in His Generations Chapter 10: Shield of Feathers Chapter 11: Instinct Chapter 12: Fish Eyes Chapter 13: Silence in the Churches Chapter 14: My Feet No Longer Touch Earth Chapter 15: No More a Child Chapter 16: Disloyal Man, Disobedient Heaven Part Two Chapter 17: To Keep It Holy Chapter 18: Blood and Feathers Chapter 19: In the Beginning Chapter 20: Recitals of the Fathers Chapter 21: Skullcap Chapter 22: What We Whispered; and What We Screamed Chapter 23: I’m from Idaho Chapter 24: A Knight, Errant Chapter 25: The Work of Sulphur Chapter 26: Waiting for Moving Water Chapter 27: If I Were a Woman Chapter 28: Pygmalion Chapter 29: Graduation Part Three Chapter 30: Hand of the Almighty Chapter 31: Tragedy Then Farce Chapter 32: A Brawling Woman in a Wide House Chapter 33: Sorcery of Physics Chapter 34: The Substance of Things Chapter 35: West of the Sun Chapter 36: Four Long Arms, Whirling Chapter 37: Gambling for Redemption Chapter 38: Family Chapter 39: Watching the Buffalo Chapter 40: Educated Dedication Acknowledgments A Note on the Text About the Author The past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, & thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past. —VIRGINIA WOOLF I believe finally, that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing. —JOHN DEWEY This story is not about Mormonism. Neither is it about any other form of religious belief. In it there are many types of people, some believers, some not; some kind, some not. The author disputes any correlation, positive or negative, between the two. The following names, listed in alphabetical order, are pseudonyms: Aaron, Audrey, Benjamin, Emily, Erin, Faye, Gene, Judy, Peter, Robert, Robin, Sadie, Shannon, Shawn, Susan, Vanessa. I’m standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn. The wind soars, whipping my hair across my face and pushing a chill down the open neck of my shirt. The gales are strong this close to the mountain, as if the peak itself is exhaling. Down below, the valley is peaceful, undisturbed. Meanwhile our farm dances: the heavy conifer trees sway slowly, while the sagebrush and thistles quiver, bowing before every puff and pocket of air. Behind me a gentle hill slopes upward and stitches itself to the mountain base. If I look up, I can see the dark form of the Indian Princess. The hill is paved with wild wheat. If the conifers and sagebrush are soloists, the wheat field is a corps de ballet, each stem following all the rest in bursts of movement, a million ballerinas bending, one after the other, as great gales dent their golden heads. The shape of that dent lasts only a moment, and is as close as anyone gets to seeing wind. Turning toward our house on the hillside, I see movements of a different kind, tall shadows stiffly pushing through the currents. My brothers are awake, testing the weather. I imagine my mother at the stove, hovering over bran pancakes. I picture my father hunched by the back door, lacing his steel-toed boots and threading his callused hands into welding gloves. On the highway below, the school bus rolls past without stopping. I am only seven, but I understand that it is this fact, more than any other, that makes my family different: we don’t go to school. Dad worries that the Government will force us to go but it can’t, because it doesn’t know about us. Four of my parents’ seven children don’t have birth certificates. We have no medical records because we were born at home and have never seen a doctor or nurse.* We have no school records because we’ve never set foot in a classroom. When I am nine, I will be issued a Delayed Certificate of Birth, but at this moment, according to the state of Idaho and the federal government, I do not exist. Of course I did exist. I had grown up preparing for the Days of Abomination, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. I spent my summers bottling peaches and my winters rotating supplies. When the World of Men failed, my family would continue on, unaffected. I had been educated in the rhythms of the mountain, rhythms in which change was never fundamental, only cyclical. The same sun appeared each morning, swept over the valley and dropped behind the peak. The snows that fell in winter always melted in the spring. Our lives were a cycle—the cycle of the day, the cycle of the seasons—circles of perpetual change that, when complete, meant nothing had changed at all. I believed my family was a part of this immortal pattern, that we were, in some sense, eternal. But eternity belonged only to the mountain. There’s a story my father used to tell about the peak. She was a grand old thing, a cathedral of a mountain. The range had other mountains, taller, more imposing, but Buck’s Peak was the most finely crafted. Its base spanned a mile, its dark form swelling out of the earth and rising into a flawless spire. From a distance, you could see the impression of a woman’s body on the mountain face: her legs formed of huge ravines, her hair a spray of pines fanning over the northern ridge. Her stance was commanding, one leg thrust forward in a powerful movement, more stride than step. My father called her the Indian Princess. She emerged each year when the snows began to melt, facing south, watching the buffalo return to the valley. Dad said the nomadic Indians had watched for her appearance as a sign of spring, a signal the mountain was thawing, winter was over, and it was time to come home. All my father’s stories were about our mountain, our valley, our jagged little patch of Idaho. He never told me what to do if I left the mountain, if I crossed oceans and continents and found myself in strange terrain, where I could no longer search the horizon for the Princess. He never told me how I’d know when it was time to come home. * Except for my sister Audrey, who broke both an arm and a leg when she was young. She was taken to get a cast. PART ONE My strongest memory is not a memory. It’s something I imagined, then came to remember as if it had happened. The memory was formed when I was five, just before I turned six, from a story my father told in such detail that I and my brothers and sister had each conjured our own cinematic version, with gunfire and shouts. Mine had crickets. That’s the sound I hear as my family huddles in the kitchen, lights off, hiding from the Feds who’ve surrounded the house. A woman reaches for a glass of water and her silhouette is lighted by the moon. A shot echoes like the lash of a whip and she falls. In my memory it’s always Mother who falls, and she has a baby in her arms. The baby doesn’t make sense—I’m the youngest of my mother’s seven children—but like I said, none of this happened. * * * — A YEAR AFTER MY FATHER told us that story, we gathered one evening to hear him read aloud from Isaiah, a prophecy about Immanuel. He sat on our mustard-colored sofa, a large Bible open in his lap. Mother was next to him. The rest of us were strewn across the shaggy brown carpet. “Butter and honey shall he eat,” Dad droned, low and monotone, weary from a long day hauling scrap. “That he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.” There was a heavy pause. We sat quietly. My father was not a tall man but he was able to command a room. He had a presence about him, the solemnity of an oracle. His hands were thick and leathery—the hands of a man who’d been hard at work all his life—and they grasped the Bible firmly. He read the passage aloud a second time, then a third, then a fourth. With each repetition the pitch of his voice climbed higher. His eyes, which moments before had been swollen with fatigue, were now wide and alert. There was a divine doctrine here, he said. He would inquire of the Lord. The next morning Dad purged our fridge of milk, yogurt and cheese, and that evening when he came home, his truck was loaded with fifty gallons of honey. “Isaiah doesn’t say which is evil, butter or honey,” Dad said, grinning as my brothers lugged the white tubs to the basement. “But if you ask, the Lord will tell you!” When Dad read the verse to his mother, she laughed in his face. “I got some pennies in my purse,” she said. “You better take them. They’ll be all the sense you got.” Grandma had a thin, angular face and an endless store of faux Indian jewelry, all silver and turquoise, which hung in clumps from her spindly neck and fingers. Because she lived down the hill from us, near the highway, we called her Grandma-down-the-hill. This was to distinguish her from our mother’s mother, who we called Grandma-over-in-town because she lived fifteen miles south, in the only town in the county, which had a single stoplight and a grocery store. 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. My father’s family had been living at the base of Buck’s Peak for half a century. Grandma’s daughters had married and moved away, but my father stayed, building a shabby yellow house, which he would never quite finish, just up the hill from his mother’s, at the base of the mountain, and plunking a junkyard—one of several—next to her manicured lawn. They argued daily, about the mess from the junkyard but more often about us kids. Grandma thought we should be in school and not, as she put it, “roaming the mountain like savages.” Dad said public school was a ploy by the Government to lead children away from God. “I may as well surrender my kids to the devil himself,” he said, “as send them down the road to that school.” God told Dad to share the revelation with the people who lived and farmed in the shadow of Buck’s Peak. On Sundays, nearly everyone gathered at the church, a hickory-colored chapel just off the highway with the small, restrained steeple common to Mormon churches. Dad cornered fathers as they left their pews. He started with his cousin Jim, who listened good-naturedly while Dad waved his Bible and explained the sinfulness of milk. Jim grinned, then clapped Dad on the shoulder and said no righteous God would deprive a man of homemade strawberry ice cream on a hot summer afternoon. Jim’s wife tugged on his arm. As he slid past us I caught a whiff of manure. Then I remembered: the big dairy farm a mile north of Buck’s Peak, that was Jim’s. * * * — AFTER DAD TOOK UP preaching against milk, Grandma jammed her fridge full of it. She and Grandpa only drank skim but pretty soon it was all there—two percent, whole, even chocolate. She seemed to believe this was an important line to hold. Breakfast became a test of loyalty. Every morning, my family sat around a large table of reworked red oak and ate either seven-grain cereal, with honey and molasses, or seven-grain pancakes, also with honey and molasses. Because there were nine of us, the pancakes were never cooked all the way through. I didn’t mind the cereal if I could soak it in milk, letting the cream gather up the grist and seep into the pellets, but since the revelation we’d been having it with water. It was like eating a bowl of mud. It wasn’t long before I began to think of all that milk spoiling in Grandma’s fridge. Then I got into the habit of skipping breakfast each morning and going straight to the barn. I’d slop the pigs and fill the trough for the cows and horses, then I’d hop over the corral fence, loop around the barn and step through Grandma’s side door. On one such morning, as I sat at the counter watching Grandma pour a bowl of cornflakes, she said, “How would you like to go to school?” “I wouldn’t like it,” I said. “How do you know,” she barked. “You ain’t never tried it.” She poured the milk and handed me the bowl, then she perched at the bar, directly across from me, and watched as I shoveled spoonfuls into my mouth. “We’re leaving tomorrow for Arizona,” she told me, but I already knew. She and Grandpa always went to Arizona when the weather began to turn. Grandpa said he was too old for Idaho winters; the cold put an ache in his bones. “Get yourself up real early,” Grandma said, “around five, and we’ll take you with us. Put you in school.” I shifted on my stool. I tried to imagine school but couldn’t. Instead I pictured Sunday school, which I attended each week and which I hated. A boy named Aaron had told all the girls that I couldn’t read because I didn’t go to school, and now none of them would talk to me. “Dad said I can go?” I said. “No,” Grandma said. “But we’ll be long gone by the time he realizes you’re missing.” She set my bowl in the sink and gazed out the window. Grandma was a force of nature—impatient, aggressive, self-possessed. To look at her was to take a step back. She dyed her hair black and this intensified her already severe features, especially her eyebrows, which she smeared on each morning in thick, inky arches. She drew them too large and this made her face seem stretched. They were also drawn too high and draped the rest of her features into an expression of boredom, almost sarcasm. “You should be in school,” she said. “Won’t Dad just make you bring me back?” I said. “Your dad can’t make me do a damned thing.” Grandma stood, squaring herself. “If he wants you, he’ll have to come get you.” She hesitated, and for a moment looked ashamed. “I talked to him yesterday. He won’t be able to fetch you back for a long while. He’s behind on that shed he’s building in town. He can’t pack up and drive to Arizona, not while the weather holds and he and the boys can work long days.” Grandma’s scheme was well plotted. Dad always worked from sunup until sundown in the weeks before the first snow, trying to stockpile enough money from hauling scrap and building barns to outlast the winter, when jobs were scarce. Even if his mother ran off with his youngest child, he wouldn’t be able to stop working, not until the forklift was encased in ice. “I’ll need to feed the animals before we go,” I said. “He’ll notice I’m gone for sure if the cows break through the fence looking for water.” * * * — I DIDN’T SLEEP THAT NIGHT. I sat on the kitchen floor and watched the hours tick by. One A.M. Two. Three. At four I stood and put my boots by the back door. They were caked in manure, and I was sure Grandma wouldn’t let them into her car. I pictured them on her porch, abandoned, while I ran off shoeless to Arizona. I imagined what would happen when my family discovered I was missing. My brother Richard and I often spent whole days on the mountain, so it was likely no one would notice until sundown, when Richard came home for dinner and I didn’t. I pictured my brothers pushing out the door to search for me. They’d try the junkyard first, hefting iron slabs in case some stray sheet of metal had shifted and pinned me. Then they’d move outward, sweeping the farm, crawling up trees and into the barn attic. Finally, they’d turn to the mountain. It would be past dusk by then—that moment just before night sets in, when the landscape is visible only as darkness and lighter darkness, and you feel the world around you more than you see it. I imagined my brothers spreading over the mountain, searching the black forests. No one would talk; everyone’s thoughts would be the same. Things could go horribly wrong on the mountain. Cliffs appeared suddenly. Feral horses, belonging to my grandfather, ran wild over thick banks of water hemlock, and there were more than a few rattlesnakes. We’d done this search before when a calf went missing from the barn. In the valley you’d find an injured animal; on the mountain, a dead one. I imagined Mother standing by the back door, her eyes sweeping the dark ridge, when my father came home to tell her they hadn’t found me. My sister, Audrey, would suggest that someone ask Grandma, and Mother would say Grandma had left that morning for Arizona. Those words would hang in the air for a moment, then everyone would know where I’d gone. I imagined my father’s face, his dark eyes shrinking, his mouth clamping into a frown as he turned to my mother. “You think she chose to go?” Low and sorrowful, his voice echoed. Then it was drowned out by sounds from another conjured remembrance—crickets, then gunfire, then silence. * * * — THE EVENT WAS A FAMOUS ONE, I would later learn—like Wounded Knee or Waco—but when my father first told us the story, it felt like no one in the world knew about it except us. It began near the end of canning season, which other kids probably called “summer.” My family always spent the warm months bottling fruit for storage, which Dad said we’d need in the Days of Abomination. One evening, Dad was uneasy when he came in from the junkyard. He paced the kitchen during dinner, hardly touching a bite. We had to get everything in order, he said. There was little time. We spent the next day boiling and skinning peaches. By sundown we’d filled dozens of Mason jars, which were set out in perfect rows, still warm from the pressure cooker. Dad surveyed our work, counting the jars and muttering to himself, then he turned to Mother and said, “It’s not enough.” That night Dad called a family meeting, and we gathered around the kitchen table, because it was wide and long, and could seat all of us. We had a right to know what we were up against, he said. He was standing at the head of the table; the rest of us perched on benches, studying the thick planks of red oak. “There’s a family not far from here,” Dad said. “They’re freedom fighters. They wouldn’t let the Government brainwash their kids in them public schools, so the Feds came after them.” Dad exhaled, long and slow. “The Feds surrounded the family’s cabin, kept them locked in there for weeks, and when a hungry child, a little boy, snuck out to go hunting, the Feds shot him dead.” I scanned my brothers. I’d never seen fear on Luke’s face before. “They’re still in the cabin,” Dad said. “They keep the lights off, and they crawl on the floor, away from the doors and windows. I don’t know how much food they got. Might be they’ll starve before the Feds give up.” No one spoke. Eventually Luke, who was twelve, asked if we could help. “No,” Dad said. “Nobody can. They’re trapped in their own home. But they got their guns, you can bet that’s why the Feds ain’t charged in.” He paused to sit, folding himself onto the low bench in slow, stiff movements. He looked old to my eyes, worn out. “We can’t help them, but we can help ourselves. When the Feds come to Buck’s Peak, we’ll be ready.” That night, Dad dragged a pile of old army bags up from the basement. He said they were our “head for the hills” bags. We spent that night packing them with supplies—herbal medicines, water purifiers, flint and steel. Dad had bought several boxes of military MREs—Meals Ready-to-Eat—and we put as many as we could fit into our packs, imagining the moment when, having fled the house and hiding ourselves in the wild plum trees near the creek, we’d eat them. Some of my brothers stowed guns in their packs but I had only a small knife, and even so my pack was as big as me by the time we’d finished. I asked Luke to hoist it onto a shelf in my closet, but Dad told me to keep it low, where I could fetch it quick, so I slept with it in my bed. I practiced slipping the bag onto my back and running with it—I didn’t want to be left behind. I imagined our escape, a midnight flight to the safety of the Princess. The mountain, I understood, was our ally. To those who knew her she could be kind, but to intruders she was pure treachery, and this would give us an advantage. Then again, if we were going to take cover on the mountain when the Feds came, I didn’t understand why we were canning all these peaches. We couldn’t haul a thousand heavy Mason jars up the peak. Or did we need the peaches so we could bunker down in the house, like the Weavers, and fight it out? Fighting it out seemed likely, especially a few days later when Dad came home with more than a dozen military-surplus rifles, mostly SKSs, their thin silver bayonets folded neatly under their barrels. The guns arrived in narrow tin boxes and were packed in Cosmoline, a brownish substance the consistency of lard that had to be stripped away. After they’d been cleaned, my brother Tyler chose one and set it on a sheet of black plastic, which he folded over the rifle, sealing it with yards of silvery duct tape. Hoisting the bundle onto his shoulder, he carried it down the hill and dropped it next to the red railroad car. Then he began to dig. When the hole was wide and deep, he dropped the rifle into it, and I watched him cover it with dirt, his muscles swelling from the exertion, his jaw clenched. Soon after, Dad bought a machine to manufacture bullets from spent cartridges. Now we could last longer in a standoff, he said. I thought of my “head for the hills” bag, waiting in my bed, and of the rifle hidden near the railcar, and began to worry about the bullet-making machine. It was bulky and bolted to an iron workstation in the basement. If we were taken by surprise, I figured we wouldn’t have time to fetch it. I wondered if we should bury it, too, with the rifle. We kept on bottling peaches. I don’t remember how many days passed or how many jars we’d added to our stores before Dad told us more of the story. “Randy Weaver’s been shot,” Dad said, his voice thin and erratic. “He left the cabin to fetch his son’s body, and the Feds shot him.” I’d never seen my father cry, but now tears were dripping in a steady stream from his nose. He didn’t wipe them, just let them spill onto his shirt. “His wife heard the shot and ran to the window, holding their baby. Then came the second shot.” Mother was sitting with her arms folded, one hand across her chest, the other clamped over her mouth. I stared at our speckled linoleum while Dad told us how the baby had been lifted from its mother’s arms, its face smeared with her blood. Until that moment, some part of me had wanted the Feds to come, had craved the adventure. Now I felt real fear. I pictured my brothers crouching in the dark, their sweaty hands slipping down their rifles. I pictured Mother, tired and parched, drawing back away from the window. I pictured myself lying flat on the floor, still and silent, listening to the sharp chirp of crickets in the field. Then I saw Mother stand and reach for the kitchen tap. A white flash, the roar of gunfire, and she fell. I leapt to catch the baby. Dad never told us the end of the story. We didn’t have a TV or radio, so perhaps he never learned how it ended himself. The last thing I remember him saying about it was, “Next time, it could be us.” Those words would stay with me. I would hear their echo in the chirp of crickets, in the squish of peaches dropping into a glass jar, in the metallic chink of an SKS being cleaned. I would hear them every morning when I passed the railroad car and paused over the chickweed and bull thistle growing where Tyler had buried the rifle. Long after Dad had forgotten about the revelation in Isaiah, and Mother was again hefting plastic jugs of “Western Family 2%” into the fridge, I would remember the Weavers. * * * — IT WAS ALMOST FIVE A.M. I returned to my room, my head full of crickets and gunfire. In the lower bunk, Audrey was snoring, a low, contented hum that invited me to do the same. Instead I climbed up to my bed, crossed my legs and looked out the window. Five passed. Then six. At seven, Grandma appeared and I watched her pace up and down her patio, turning every few moments to gaze up the hill at our house. Then she and Grandpa stepped into their car and pulled onto the highway. When the car was gone, I got out of bed and ate a bowl of bran with water. Outside I was greeted by Luke’s goat, Kamikaze, who nibbled my shirt as I walked to the barn. I passed the go-kart Richard was building from an old lawnmower. I slopped the pigs, filled the trough and moved Grandpa’s horses to a new pasture. After I’d finished I climbed the railway car and looked out over the valley. It was easy to pretend the car was moving, speeding away, that any moment the valley might disappear behind me. I’d spent hours playing that fantasy through in my head but today the reel wouldn’t take. I turned west, away from the fields, and faced the peak. The Princess was always brightest in spring, just after the conifers emerged from the snow, their deep green needles seeming almost black against the tawny browns of soil and bark. It was autumn now. I could still see her but she was fading: the reds and yellows of a dying summer obscured her dark form. Soon it would snow. In the valley that first snow would melt but on the mountain it would linger, burying the Princess until spring, when she would reappear, watchful. “Do you have calendula?” the midwife said. “I also need lobelia and witch hazel.” She was sitting at the kitchen counter, watching Mother rummage through our birchwood cabinets. An electric scale sat on the counter between them, and occasionally Mother would use it to weigh dried leaves. It was spring. There was a morning chill despite the bright sunlight. “I made a fresh batch of calendula last week,” Mother said. “Tara, run and fetch it.” I retrieved the tincture, and my mother packed it in a plastic grocery bag with the dried herbs. “Anything else?” Mother laughed. The pitch was high, nervous. The midwife intimidated her, and when intimidated my mother took on a weightless quality, whisking about every time the midwife made one of her slow, solid movements. The midwife surveyed her list. “That will do.” She was a short, plump woman in her late forties, with eleven children and a russet-colored wart on her chin. She had the longest hair I’d ever seen, a cascade the color of field mice that fell to her knees when she took it out of its tight bun. Her features were heavy, her voice thick with authority. She had no license, no certificates. She was a midwife entirely by the power of her own say-so, which was more than enough. Mother was to be her assistant. I remember watching them that first day, comparing them. Mother with her rose-petal skin and her hair curled into soft waves that bounced about her shoulders. Her eyelids shimmered. 