The opening chapter of Anne Enright’s The Gathering presents the darkness of humanity as a universal concept by relating the macabre as a form of normalcy and a point of intrigue. By focusing on the narrator’s internal conflict — whether or not to expose her brother’s secret — and by juxtaposing the narrator’s domesticated life with a haunted past which has been distorted through memories, Enright enables readers to easily empathise and accept the narrator’s attempt to ‘libel the dead’.
I used to be a quitter. A loser who would readily go down without a fight. I remember a time where an unconscious slight would make me burst into tears. Even as I grew up, I stayed that way. Every fight and tension that involved me during my younger years would end up with me losing and crying.
At fifteen years old, my schoolmates called me Crybaby. Bullies would make fun of me for this trait that I couldn’t seem to shake off no matter how hard I tried.
It’s still the same now.
Only, I no longer berate myself for being sensitive, no longer apologise needlessly when something isn’t my fault, no longer quietly accept the decision others make of my worth. Or I at least try not to.
There is nothing to say.
The wind blows from the north. There is this thing in the heart that makes me look left and right before crossing the boundaries of life; this same terrible thing forces me to look back and plant a seed of doubt.
Is this right. Is this wrong. Am I a good child. A competent human being. What am I doing here.
12th July is my birthday, and I stand on the scale of time, anxious by the countdown. I look left and right and under myself. Where is my past. Where is the future. Covering my ears and clawing at my eyes, I do not wish to know what others are doing. Why are they happy. Why are they successful. Tell me, what is sorrow like.
I get altitude sickness from standing up for myself. I can’t be the only one.
My mother claimed she only wanted a ‘second opinion’ when she recruited my sister so the two of them could gang up on me and call me a retard.
Have I started a war, or has there always been one waging within me?
Every time I think I’m okay, finally, I’m saved, for sure, this time, it ends with a step backwards. I’ve got a lot better, and now I’ve got worse. Nobody ever talks about what happens after they are cured. One step forward, two steps back. Will this ever end? It’s difficult when I can’t see where I’m going. So in tune with other people’s feelings, I can never figure out my own. I go through life believing I’m okay, then I snap. Only after the fact do I realise that I am not okay after all.
I don’t want to go back to feeling hopeless, but now I’m wondering if I’ve ever left that lonely place. Have I all this time been living a lie? Have I grown accustomed to my own numbed mind, and has it tricked me into thinking I am now qualified to aspire to be a competent human being? I do not know.
A narrative essay written for UMN on how technology has integrated into our lives. I wrote this from the point of view of my little sister. Also, this was written right after I finished reading Flannery O’Connor, so if it is dark, that is why.
At seven years old, I stand on the porch, withdrawing into the inner compartment of my mind where I establish myself when I cannot bear to be a part of what is going on around me. From it I can see out and judge but in it I am safe from any kind of penetration. From it I can see my mother beating my sister to the ground.
This is because my sister cannot find her Nintendo.
Mother leaves her on the ground, and I watch as after a while my sister gets up on her own. She hobbles to Mother’s handbag, rummages through it and comes up victorious with a black Nintendo. I turn away from this vignette of my childhood with a frown. I do not linger on my confusion and try to erase the memory.
At seven years old, I protect my Nintendo with my life.
Frozen air and a gleaming scythe, lighting a lantern and lending a coat. The child’s body tugged through an opening I hadn’t known was there, into a space I didn’t know had room for her.
“I am a monster born from dusk to dawn. What are you?”
“I am Rue,” the child says, all heat and hope. “Are you here to save me?”
It is hard to believe, this strange exchange with a child I was sent to kill.
I tell her of the outside world through these spitting words wrung in irony and tipped with anguish, with emotions that will one day swallow up the whole world.
The child takes them all in and says, “You look no more than a boy but better a man than most.”
My age-old loneliness begins to crumble under pale hands and impossible smiles.
This was the time I studied under a bigoted professor, withstood harassment, stood up to racial slurs, received unjustified grades, re-entered myself into a mental hospital and came to a conclusion that it is always easier to be brave for other people.
(I hasten to add that this happened a year or two ago; I only write about it now because I am able to be objective enough to not start crying about it.)
I am seven years old and unsightly: overflowing cheeks and burnt skin from being made to swim everyday. Dad wants me to be a boy. He makes me dress like one, act like one, eat like one and live like one. I am stout and silent from abuse, obedient yet frustrated. I participate in outdoor activities I do not care about.
This is the world I live in.
Dresses and cute things are not for me. They are wrong and I will get scolded for liking them.
“You are ugly,” Mother tells me. “You will never amount to anything.”
I want to go out and play. My mother hits me for wanting this.
She calls me a brat, a perverted girl who will one day grow up to be a whore. She kicks me in the ribs and stomps on my back when I tell her I cannot find my Nintendo.
My dad hits me on my thigh. He just got home from work. He enters the bathroom where I am and hit me after I said something that made him angry. Hot tears fall down my cheeks, and I feel pathetic and dirty. I sit on the toilet half naked.
It is morning and the house maid is braiding my hair. I am clean and content and fat. I am eating a packet of Oreos. Some of the crumbs get on my shirt. I try to wipe them off but my fingers are dirty.
The black crumbs get smudged on the cotton.
My mother catches me. She stalks towards me and screams, “You fucking pig. You filthy dirty brat. What are you doing?”
I meet her eyes. My mother snatches the packet of Oreos out of my hand and slaps me hard across the face. She hits me again on my arm, and again on my thigh. She drags me out of the chair and throws me onto the floor. She brings out a long wooden ruler and sits down on the sofa in front of me.
“Get up, you wretch,” she says and prods me with the ruler.
I get up.
“Strip,” she says.
I cry and take off my clothes. I am standing in front of the house. The door is open and the neighbours are watching.
“Why did you wipe the crumbs on your shirt?” she says.
“It was dirty so I tried to clean it,” I say.
“You brat! Of course it’s dirty. You wiped your filthy hands on it! I am not giving you clothes again. I will make you stay naked, you fat fuck.”
I sob. I am fat and ugly and naked. I want to die.
“I was wiping my shirt because it was dirty,” I cry.
My mother smacks the ruler on the tiles, and I jump at the sound. My skin crawls.
“Why did you wipe it on your shirt?” she says.
I fumble for words and choke. My mother isn’t listening. No matter how many times I try to explain, she doesn’t want to hear the truth. I cry harder and louder because I cannot reason with someone whose only goal is to humiliate her own daughter. I am ugly and hated. I am standing in front of the house naked, and my mother makes sure I know that I am disgusting.
I am seven years old, and I want to die.
President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates.
The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and convince myself that I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion.