A MemoirBook - 2018
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"The blessing was a mercy. He was offering me the same terms of surrender he had offered my sister. I imagined what a relief it must have been for her, to realize she could trade her reality - the one she shared with me - for his. How grateful she must have felt to pay such a modest price. I could not judge her for her choice, but in that moment I knew I could not choose it for myself. Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege, to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind. This was the price I was being asked to pay, I understood that now. What my father wanted to cast from me wasn't a demon; It was me."
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.
…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.
“ What’s college? ” I said. “College is extra school for people too dumb to learn the first time around,” Dad said.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
I had misunderstood the vital truth: that its not affecting me, that was its effect.
I was fifteen and I felt it, felt the race I was running with time. My body was changing, bloating, swelling, stretching, bulging. I wished it would stop, but it seemed my body was no longer mine. It belonged to itself now, and cared not at all how I felt about these strange alterations, about whether I wanted to stop being a child, and become something else.
Dad said that the Government had programmed the computers with a six-digit calendar, which meant the year had only two digits. “When nine-nine becomes oh-oh,” he said,” the computers won’t know what year it is. They’ll shut down.” “Can’t they fix it?” “Nope, can’t be done,” Dad said. “Man trusted his own strength, and his strength was weak. ”
I’d never learned how to talk to people who weren’t like us — people who went to school and visited the doctor. Who weren’t preparing, every day, for the End of the World.
I was sixteen, had never taken an exam, and had only recently undertaken anything like a systematic education;
I began to study trigonometry. There was solace in its strange formulas and equations. I was drawn to the Pythagorean theorem and its promise of a universal — the ability to predict the nature of any three points containing a right angle, anywhere, always.
“ Tara can’t drive the crane,” Dad said. “It’ll take half the morning to teach her the controls, and she still won’t know what the hell she’s doing.” “But she’ll be careful,” Shawn said,” and I’m done falling off shit. ”
I am not sorry, merely ashamed.
I applied to BYU a week later. I had no idea how to write the application, so Tyler wrote it for me. He said I’d been educated according to a rigorous program designed by my mother, who’d made sure I met all the requirements to graduate.
Doctors were Sons of Perdition. Homeschooling was a commandment from the Lord.
“Holocaust. “ I don’t know how long I sat there reading about it, but at some point I’d read enough. I leaned back and stared at the ceiling. I suppose I was in shock, but whether it was the shock of learning about something horrific, or the shock of learning about my own ignorance, I’m not sure.
As a child, I’d been aware that although my family attended the same church as everyone in our town, our religion was not the same. They believed in modesty; we practiced it. They believed in God’s power to heal; we left our injuries in God’s hands. They believed in preparing for the Second Coming; we were actually prepared.
I don’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to get a decent education as a child.
I’d earned A’s in every subject except Western Civ. I would get a scholarship for half of my tuition. I could go back.
Rosa Parks. An image appeared of a policeman pressing a woman’s finger into an ink sponge. Dr. Kimball said she’d taken a seat on a bus. I understood him as saying she had stolen the seat, although it seemed an odd thing to steal.
The word and the way Shawn said it hadn’t changed; only my ears were different. They no longer heard the jingle of a joke in it. What they heard was a signal, a call through time, which was answered with a mounting conviction: that never again would I allow myself to be made a foot soldier in a conflict I did not understand.
Algebra threatened to put an end to my scholarship. The professor spent every lecture muttering inaudibly as he paced in front of the chalkboard. I wasn’t the only one who was lost, but I was more lost than anyone else. Charles tried to help, but he was starting his senior year of high school and had his own schoolwork. In October I took the midterm and failed it.
The test was in front of me. The problems were compliant, pliable; they yielded to my manipulations, forming into solutions, one after the other. I handed in my answer sheet, then stood in the frigid hallway, staring up at the screen that would display my score. When it appeared, I blinked, and blinked again. One hundred. A perfect score.
My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.
I was sitting in Psychology 101 when the professor read the symptoms aloud from the overhead screen: depression, mania, paranoia, euphoria, delusions of grandeur and persecution. I listened with a desperate interest. This is my father, I wrote in my notes.
…a student asked what role mental disorders might have played in separatist movements. “I’m thinking of famous conflicts like Waco, Texas, or Ruby Ridge, Idaho,” he said.
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A Memoir by Tara Westover is a powerful book. Westover’s courage to tell her story is important because it provides others with a true journey. A complex, emotional, brutal, and brave journey a young women took ‘from’, ‘towards; and ‘to’ a healthy new beginning. Reading Tara’s story was not easy. She experienced a family life, with her siblings and parents, that left scars. Westover’s candor fills this book. I appreciate how straightforward and humble her writing is. I am so glad I read it.
This book was selected as one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2018.
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