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. The midwife looked as though she hadn’t given a thought to her appearance in a decade, and the way she carried herself made you feel foolish for having noticed. The midwife nodded goodbye, her arms full of Mother’s herbs. The next time the midwife came she brought her daughter Maria, who stood next to her mother, imitating her movements, with a baby wedged against her wiry nine-year-old frame. I stared hopefully at her. I hadn’t met many other girls like me, who didn’t go to school. I edged closer, trying to draw her attention, but she was wholly absorbed in listening to her mother, who was explaining how cramp bark and motherwort should be administered to treat post-birth contractions. Maria’s head bobbed in agreement; her eyes never left her mother’s face. I trudged down the hall to my room, alone, but when I turned to shut the door she was standing in it, still toting the baby on her hip. He was a meaty box of flesh, and her torso bent sharply at the waist to offset his bulk. “Are you going?” she said. I didn’t understand the question. “I always go,” she said. “Have you seen a baby get born?” “No.” “I have, lots of times. Do you know what it means when a baby comes breech?” “No.” I said it like an apology. * * * — THE FIRST TIME MOTHER assisted with a birth she was gone for two days. Then she wafted through the back door, so pale she seemed translucent, and drifted to the couch, where she stayed, trembling. “It was awful,” she whispered. “Even Judy said she was scared.” Mother closed her eyes. “She didn’t look scared.” Mother rested for several minutes, until she regained some color, then she told the story. The labor had been long, grueling, and when the baby finally came the mother had torn, and badly. There was blood everywhere. The hemorrhage wouldn’t stop. That’s when Mother realized the umbilical cord had wrapped around the baby’s throat. He was purple, so still Mother thought he was dead. As Mother recounted these details, the blood drained from her face until she sat, pale as an egg, her arms wrapped around herself. Audrey made chamomile tea and we put our mother to bed. When Dad came home that night, Mother told him the same story. “I can’t do it,” she said. “Judy can, but I can’t.” Dad put an arm on her shoulder. “This is a calling from the Lord,” he said. “And sometimes the Lord asks for hard things.” Mother didn’t want to be a midwife. Midwifery had been Dad’s idea, one of his schemes for self-reliance. There was nothing he hated more than our being dependent on the Government. Dad said one day we would be completely off the grid. As soon as he could get the money together, he planned to build a pipeline to bring water down from the mountain, and after that he’d install solar panels all over the farm. That way we’d have water and electricity in the End of Days, when everyone else was drinking from puddles and living in darkness. Mother was an herbalist so she could tend our health, and if she learned to midwife she would be able to deliver the grandchildren when they came along. The midwife came to visit Mother a few days after the first birth. She brought Maria, who again followed me to my room. “It’s too bad your mother got a bad one her first time,” she said, smiling. “The next one will be easier.” A few weeks later, this prediction was tested. It was midnight. Because we didn’t have a phone, the midwife called Grandma-down-the-hill, who walked up the hill, tired and ornery, and barked that it was time for Mother to go “play doctor.” She stayed only minutes but woke the whole house. “Why you people can’t just go to a hospital like everyone else is beyond me,” she shouted, slamming the door on her way out. Mother retrieved her overnight bag and the tackle box she’d filled with dark bottles of tincture, then she walked slowly out the door. I was anxious and slept badly, but when Mother came home the next morning, hair deranged and dark circles under her eyes, her lips were parted in a wide smile. “It was a girl,” she said. Then she went to bed and slept all day. Months passed in this way, Mother leaving the house at all hours and coming home, trembling, relieved to her core that it was over. By the time the leaves started to fall she’d helped with a dozen births. By the end of winter, several dozen. In the spring she told my father she’d had enough, that she could deliver a baby if she had to, if it was the End of the World. Now she could stop. Dad’s face sank when she said this. He reminded her that this was God’s will, that it would bless our family. “You need to be a midwife,” he said. “You need to deliver a baby on your own.” Mother shook her head. “I can’t,” she said. “Besides, who would hire me when they could hire Judy?” She’d jinxed herself, thrown her gauntlet before God. Soon after, Maria told me her father had a new job in Wyoming. “Mom says your mother should take over,” Maria said. A thrilling image took shape in my imagination, of me in Maria’s role, the midwife’s daughter, confident, knowledgeable. But when I turned to look at my mother standing next to me, the image turned to vapor. Midwifery was not illegal in the state of Idaho, but it had not yet been sanctioned. If a delivery went wrong, a midwife might face charges for practicing medicine without a license; if things went very wrong, she could face criminal charges for manslaughter, even prison time. Few women would take such a risk, so midwives were scarce: on the day Judy left for Wyoming, Mother became the only midwife for a hundred miles. Women with swollen bellies began coming to the house and begging Mother to deliver their babies. Mother crumpled at the thought. One woman sat on the edge of our faded yellow sofa, her eyes cast downward, as she explained that her husband was out of work and they didn’t have money for a hospital. Mother sat quietly, eyes focused, lips tight, her whole expression momentarily solid. Then the expression dissolved and she said, in her small voice, “I’m not a midwife, just an assistant.” The woman returned several times, perching on our sofa again and again, describing the uncomplicated births of her other children. Whenever Dad saw the woman’s car from the junkyard, he’d often come into the house, quietly, through the back door, on the pretense of getting water; then he’d stand in the kitchen taking slow, silent sips, his ear bent toward the living room. Each time the woman left Dad could hardly contain his excitement, so that finally, succumbing to either the woman’s desperation or to Dad’s elation, or to both, Mother gave way. The birth went smoothly. Then the woman had a friend who was also pregnant, and Mother delivered her baby as well. Then that woman had a friend. Mother took on an assistant. Before long she was delivering so many babies that Audrey and I spent our days driving around the valley with her, watching her conduct prenatal exams and prescribe herbs. She became our teacher in a way that, because we rarely held school at home, she’d never been before. She explained every remedy and palliative. If So-and-so’s blood pressure was high, she should be given hawthorn to stabilize the collagen and dilate the coronary blood vessels. If Mrs. Someone-or-other was having premature contractions, she needed a bath in ginger to increase the supply of oxygen to the uterus. Midwifing changed my mother. She was a grown woman with seven children, but this was the first time in her life that she was, without question or caveat, the one in charge. Sometimes, in the days after a birth, I detected in her something of Judy’s heavy presence, in a forceful turn of her head, or the imperious arch of an eyebrow. She stopped wearing makeup, then she stopped apologizing for not wearing it. Mother charged about five hundred dollars for a delivery, and this was another way midwifing changed her: suddenly she had money. Dad didn’t believe that women should work, but I suppose he thought it was all right for Mother to be paid for midwifing, because it undermined the Government. Also, we needed the money. Dad worked harder than any man I knew, but scrapping and building barns and hay sheds didn’t bring in much, and it helped that Mother could buy groceries with the envelopes of small bills she kept in her purse. Sometimes, if we’d spent the whole day flying about the valley, delivering herbs and doing prenatal exams, Mother would use that money to take me and Audrey out to eat. Grandma-over-in-town had given me a journal, pink with a caramel-colored teddy bear on the cover, and in it I recorded the first time Mother took us to a restaurant, which I described as “real fancy with menus and everything.” According to the entry, my meal came to $3.30. Mother also used the money to improve herself as a midwife. She bought an oxygen tank in case a baby came out and couldn’t breathe, and she took a suturing class so she could stitch the women who tore. Judy had always sent women to the hospital for stitches, but Mother was determined to learn. Self-reliance, I imagine her thinking. With the rest of the money, Mother put in a phone line.* One day a white van appeared, and a handful of men in dark overalls began climbing over the utility poles by the highway. Dad burst through the back door demanding to know what the hell was going on. “I thought you wanted a phone,” Mother said, her eyes so full of surprise they were irreproachable. She went on, talking fast. “You said there could be trouble if someone goes into labor and Grandma isn’t home to take the call. I thought, He’s right, we need a phone! Silly me! Did I misunderstand?” Dad stood there for several seconds, his mouth open. Of course a midwife needs a phone, he said. Then he went back to the junkyard and that’s all that was ever said about it. We hadn’t had a telephone for as long as I could remember, but the next day there it was, resting in a lime-green cradle, its glossy finish looking out of place next to the murky jars of cohosh and skullcap. * * * — LUKE WAS FIFTEEN WHEN he asked Mother if he could have a birth certificate. He wanted to enroll in Driver’s Ed because Tony, our oldest brother, was making good money driving rigs hauling gravel, which he could do because he had a license. Shawn and Tyler, the next oldest after Tony, had birth certificates; it was only the youngest four—Luke, Audrey, Richard and me—who didn’t. Mother began to file the paperwork. I don’t know if she talked it over with Dad first. If she did, I can’t explain what changed his mind—why suddenly a ten-year policy of not registering with the Government ended without a struggle—but I think maybe it was that telephone. It was almost as if my father had come to accept that if he were really going to do battle with the Government, he would have to take certain risks. Mother’s being a midwife would subvert the Medical Establishment, but in order to be a midwife she needed a phone. Perhaps the same logic was extended to Luke: Luke would need income to support a family, to buy supplies and prepare for the End of Days, so he needed a birth certificate. The other possibility is that Mother didn’t ask Dad. Perhaps she just decided, on her own, and he accepted her decision. Perhaps even he—charismatic gale of a man that he was—was temporarily swept aside by the force of her. Once she had begun the paperwork for Luke, Mother decided she might as well get birth certificates for all of us. It was harder than she expected. She tore the house apart looking for documents to prove we were her children. She found nothing. In my case, no one was sure when I’d been born. Mother remembered one date, Dad another, and Grandma-down-the-hill, who went to town and swore an affidavit that I was her granddaughter, gave a third date. Mother called the church headquarters in Salt Lake City. A clerk there found a certificate from my christening, when I was a baby, and another from my baptism, which, as with all Mormon children, had occurred when I was eight. Mother requested copies. They arrived in the mail a few days later. “For Pete’s sake!” Mother said when she opened the envelope. Each document gave a different birth date, and neither matched the one Grandma had put on the affidavit. That week Mother was on the phone for hours every day. With the receiver wedged against her shoulder, the cord stretched across the kitchen, she cooked, cleaned, and strained tinctures of goldenseal and blessed thistle, while having the same conversation over and over. “Obviously I should have registered her when she was born, but I didn’t. So here we are.” Voices murmured on the other end of the line. “I’ve already told you—and your subordinate, and your subordinate’s subordinate, and fifty other people this week—she doesn’t have school or medical records. She doesn’t have them! They weren’t lost. I can’t ask for copies. They don’t exist!” “Her birthday? Let’s say the twenty-seventh.” “No, I’m not sure.” “No, I don’t have documentation.” “Yes, I’ll hold.” The voices always put Mother on hold when she admitted that she didn’t know my birthday, passing her up the line to their superiors, as if not knowing what day I was born delegitimized the entire notion of my having an identity. You can’t be a person without a birthday, they seemed to say. I didn’t understand why not. Until Mother decided to get my birth certificate, not knowing my birthday had never seemed strange. I knew I’d been born near the end of September, and each year I picked a day, one that didn’t fall on a Sunday because it’s no fun spending your birthday in church. Sometimes I wished Mother would give me the phone so I could explain. “I have a birthday, same as you,” I wanted to tell the voices. “It just changes. Don’t you wish you could change your birthday?” Eventually, Mother persuaded Grandma-down-the-hill to swear a new affidavit claiming I’d been born on the twenty-seventh, even though Grandma still believed it was the twenty-ninth, and the state of Idaho issued a Delayed Certificate of Birth. I remember the day it came in the mail. It felt oddly dispossessing, being handed this first legal proof of my personhood: until that moment, it had never occurred to me that proof was required. In the end, I got my birth certificate long before Luke got his. When Mother had told the voices on the phone that she thought I’d been born sometime in the last week of September, they’d been silent. But when she told them she wasn’t exactly sure whether Luke had been born in May or June, that set the voices positively buzzing. * * * — THAT FALL, WHEN I was nine, I went with Mother on a birth. I’d been asking to go for months, reminding her that Maria had seen a dozen births by the time she was my age. “I’m not a nursing mother,” she said. “I have no reason to take you. Besides, you wouldn’t like it.” Eventually, Mother was hired by a woman who had several small children. It was arranged; I would tend them during the birth. The call came in the middle of the night. The mechanical ring drilled its way down the hall, and I held my breath, hoping it wasn’t a wrong number. A minute later Mother was at my bedside. “It’s time,” she said, and together we ran to the car. For ten miles Mother rehearsed with me what I was to say if the worst happened and the Feds came. Under no circumstances was I to tell them that my mother was a midwife. If they asked why we were there, I was to say nothing. Mother called it “the art of shutting up.” “You just keep saying you were asleep and you didn’t see anything and you don’t know anything and you can’t remember why we’re here,” she said. “Don’t give them any more rope to hang me with than they already have.” Mother fell into silence. I studied her as she drove. Her face was illuminated by the lights in the dashboard, and it appeared ghostly white set against the utter blackness of country roads. Fear was etched into her features, in the bunching of her forehead and the tightening of her lips. Alone with just me, she put aside the persona she displayed for others. She was her old self again, fragile, breathy. I heard soft whispers and realized they were coming from her. She was chanting what-ifs to herself. What if something went wrong? What if there was a medical history they hadn’t told her about, some complication? Or what if it was something ordinary, a common crisis, and she panicked, froze, failed to stop the hemorrhage in time? In a few minutes we would be there, and she would have two lives in her small, trembling hands. Until that moment, I’d never understood the risk she was taking. “People die in hospitals,” she whispered, her fingers clenching the wheel, wraithlike. “Sometimes God calls them home, and there’s nothing anyone can do. But if it happens to a midwife—” She turned, speaking directly to me. “All it takes is one mistake, and you’ll be visiting me in prison.” We arrived and Mother transformed. She issued a string of commands, to the father, to the mother, and to me. I almost forgot to do what she asked, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I realize now that that night I was seeing her for the first time, the secret strength of her. She barked orders and we moved wordlessly to follow them. The baby was born without complications. It was mythic and romantic, being an intimate witness to this turn in life’s cycle, but Mother had been right, I didn’t like it. It was long and exhausting, and smelled of groin sweat. I didn’t ask to go on the next birth. Mother returned home pale and shaking. Her voice quivered as she told me and my sister the story: how the unborn baby’s heart rate had dropped dangerously low, to a mere tremor; how she’d called an ambulance, then decided they couldn’t wait and taken the mother in her own car. She’d driven at such speed that by the time she made it to the hospital, she’d acquired a police escort. In the ER, she’d tried to give the doctors the information they needed without seeming too knowledgeable, without making them suspect that she was an unlicensed midwife. An emergency cesarean was performed. The mother and baby remained in the hospital for several days, and by the time they were released Mother had stopped trembling. In fact, she seemed exhilarated and had begun to tell the story differently, relishing the moment she’d been pulled over by the policeman, who was surprised to find a moaning woman, obviously in labor, in the backseat. “I slipped into the scatterbrained-woman routine,” she told me and Audrey, her voice growing louder, catching hold. “Men like to think they’re saving some brain-dead woman who’s got herself into a scrape. All I had to do was step aside and let him play the hero!” The most dangerous moment for Mother had come minutes later, in the hospital, after the woman had been wheeled away. A doctor stopped Mother and asked why she’d been at the birth in the first place. She smiled at the memory. “I asked him the dumbest questions I could think of.” She put on a high, coquettish voice very unlike her own. “Oh! Was that the baby’s head? Aren’t babies supposed to come out feet-first?” The doctor was persuaded that she couldn’t possibly be a midwife. * * * — THERE WERE NO HERBALISTS in Wyoming as good as Mother, so a few months after the incident at the hospital, Judy came to Buck’s Peak to restock. The two women chatted in the kitchen, Judy perched on a barstool, Mother leaning across the counter, her head resting lazily in her hand. I took the list of herbs to the storeroom. Maria, lugging a different baby, followed. I pulled dried leaves and clouded liquids from the shelves, all the while gushing about Mother’s exploits, finishing with the confrontation in the hospital. Maria had her own stories about dodging Feds, but when she began to tell one I interrupted her. “Judy is a fine midwife,” I said, my chest rising. “But when it comes to doctors and cops, nobody plays stupid like my mother.” * While everyone agrees that there were many years in which my parents did not have a phone, there is considerable disagreement in the family about which years they were. I’ve asked my brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins, but I have not been able to definitively establish a timeline, and have therefore relied on my own memories. My mother, Faye, was a mailman’s daughter. She grew up in town, in a yellow house with a white picket fence lined with purple irises. Her mother was a seamstress, the best in the valley some said, so as a young woman Faye wore beautiful clothes, all perfectly tailored, from velvet jackets and polyester trousers to woolen pantsuits and gabardine dresses. She attended church and participated in school and community activities. Her life had an air of intense order, normalcy, and unassailable respectability. That air of respectability was carefully concocted by her mother. My grandmother, LaRue, had come of age in the 1950s, in the decade of idealistic fever that burned after World War II. LaRue’s father was an alcoholic in a time before the language of addiction and empathy had been invented, when alcoholics weren’t called alcoholics, they were called drunks. She was from the “wrong kind” of family but embedded in a pious Mormon community that, like many communities, visited the crimes of the parents on the children. She was deemed unmarriageable by the respectable men in town. When she met and married my grandfather—a good-natured young man just out of the navy—she dedicated herself to constructing the perfect family, or at least the appearance of it. This would, she believed, shield her daughters from the social contempt that had so wounded her. One result of this was the white picket fence and the closet of handmade clothes. Another was that her eldest daughter married a severe young man with jet-black hair and an appetite for unconventionality. That is to say, my mother responded willfully to the respectability heaped upon her. Grandma wanted to give her daughter the gift she herself had never had, the gift of coming from a good family. But Faye didn’t want it. My mother was not a social revolutionary—even at the peak of her rebellion she preserved her Mormon faith, with its devotion to marriage and motherhood—but the social upheavals of the 1970s did seem to have at least one effect on her: she didn’t want the white picket fence and gabardine dresses. My mother told me dozens of stories of her childhood, of Grandma fretting about her oldest daughter’s social standing, about whether her piqué dress was the proper cut, or her velvet slacks the correct shade of blue. These stories nearly always ended with my father swooping in and trading out the velvet for blue jeans. One telling in particular has stayed with me. I am seven or eight and am in my room dressing for church. I have taken a damp rag to my face, hands and feet, scrubbing only the skin that will be visible. Mother watches me pass a cotton dress over my head, which I have chosen for its long sleeves so I won’t have to wash my arms, and a jealousy lights her eyes. “If you were Grandma’s daughter,” she says, “we’d have been up at the crack of dawn preening your hair. Then the rest of the morning would be spent agonizing over which shoes, the white or the cream, would give the right impression.” Mother’s face twists into an ugly smile. She’s grasping for humor but the memory is jaundiced. “Even after we finally chose the cream, we’d be late, because at the last minute Grandma would panic and drive to Cousin Donna’s to borrow her cream shoes, which had a lower heel.” Mother stares out the window. She has retreated into herself. “White or cream?” I say. “Aren’t they the same color?” I owned only one pair of church shoes. They were black, or at least they’d been black when they belonged to my sister. With the dress on, I turn to the mirror and sand away the crusty dirt around my neckline, thinking how lucky Mother is to have escaped a world in which there was an important difference between white and cream, and where such questions might consume a perfectly good morning, a morning that might otherwise be spent plundering Dad’s junkyard with Luke’s goat. * * * — MY FATHER, GENE, WAS one of those young men who somehow manage to seem both solemn and mischievous. His physical appearance was striking—ebony hair, a strict, angular face, nose like an arrow pointing toward fierce, deep-set eyes. His lips were often pressed together in a jocular grin, as if all the world were his to laugh at. Although I passed my childhood on the same mountain that my father had passed his, slopping pigs in the same iron trough, I know very little about his boyhood. He never talked about it, so all I have to go on are hints from my mother, who told me that, in his younger years, Grandpa-down-the-hill had been violent, with a hair-trigger temper. Mother’s use of the words “had been” always struck me as funny. We all knew better than to cross Grandpa. He had a short fuse, that was just fact and anybody in the valley could have told you as much. He was weatherworn inside and out, as taut and rugged as the horses he ran wild on the mountain. Dad’s mother worked for the Farm Bureau in town. As an adult, Dad would develop fierce opinions about women working, radical even for our rural Mormon community. “A woman’s place is in the home,” he would say every time he saw a married woman working in town. Now I’m older, I sometimes wonder if Dad’s fervor had more to do with his own mother than with doctrine. I wonder if he just wished that she had been home, so he wouldn’t have been left for all those long hours with Grandpa’s temper. Running the farm consumed Dad’s childhood. I doubt he expected to go to college. Still, the way Mother tells it, back then Dad was bursting with energy, laughter and panache. He drove a baby-blue Volkswagen Beetle, wore outlandish suits cut from colorful fabrics, and showcased a thick, fashionable mustache. They met in town. Faye was waitressing at the bowling alley one Friday night when Gene wandered in with a pack of his friends. She’d never seen him before, so she knew immediately that he wasn’t from town and must have come from the mountains surrounding the valley. Farm life had made Gene different from other young men: he was serious for his age, more physically impressive and independent-minded. There’s a sense of sovereignty that comes from life on a mountain, a perception of privacy and isolation, even of dominion. In that vast space you can sail unaccompanied for hours, afloat on pine and brush and rock. It’s a tranquillity born of sheer immensity; it calms with its very magnitude, which renders the merely human of no consequence. Gene was formed by this alpine hypnosis, this hushing of human drama. In the valley, Faye tried to stop her ears against the constant gossip of a small town, whose opinions pushed in through the windows and crept under the doors. 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. Living in her respectable house in the center of town, crowded by four other houses, each so near anyone could peer through the windows and whisper a judgment, Faye felt trapped. I’ve often imagined the moment when Gene took Faye to the top of Buck’s Peak and she was, for the first time, unable to see the faces or hear the voices of the people in the town below. They were far away. Dwarfed by the mountain, hushed by the wind. They were engaged soon after. * * * — MOTHER USED TO TELL a story from the time before she was married. She had been close to her brother Lynn, so she took him to meet the man she hoped would be her husband. It was summer, dusk, and Dad’s cousins were roughhousing the way they did after a harvest. Lynn arrived and, seeing a room of bowlegged ruffians shouting at each other, fists clenched, swiping at the air, thought he was witnessing a brawl straight out of a John Wayne film. He wanted to call the police. “I told him to listen,” Mother would say, tears in her eyes from laughing. She always told this story the same way, and it was such a favorite that if she departed in any way from the usual script, we’d tell it for her. “I told him to pay attention to the actual words they were shouting. Everyone sounded mad as hornets, but really they were having a lovely conversation. You had to listen to what they were saying, not how they were saying it. I told him, That’s just how Westovers talk!” By the time she’d finished we were usually on the floor. We’d cackle until our ribs hurt, imagining our prim, professorial uncle meeting Dad’s unruly crew. Lynn found the scene so distasteful he never went back, and in my whole life I never saw him on the mountain. Served him right, we thought, for his meddling, for trying to draw Mother back into that world of gabardine dresses and cream shoes. We understood that the dissolution of Mother’s family was the inauguration of ours. The two could not exist together. Only one could have her. Mother never told us that her family had opposed the engagement but we knew. There were traces the decades hadn’t erased. My father seldom set foot in Grandma-over-in-town’s house, and when he did he was sullen and stared at the door. As a child I scarcely knew my aunts, uncles or cousins on my mother’s side. We rarely visited them—I didn’t even know where most of them lived—and it was even rarer for them to visit the mountain. The exception was my aunt Angie, my mother’s youngest sister, who lived in town and insisted on seeing my mother. What I know about the engagement has come to me in bits and pieces, mostly from the stories Mother told. I know she had the ring before Dad served a mission—which was expected of all faithful Mormon men—and spent two years proselytizing in Florida. Lynn took advantage of this absence to introduce his sister to every marriageable man he could find this side of the Rockies, but none could make her forget the stern farm boy who ruled over his own mountain. Gene returned from Florida and they were married. LaRue sewed the wedding dress. * * * — I’VE ONLY SEEN A single photograph from the wedding. It’s of my parents posing in front of a gossamer curtain of pale ivory. Mother is wearing a traditional dress of beaded silk and venetian lace, with a neckline that sits above her collarbone. An embroidered veil covers her head. My father wears a cream suit with wide black lapels. They are both intoxicated with happiness, Mother with a relaxed smile, Dad with a grin so large it pokes out from under the corners of his mustache. It is difficult for me to believe that the untroubled young man in that photograph is my father. Fearful and anxious, he comes into focus for me as a weary middle-aged man stockpiling food and ammunition. I don’t know when the man in that photograph became the man I know as my father. Perhaps there was no single moment. Dad married when he was twenty-one, had his first son, my brother Tony, at twenty-two. When he was twenty-four, Dad asked Mother if they could hire an herbalist to midwife my brother Shawn. She agreed. Was that the first hint, or was it just Gene being Gene, eccentric and unconventional, trying to shock his disapproving in-laws? After all, when Tyler was born twenty months later, the birth took place in a hospital. When Dad was twenty-seven, Luke was born, at home, delivered by a midwife. Dad decided not to file for a birth certificate, a decision he repeated with Audrey, Richard and me. A few years later, around the time he turned thirty, Dad pulled my brothers out of school. I don’t remember it, because it was before I was born, but I wonder if perhaps that was a turning point. In the four years that followed, Dad got rid of the telephone and chose not to renew his license to drive. He stopped registering and insuring the family car. Then he began to hoard food. This last part sounds like my father, but it is not the father my older brothers remember. Dad had just turned forty when the Feds laid siege to the Weavers, an event that confirmed his worst fears. After that he was at war, even if the war was only in his head. Perhaps that is why Tony looks at that photo and sees his father, and I see a stranger. Fourteen years after the incident with the Weavers, I would sit in a university classroom and listen to a professor of psychology describe something called bipolar disorder. Until that moment I had never heard of mental illness. I knew people could go crazy—they’d wear dead cats on their heads or fall in love with a turnip—but the notion that a person could be functional, lucid, persuasive, and something could still be wrong, had never occurred to me. The professor recited facts in a dull, earthy voice: the average age of onset is twenty-five; there may be no symptoms before then. The irony was that if Dad was bipolar—or had any of a dozen disorders that might explain his behavior—the same paranoia that was a symptom of the illness would prevent its ever being diagnosed and treated. No one would ever know. * * * — GRANDMA-OVER-IN-TOWN DIED THREE YEARS ago, age eighty-six. I didn’t know her well. All those years I was passing in and out of her kitchen, and she never told me what it had been like for her, watching her daughter shut herself away, walled in by phantoms and paranoias. When I picture her now I conjure a single image, as if my memory is a slide projector and the tray is stuck. She’s sitting on a cushioned bench. Her hair pushes out of her head in tight curls, and her lips are pulled into a polite smile, which is welded in place. Her eyes are pleasant but unoccupied, as if she’s observing a staged drama. That smile haunts me. It was constant, the only eternal thing, inscrutable, detached, dispassionate. Now that I’m older and I’ve taken the trouble to get to know her, mostly through my aunts and uncles, I know she was none of those things. I attended the memorial. It was open casket and I found myself searching her face. The embalmers hadn’t gotten her lips right—the gracious smile she’d worn like an iron mask had been stripped away. It was the first time I’d seen her without it and that’s when it finally occurred to me: that Grandma was the only person who might have understood what was happening to me. How the paranoia and fundamentalism were carving up my life, how they were taking from me the people I cared about and leaving only degrees and certificates—an air of respectability—in their place. What was happening now had happened before. This was the second severing of mother and daughter. The tape was playing in a loop. No one saw the car leave the road. My brother Tyler, who was seventeen, fell asleep at the wheel. It was six in the morning and he’d been driving in silence for most of the night, piloting our station wagon through Arizona, Nevada and Utah. We were in Cornish, a farming town twenty miles south of Buck’s Peak, when the station wagon drifted over the center line into the other lane, then left the highway. The car jumped a ditch, smashed through two utility poles of thick cedar, and was finally brought to a stop only when it collided with a row-crop tractor. * * * — THE TRIP HAD BEEN Mother’s idea. A few months earlier, when crisp leaves had begun slipping to the ground, signaling the end of summer, Dad had been in high spirits. His feet tapped show tunes at breakfast, and during dinner he often pointed at the mountain, his eyes shining, and described where he would lay the pipes to bring water down to the house. Dad promised that when the first snow fell, he’d build the biggest snowball in the state of Idaho. What he’d do, he said, was hike to the mountain base and gather a small, insignificant ball of snow, then roll it down the hillside, watching it triple in size each time it raced over a hillock or down a ravine. By the time it reached the house, which was atop the last hill before the valley, it’d be big as Grandpa’s barn and people on the highway would stare up at it, amazed. We just needed the right snow. Thick, sticky flakes. After every snowfall, we brought handfuls to him and watched him rub the flakes between his fingers. That snow was too fine. This, too wet. After Christmas, he said. That’s when you get the real snow. But after Christmas Dad seemed to deflate, to collapse in on himself. He stopped talking about the snowball, then he stopped talking altogether. A darkness gathered in his eyes until it filled them. He walked with his arms limp, shoulders slumping, as if something had hold of him and was dragging him to the earth. By January Dad couldn’t get out of bed. He lay flat on his back, staring blankly at the stucco ceiling with its intricate pattern of ridges and veins. He didn’t blink when I brought his dinner plate each night. I’m not sure he knew I was there. That’s when Mother announced we were going to Arizona. She said Dad was like a sunflower—he’d die in the snow—and that come February he needed to be taken away and planted in the sun. So we piled into the station wagon and drove for twelve hours, winding through canyons and speeding over dark freeways, until we arrived at the mobile home in the parched Arizona desert where my grandparents were waiting out the winter. We arrived a few hours after sunrise. Dad made it as far as Grandma’s porch, where he stayed for the rest of the day, a knitted pillow under his head, a callused hand on his stomach. He kept that posture for two days, eyes open, not saying a word, still as a bush in that dry, windless heat. On the third day he seemed to come back into himself, to become aware of the goings-on around him, to listen to our mealtime chatter rather than staring, unresponsive, at the carpet. After dinner that night, Grandma played her phone messages, which were mostly neighbors and friends saying hello. Then a woman’s voice came through the speaker to remind Grandma of her doctor’s appointment the following day. That message had a dramatic effect on Dad. At first Dad asked Grandma questions: what was the appointment for, who was it with, why would she see a doctor when Mother could give her tinctures. Dad had always believed passionately in Mother’s herbs, but that night felt different, like something inside him was shifting, a new creed taking hold. Herbalism, he said, was a spiritual doctrine that separated the wheat from the tares, the faithful from the faithless. Then he used a word I’d never heard before: Illuminati. It sounded exotic, powerful, whatever it was. Grandma, he said, was an unknowing agent of the Illuminati. God couldn’t abide faithlessness, Dad said. That’s why the most hateful sinners were those who wouldn’t make up their minds, who used herbs and medication both, who came to Mother on Wednesday and saw their doctor on Friday—or, as Dad put it, “Who worship at the altar of God one day and offer a sacrifice to Satan the next.” These people were like the ancient Israelites because they’d been given a true religion but hankered after false idols. “Doctors and pills,” Dad said, nearly shouting. “That’s their god, and they whore after it.” Mother was staring at her food. At the word “whore” she stood, threw Dad an angry look, then walked into her room and slammed the door. Mother didn’t always agree with Dad. When Dad wasn’t around, I’d heard her say things that he—or at least this new incarnation of him—would have called sacrilege, things like, “Herbs are supplements. For something serious, you should go to a doctor.” Dad took no notice of Mother’s empty chair. “Those doctors aren’t trying to save you,” he told Grandma. “They’re trying to kill you.” When I think of that dinner, the scene comes back to me clearly. I’m sitting at the table. Dad is talking, his voice urgent. Grandma sits across from me, chewing her asparagus again and again in her crooked jaw, the way a goat might, sipping from her ice water, giving no indication that she’s heard a word Dad has said, except for the occasional vexed glare she throws the clock when it tells her it’s still too early for bed. “You’re a knowing participant in the plans of Satan,” Dad says. This scene played every day, sometimes several times a day, for the rest of the trip. All followed a similar script. Dad, his fervor kindled, would drone for an hour or more, reciting the same lines over and over, fueled by some internal passion that burned long after the rest of us had been lectured into a cold stupor. Grandma had a memorable way of laughing at the end of these sermons. It was a sort of sigh, a long, drawn-out leaking of breath, that finished with her eyes rolling upward in a lazy imitation of exasperation, as if she wanted to throw her hands in the air but was too tired to complete the gesture. Then she’d smile—not a soothing smile for someone else but a smile for herself, of baffled amusement, a smile that to me always seemed to say, Ain’t nothin’ funnier than real life, I tell you what. * * * — IT WAS A SCORCHING AFTERNOON, so hot you couldn’t walk barefoot on the pavement, when Grandma took me and Richard for a drive through the desert, having wrestled us into seatbelts, which we’d never worn before. We drove until the road began to incline, then kept driving as the asphalt turned to dust beneath our tires, and still we kept going, Grandma weaving higher and higher into the bleached hills, coming to a stop only when the dirt road ended and a hiking trail began. Then we walked. Grandma was winded after a few minutes, so she sat on a flat red stone and pointed to a sandstone rock formation in the distance, formed of crumbling spires, each a little ruin, and told us to hike to it. Once there, we were to hunt for nuggets of black rock. “They’re called Apache tears,” she said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small black stone, dirty and jagged, covered in veins of gray and white like cracked glass. “And this is how they look after they’ve been polished a bit.” From her other pocket she withdrew a second stone, which was inky black and so smooth it felt soft. Richard identified both as obsidian. “These are volcanic rock,” he said in his best encyclopedic voice. “But this isn’t.” He kicked a washed-out stone and waved at the formation. “This is sediment.” Richard had a talent for scientific trivia. Usually I ignored his lecturing but today I was gripped by it, and by this strange, thirsty terrain. We hiked around the formation for an hour, returning to Grandma with our shirtfronts sagging with stones. Grandma was pleased; she could sell them. She put them in the trunk, and as we made our way back to the trailer, she told us the legend of the Apache tears. According to Grandma, a hundred years ago a tribe of Apaches had fought the U.S. Cavalry on those faded rocks. The tribe was outnumbered: the battle lost, the war over. All that was left to do was wait to die. Soon after the battle began, the warriors became trapped on a ledge. Unwilling to suffer a humiliating defeat, cut down one by one as they tried to break through the cavalry, they mounted their horses and charged off the face of the mountain. When the Apache women found their broken bodies on the rocks below, they cried huge, desperate tears, which turned to stone when they touched the earth. Grandma never told us what happened to the women. The Apaches were at war but had no warriors, so perhaps she thought the ending too bleak to say aloud. The word “slaughter” came to mind, because slaughter is the word for it, for a battle when one side mounts no defense. It’s the word we used on the farm. We slaughtered chickens, we didn’t fight them. A slaughter was the likely outcome of the warriors’ bravery. They died as heroes, their wives as slaves. As we drove to the trailer, the sun dipping in the sky, its last rays reaching across the highway, I thought about the Apache women. Like the sandstone altar on which they had died, the shape of their lives had been determined years before—before the horses began their gallop, their sorrel bodies arching for that final collision. Long before the warriors’ leap it was decided how the women would live and how they would die. By the warriors, by the women themselves. Decided. Choices, numberless as grains of sand, had layered and compressed, coalescing into sediment, then into rock, until all was set in stone. * * * — I HAD NEVER BEFORE left the mountain and I ached for it, for the sight of the Princess etched in pine across the massif. I found myself glancing at the vacant Arizona sky, hoping to see her black form swelling out of the earth, laying claim to her half of the heavens. But she was not there. More than the sight of her, I missed her caresses—the wind she sent through canyons and ravines to sweep through my hair every morning. In Arizona, there was no wind. There was just one heat-stricken hour after another. I spent my days wandering from one side of the trailer to the other, then out the back door, across the patio, over to the hammock, then around to the front porch, where I’d step over Dad’s semiconscious form and back inside again. It was a great relief when, on the sixth day, Grandpa’s four-wheeler broke down and Tyler and Luke took it apart to find the trouble. I sat on a large barrel of blue plastic, watching them, wondering when we could go home. When Dad would stop talking about the Illuminati. When Mother would stop leaving the room whenever Dad entered it. That night after dinner, Dad said it was time to go. “Get your stuff,” he said. “We’re hitting the road in a half hour.” It was early evening, which Grandma said was a ridiculous time to begin a twelve-hour drive. Mother said we should wait until morning, but Dad wanted to get home so he and the boys could scrap the next morning. “I can’t afford to lose any more work days,” he said. Mother’s eyes darkened with worry, but she said nothing. * * * — I AWOKE WHEN THE CAR HIT the first utility pole. I’d been asleep on the floor under my sister’s feet, a blanket over my head. I tried to sit up but the car was shaking, lunging—it felt like it was coming apart—and Audrey fell on top of me. I couldn’t see what was happening but I could feel and hear it. Another loud thud, a lurch, my mother screaming, “Tyler!” from the front seat, and a final violent jolt before everything stopped and silence set in. Several seconds passed in which nothing happened. Then I heard Audrey’s voice. She was calling our names one by one. Then she said, “Everyone’s here except Tara!” I tried to shout but my face was wedged under the seat, my cheek pressed to the floor. I struggled under Audrey’s weight as she shouted my name. Finally, I arched my back and pushed her off, then stuck my head out of the blanket and said, “Here.” I looked around. Tyler had twisted his upper body so that he was practically climbing into the backseat, his eyes bulging as he took in every cut, every bruise, every pair of wide eyes. I could see his face but it didn’t look like his face. Blood gushed from his mouth and down his shirt. I closed my eyes, trying to forget the twisted angles of his bloodstained teeth. When I opened them again, it was to check everyone else. Richard was holding his head, a hand over each ear like he was trying to block out a noise. Audrey’s nose was strangely hooked and blood was streaming from it down her arm. Luke was shaking but I couldn’t see any blood. I had a gash on my forearm from where the seat’s frame had caught hold of me. “Everyone all right?” My father’s voice. There was a general mumble. “There are power lines on the car,” Dad said. “Nobody gets out till they’ve shut them off.” His door opened, and for a moment I thought he’d been electrocuted, but then I saw he’d pitched himself far enough so that his body had never touched the car and the ground at the same time. I remember peering at him through my shattered window as he circled the car, his red cap pushed back so the brim reached upward, licking the air. He looked strangely boyish. He circled the car then stopped, crouching low, bringing his head level with the passenger seat. “Are you okay?” he said. Then he said it again. The third time he said it, his voice quivered. I leaned over the seat to see who he was talking to, and only then realized how serious the accident had been. The front half of the car had been compressed, the engine arched, curving back over itself, like a fold in solid rock. There was a glare on the windshield from the morning sun. I saw crisscrossing patterns of fissures and cracks. The sight was familiar. I’d seen hundreds of shattered windshields in the junkyard, each one unique, with its particular spray of gossamer extruding from the point of impact, a chronicle of the collision. The cracks on our windshield told their own story. Their epicenter was a small ring with fissures circling outward. The ring was directly in front of the passenger seat. “You okay?” Dad pleaded. “Honey, can you hear me?” Mother was in the passenger seat. Her body faced away from the window. I couldn’t see her face, but there was something terrifying in the way she slumped against her seat. “Can you hear me?” Dad said. He repeated this several times. Eventually, in a movement so small it was almost imperceptible, I saw the tip of Mother’s ponytail dip as she nodded. Dad stood, looking at the active power lines, looking at the earth, looking at Mother. Looking helpless. “Do you think—should I call an ambulance?” I think I heard him say that. And if he did, which surely he must have, Mother must have whispered a reply, or maybe she wasn’t able to whisper anything, I don’t know. I’ve always imagined that she asked to be taken home. I was told later that the farmer whose tractor we’d hit rushed from his house. He’d called the police, which we knew would bring trouble because the car wasn’t insured, and none of us had been wearing seatbelts. It took perhaps twenty minutes after the farmer informed Utah Power of the accident for them to switch off the deadly current pulsing through the lines. Then Dad lifted Mother from the station wagon and I saw her face—her eyes, hidden under dark circles the size of plums, and the swelling distorting her soft features, stretching some, compressing others. I don’t know how we got home, or when, but I remember that the mountain face glowed orange in the morning light. Once inside, I watched Tyler spit streams of crimson down the bathroom sink. His front teeth had smashed into the steering wheel and been displaced, so that they jutted backward toward the roof of his mouth. Mother was laid on the sofa. She mumbled that the light hurt her eyes. We closed the blinds. She wanted to be in the basement, where there were no windows, so Dad carried her downstairs and I didn’t see her for several hours, not until that evening, when I used a dull flashlight to bring her dinner. When I saw her, I didn’t know her. Both eyes were a deep purple, so deep they looked black, and so swollen I couldn’t tell whether they were open or closed. She called me Audrey, even after I corrected her twice. “Thank you, Audrey, but just dark and quiet, that’s fine. Dark. Quiet. Thank you. Come check on me again, Audrey, in a little while.” Mother didn’t come out of the basement for a week. Every day the swelling worsened, the black bruises turned blacker. Every night I was sure her face was as marked and deformed as it was possible for a face to be, but every morning it was somehow darker, more tumid. After a week, when the sun went down, we turned off the lights and Mother came upstairs. She looked as if she had two objects strapped to her forehead, large as apples, black as olives. 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. Dad said doctors couldn’t do anything for her anyhow. She was in God’s hands. In the coming months, Mother called me by many names. When she called me Audrey I didn’t worry, but it was troubling when we had conversations in which she referred to me as Luke or Tony, and in the family it has always been agreed, even by Mother herself, that she’s never been quite the same since the accident. We kids called her Raccoon Eyes. We thought it was a great joke, once the black rings had been around for a few weeks, long enough for us to get used to them and make them the subject of jokes. We had no idea it was a medical term. Raccoon eyes. A sign of serious brain injury. Tyler’s guilt was all-consuming. He blamed himself for the accident, then kept on blaming himself for every decision that was made thereafter, every repercussion, every reverberation that clanged down through the years. He laid claim to that moment and all its consequences, as if time itself had commenced the instant our station wagon left the road, and there was no history, no context, no agency of any kind until he began it, at the age of seventeen, by falling asleep at the wheel. Even now, when Mother forgets any detail, however trivial, that look comes into his eyes—the one he had in the moments after the collision, when blood poured from his own mouth as he took in the scene, raking his eyes over what he imagined to be the work of his hands and his hands only. Me, I never blamed anyone for the accident, least of all Tyler. It was just one of those things. A decade later my understanding would shift, part of my heavy swing into adulthood, and after that the accident would always make me think of the Apache women, and of all the decisions that go into making a life—the choices people make, together and on their own, that combine to produce any single event. Grains of sand, incalculable, pressing into sediment, then rock. The mountain thawed and the Princess appeared on its face, her head brushing the sky. It was Sunday, a month after the accident, and everyone had gathered in the living room. Dad had begun to expound a scripture when Tyler cleared his throat and said he was leaving. “I’m g-g-going to c-college,” he said, his face rigid. A vein in his neck bulged as he forced the words out, appearing and disappearing every few seconds, a great, struggling snake. Everyone looked at Dad. His expression was folded, impassive. The silence was worse than shouting. Tyler would be the third of my brothers to leave home. My oldest brother, Tony, drove rigs, hauling gravel or scrap, trying to scrape together enough money to marry the girl down the road. Shawn, the next oldest, had quarreled with Dad a few months before and taken off. I hadn’t seen him since, though Mother got a hurried call every few weeks telling her he was fine, that he was welding or driving rigs. If Tyler left too, Dad wouldn’t have a crew, and without a crew he couldn’t build barns or hay sheds. He would have to fall back on scrapping. “What’s college?” I said. “College is extra school for people too dumb to learn the first time around,” Dad said. Tyler stared at the floor, his face tense. Then his shoulders dropped, his face relaxed and he looked up; it seemed to me that he’d stepped out of himself. His eyes were soft, pleasant. I couldn’t see him in there at all. He listened to Dad, who settled into a lecture. “There’s two kinds of them college professors,” Dad said. “Those who know they’re lying, and those who think they’re telling the truth.” Dad grinned. “Don’t know which is worse, come to think of it, a bona fide agent of the Illuminati, who at least knows he’s on the devil’s payroll, or a high-minded professor who thinks his wisdom is greater than God’s.” He was still grinning. The situation wasn’t serious; he just needed to talk some sense into his son. Mother said Dad was wasting his time, that nobody could talk Tyler out of anything once his mind was made up. “You may as well take a broom and start sweeping dirt off the mountain,” she said. Then she stood, took a few moments to steady herself, and trudged downstairs. She had a migraine. She nearly always had a migraine. She was still spending her days in the basement, coming upstairs only after the sun had gone down, and even then she rarely stayed more than an hour before the combination of noise and exertion made her head throb. I watched her slow, careful progress down the steps, her back bent, both hands gripping the rail, as if she were blind and had to feel her way. She waited for both feet to plant solidly on one step before reaching for the next. The swelling in her face was nearly gone, and she almost looked like herself again, except for the rings, which had gradually faded from black to dark purple, and were now a mix of lilac and raisin. An hour later Dad was no longer grinning. Tyler had not repeated his wish to go to college, but he had not promised to stay, either. He was just sitting there, behind that vacant expression, riding it out. “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?” Tyler tilted his head, showed he was listening, and said nothing. “A son of mine, standing in line to get brainwashed by socialists and Illuminati spies—” “The s-s-school’s run by the ch-ch-church,” Tyler interrupted. “How b-bad can it b-be?” Dad’s mouth flew open and a gust of air rushed out. “You don’t think the Illuminati have infiltrated the church?” His voice was booming; every word reverberated with a powerful energy. “You don’t think the first place they’d go is that school, where they can raise up a whole generation of socialist Mormons? I raised you better than that!” I will always remember my father in this moment, the potency of him, and the desperation. 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. * * * — THE STORY OF HOW TYLER decided to leave the mountain is a strange one, full of gaps and twists. It begins with Tyler himself, with the bizarre fact of him. It happens sometimes in families: one child who doesn’t fit, whose rhythm is off, whose meter is set to the wrong tune. In our family, that was Tyler. He was waltzing while the rest of us hopped a jig; he was deaf to the raucous music of our lives, and we were deaf to the serene polyphony of his. Tyler liked books, he liked quiet. He liked organizing and arranging and labeling. Once, Mother found a whole shelf of matchboxes in his closet, stacked by year. Tyler said they contained his pencil shavings from the past five years, which he had collected to make fire starters for our “head for the hills” bags. The rest of the house was pure confusion: piles of unwashed laundry, oily and black from the junkyard, littered the bedroom floors; in the kitchen, murky jars of tincture lined every table and cabinet, and these were only cleared away to make space for even messier projects, perhaps to skin a deer carcass or strip Cosmoline off a rifle. But in the heart of this chaos, Tyler had half a decade’s pencil shavings, cataloged by year. My brothers were like a pack of wolves. They tested each other constantly, with scuffles breaking out every time some young pup hit a growth spurt and dreamed of moving up. When I was young these tussles usually ended with Mother screaming over a broken lamp or vase, but as I got older there were fewer things left to break. Mother said we’d owned a TV once, when I was a baby, until Shawn had put Tyler’s head through it. While his brothers wrestled, Tyler listened to music. He owned the only boom box I had ever seen, and next to it he kept a tall stack of CDs with strange words on them, like “Mozart” and “Chopin.” One Sunday afternoon, when he was perhaps sixteen, he caught me looking at them. I tried to run, because I thought he might wallop me for being in his room, but instead he took my hand and led me to the stack. “W-which one do y-you like best?” he said. One was black, with a hundred men and women dressed in white on the cover. I pointed to it. Tyler eyed me skeptically. “Th-th-this is ch-ch-choir music,” he said. He slipped the disc into the black box, then sat at his desk to read. I squatted on the floor by his feet, scratching designs into the carpet. The music began: a breath of strings, then a whisper of voices, chanting, soft as silk, but somehow piercing. The hymn was familiar to me—we’d sung it at church, a chorus of mismatched voices raised in worship—but this was different. It was worshipful, but it was also something else, something to do with study, discipline and collaboration. Something I didn’t yet understand. The song ended and I sat, paralyzed, as the next played, and the next, until the CD finished. The room felt lifeless without the music. I asked Tyler if we could listen to it again, and an hour later, when the music stopped, I begged him to restart it. It was very late, and the house quiet, when Tyler stood from his desk and pushed play, saying this was the last time. “W-w-we can l-l-listen again tomorrow,” he said. Music became our language. Tyler’s speech impediment kept him quiet, made his tongue heavy. Because of that, he and I had never talked much; I had not known my brother. Now, every evening when he came in from the junkyard, I would be waiting for him. After he’d showered, scrubbing the day’s grime from his skin, he’d settle in at his desk and say, “W-w-what shall we l-l-listen t-t-to tonight?” Then I would choose a CD, and he would read while I lay on the floor next to his feet, eyes fixed on his socks, and listened. I was as rowdy as any of my brothers, but when I was with Tyler I transformed. Maybe it was the music, the grace of it, or maybe it was his grace. Somehow he made me see myself through his eyes. I tried to remember not to shout. I tried to avoid fights with Richard, especially the kind that ended with the two of us rolling on the floor, him pulling my hair, me dragging my fingernails through the softness of his face. I should have known that one day Tyler would leave. Tony and Shawn had gone, and they’d belonged on the mountain in a way that Tyler never did. Tyler had always loved what Dad called “book learning,” which was something the rest of us, with the exception of Richard, were perfectly indifferent to. There had been a time, when Tyler was a boy, when Mother had been idealistic about education. She used to say that we were kept at home so we could get a better education than other kids. But it was only Mother who said that, as Dad thought we should learn more practical skills. When I was very young, that was the battle between them: Mother trying to hold school every morning, and Dad herding the boys into the junkyard the moment her back was turned. But Mother would lose that battle, eventually. It began with Luke, the fourth of her five sons. Luke was smart when it came to the mountain—he worked with animals in a way that made it seem like he was talking to them—but he had a severe learning disability and struggled to learn to read. Mother spent five years sitting with him at the kitchen table every morning, explaining the same sounds again and again, but by the time he was twelve, it was all Luke could do to cough out a sentence from the Bible during family scripture study. Mother couldn’t understand it. She’d had no trouble teaching Tony and Shawn to read, and everyone else had just sort of picked it up. Tony had taught me to read when I was four, to win a bet with Shawn, I think. Once Luke could scratch out his name and read short, simple phrases, Mother turned to math. What math I was ever taught I learned doing the breakfast dishes and listening to Mother explain, over and over, what a fraction is or how to use negative numbers. Luke never made any progress, and after a year Mother gave up. She stopped talking about us getting a better education than other kids. She began to echo Dad. “All that really matters,” she said to me one morning, “is that you kids learn to read. That other twaddle is just brainwashing.” Dad started coming in earlier and earlier to round up the boys until, by the time I was eight, and Tyler sixteen, we’d settled into a routine that omitted school altogether. Mother’s conversion to Dad’s philosophy was not total, however, and occasionally she was possessed of her old enthusiasm. On those days, when the family was gathered around the table, eating breakfast, Mother would announce that today we were doing school. She kept a bookshelf in the basement, stocked with books on herbalism, along with a few old paperbacks. There were a few textbooks on math, which we shared, and an American history book that I never saw anyone read except Richard. There was also a science book, which must have been for young children because it was filled with glossy illustrations. It usually took half an hour to find all the books, then we would divide them up and go into separate rooms to “do school.” I have no idea what my siblings did when they did school, but when I did it I opened my math book and spent ten minutes turning pages, running my fingers down the center fold. If my finger touched fifty pages, I’d report to Mother that I’d done fifty pages of math. “Amazing!” she’d say. “You see? That pace would never be possible in the public school. You can only do that at home, where you can sit down and really focus, with no distractions.” Mother never delivered lectures or administered exams. She never assigned essays. There was a computer in the basement with a program called Mavis Beacon, which gave lessons on typing. Sometimes, when she was delivering herbs, if we’d finished our chores, Mother would drop us at the Carnegie library in the center of town. The basement had a room full of children’s books, which we read. Richard even took books from upstairs, books for adults, with heavy titles about history and science. Learning in our family was entirely self-directed: you could learn anything you could teach yourself, after your work was done. Some of us were more disciplined than others. I was one of the least disciplined, so by the time I was ten, the only subject I had studied systematically was Morse code, because Dad insisted that I learn it. “If the lines are cut, we’ll be the only people in the valley who can communicate,” he said, though I was never quite sure, if we were the only people learning it, who we’d be communicating with. The older boys—Tony, Shawn and Tyler—had been raised in a different decade, and it was almost as if they’d had different parents. Their father had never heard of the Weavers; he never talked about the Illuminati. He’d enrolled his three oldest sons in school, and even though he’d pulled them out a few years later, vowing to teach them at home, when Tony had asked to go back, Dad had let him. Tony had stayed in school through high school, although he missed so many days working in the junkyard that he wasn’t able to graduate. Because Tyler was the third son, he barely remembered school and was happy to study at home. Until he turned thirteen. Then, perhaps because Mother was spending all her time teaching Luke to read, Tyler asked Dad if he could enroll in the eighth grade. Tyler stayed in school that whole year, from the fall of 1991 through the spring of 1992. He learned algebra, which felt as natural to his mind as air to his lungs. Then the Weavers came under siege that August. I don’t know if Tyler would have gone back to school, but I know that after Dad heard about the Weavers, he never again allowed one of his children to set foot in a public classroom. Still, Tyler’s imagination had been captured. With what money he had he bought an old trigonometry textbook and continued to study on his own. He wanted to learn calculus next but couldn’t afford another book, so he went to the school and asked the math teacher for one. The teacher laughed in his face. “You can’t teach yourself calculus,” he said. “It’s impossible.” Tyler pushed back. “Give me a book, I think I can.” He left with the book tucked under his arm. The real challenge was finding time to study. Every morning at seven, my father gathered his sons, divided them into teams and sent them out to tackle the tasks of the day. It usually took about an hour for Dad to notice that Tyler was not among his brothers. Then he’d burst through the back door and stride into the house to where Tyler sat studying in his room. “What the hell are you doing?” he’d shout, tracking clumps of dirt onto Tyler’s spotless carpet. “I got Luke loading I-beams by himself—one man doing a two-man job—and I come in here and find you sitting on your ass?” If Dad had caught me with a book when I was supposed to be working, I’d have skittered, but Tyler was steady. “Dad,” he’d say. “I’ll w-w-work after l-l-lunch. But I n-n-need the morning to s-st-study.” Most mornings they’d argue for a few minutes, then Tyler would surrender his pencil, his shoulders slumping as he pulled on his boots and welding gloves. But there were other mornings—mornings that always astonished me—when Dad huffed out the back door, alone. * * * — I DIDN’T BELIEVE TYLER would really go to college, that he would ever abandon the mountain to join the Illuminati. I figured Dad had all summer to bring Tyler to his senses, which he tried to do most days when the crew came in for lunch. The boys would putter around the kitchen, dishing up seconds and thirds, and Dad would stretch himself out on the hard linoleum—because he was tired and needed to lie down, but was too dirty for Mother’s sofa—and begin his lecture about the Illuminati. One lunch in particular has lodged in my memory. Tyler is assembling tacos from the fixings Mother has laid out: he lines up the shells on his plate, three in a perfect row, then adds the hamburger, lettuce and tomatoes carefully, measuring the amounts, perfectly distributing the sour cream. Dad drones steadily. Then, just as Dad reaches the end of his lecture and takes a breath to begin again, Tyler slides all three of the flawless tacos into Mother’s juicer, the one she uses to make tinctures, and turns it on. A loud roar howls through the kitchen, imposing a kind of silence. The roar ceases; Dad resumes. Tyler pours the orange liquid into a glass and begins to drink, carefully, delicately, because his front teeth are still loose, still trying to jump out of his mouth. Many memories might be summoned to symbolize this period of our lives, but this is the one that has stayed with me: of Dad’s voice rising up from the floor while Tyler drinks his tacos. As spring turned to summer, Dad’s resolve turned to denial—he acted as if the argument were over and he had won. He stopped talking about Tyler’s leaving and refused to hire a hand to replace him. One warm afternoon, Tyler took me to visit Grandma- and Grandpa-over-in-town, who lived in the same house where they’d raised Mother, a house that could not have been more different from ours. The decor was not expensive but it was well cared for—creamy white carpet on the floors, soft floral paper on the walls, thick, pleated curtains in the windows. They seldom replaced anything. The carpet, the wallpaper, the kitchen table and countertops—everything was the same as it was in the slides I’d seen of my mother’s childhood. Dad didn’t like us spending time there. Before he retired Grandpa had been a mailman, and Dad said no one worth our respect would have worked for the Government. Grandma was even worse, Dad said. She was frivolous. I didn’t know what that word meant, but he said it so often that I’d come to associate it with her—with her creamy carpet and soft petal wallpaper. Tyler loved it there. He loved the calm, the order, the soft way my grandparents spoke to each other. There was an aura in that house that made me feel instinctively, without ever being told, that I was not to shout, not to hit anyone or tear through the kitchen at full speed. I did have to be told, and told repeatedly, to leave my muddy shoes by the door. “Off to college!” Grandma said once we were settled onto the floral-print sofa. She turned to me. “You must be so proud of your brother!” Her eyes squinted to accommodate her smile. I could see every one of her teeth. Leave it to Grandma to think getting yourself brainwashed is something to celebrate, I thought. “I need the bathroom,” I said. Alone in the hall I walked slowly, pausing with each step to let my toes sink into the carpet. I smiled, remembering that Dad had said Grandma could keep her carpet so white only because Grandpa had never done any real work. “My hands might be dirty,” Dad had said, winking at me and displaying his blackened fingernails. “But it’s honest dirt.” * * * — WEEKS PASSED AND IT was full summer. One Sunday Dad called the family together. “We’ve got a good supply of food,” he said. “We’ve got fuel and water stored away. What we don’t got is money.” Dad took a twenty from his wallet and crumpled it. “Not this fake money. In the Days of Abomination, this won’t be worth a thing. People will trade hundred-dollar bills for a roll of toilet paper.” I imagined a world where green bills littered the highway like empty soda cans. I looked around. Everyone else seemed to be imagining that too, especially Tyler. His eyes were focused, determined. “I’ve got a little money saved,” Dad said. “And your mother’s got some tucked away. We’re going to change it into silver. That’s what people will be wishing they had soon, silver and gold.” A few days later, Dad came home with the silver, and even some gold. The metal was in the form of coins, packed in small, heavy boxes, which he carried through the house and piled in the basement. He wouldn’t let me open them. “T