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Name All the Animals: A Memoir

Name All the Animals: A Memoir - Alison Smith A memoir by Alison Smith. Her only brother Roy died in a car accident the summer that he at 18, about to go off to college, & Alison was 15. The memoir covers mostly the 3 yrs from her brother's death, until his 3rd anniversary - when Alison reaches his age & turns a corner. It ends somewhat abruptly here, & I wonder if she has really turned the corner and start to deal with her anorexia, how she copes with going to college, etc. However, it is a very detailed portrait of a family's path through grief, experiences of a Catholic girls' high school, a girl's awakening sexuality."We bumped around the house for a good 6 mo.s, stunned, hungry, longing, waiting for the runners, unable to find the door back to our lives. I returned to school, grew 2 inches & lost 10lbs. Mother climbed Mt Marcy -- twice. The new St Jude joined us at the kitchen table. But nothing really changed... I still sneaked out the back door every nite & visited the fort. My parents said their daily prayers, & every Sun we all dressed up & went to Mass, & after a while, even God's silence did not seem that strange. We remained removed, one ft in this world, one ft in the next w Roy. I checked his bed every am. Just in case. While I waited for Roy to come back, my parents waited for the Next Terrible Thing. It was unclear what shape it was going to take, but it was clear that it was going to snatch me away from them. I was in danger. Wherever we went, I was positioned between them, Mother on the right, Father on the left, in church pews, at movies, in restaurants on walks in the woods. I could not get away from them or their questions: "Where are you going?" "When will you be back?" They took up the habit of speaking about me instead of to me. .. They devised crazy rules, like: I was not allowed to cross the street alone. At 15, I had to have an adult hold my hand." p. 74-5."On the 1st day of my 2d yr of high school, at Mercy's opening Mass, Fr Ray offered up a prayer for Roy's soul to go directly to heaven. Everyone had been informed of his death, but no one spoke to me about it. All this silence troubled me. It made the world seem strange again. Simple tasks like finding my way from the science lab to the library, or locating a chapter in my textbook, stumped me. There were days when I was so exhausted by the business of learning that I just shut my book, floated out of my seat, wandered over to the door, and stepped out of the classroom into the empty halls. . .Staring up into her weathered face [the statue of Our Lady of the Broken Toes] in my 2d yr at Our Lady of Mercy, I could not tell how much I had changed, how the events of the summer had taken a toll. I was just pleased that the Virgin was the same....I would try to remember what class I had just come from, & the machinations of thought would become too much for me. I would stop in my tracks, lean my body against the wall or a bank of lockers & slowly slide into a heap on the floor. And I cried. I don't think I understood why I was crying. It was a distant sound, a distressing noise far below me.When Sr. Daniel found me, she would pick me up & carry me to the nurse's office, lay me down in the shadowy bk room on the vinyl couch, place a thin cotton blanket over me, & let me sleep it off. Those afternoons languishing in the nurse's office were the beginning of a new epoch in my life. Soon I would come to be known, in our sm. Catholic community, as the Girl Whose Brother Died. A strained cautiousness overtook my classmates whenever I walked into a room. The nuns tut-tutted & patted my hand. The teachers held back, careful with their criticisms. When I did not show up for classes, it was overlooked. When I handed in homework late, I was not scolded -- unheard of indulgences in our tiny, disciplined school" p. 82-3"That night at the party, I lied. I wanted > anything to talk to Roy. I still knew, in those days, over a yr after the accident, the # of mos, wks, days, hrs, even minutes that Roy had been gone. At that moment, I calculated 15 mos, 65 wks, 456 days, 10,944 hrs, 656,640 minutes. Every day, sometimes every hr, I calculated his distance from us, the number of moments that the world had gone on after he left. But I could not tell Susanna & the girls that. I would not admit, when she asked me to call him up, that I spent my time trying to do just that, to step out of this world, to meet him on the shining edges of life. I had every intention of calling him back. And when I did, I certainly would not bring him to some silly party, to a stupid basement room of giggling girls. I still visited the fort almost every night. As the months passed, I set up a little study back there. I made a bookshelf,hammered it up on the back wall, about the doghouse-table. I combed the city's used bookstores & collected copies of the science books I found in his rm... I read his last journal, copied pages out, imitating his handwriting. I taped the journal pages to the plywood walls. I sat in the fort while my parents watched the evening news, a plate of uneaten food before me, the dog outside whining into the cold. I realized that this would be our last fort." p. 116-7."The night I read the newspaper article, I finally understood. I remember the newspaper crinkling under the weight of my shocked hand. He's gone, I thought. He's really gone. In the intervening yrs, between the publication of the article and that night, I had not thought about the content. Every time I pictured it, my mind froze. I remember Father curled over on the hall rug calling Roy's name, & being told to look for the answer in prayer, & I thought no further. I knew that even speculating on what secret the article might reveal, even wondering about this hidden information would be disapproved of, would be considered a sin. And so I had not planned in any way for the actual content of the piece. I knew only that the act of reading it was a defiance, a deliberate rejection of my parents' orders not to read. And then I read it. I cared little for defiance then. In my hand I held irrefutable proof that he was not coming back to me. But that was not the greatest blow. What took hold of me, what I have never been able to shake since, is how much Roy suffered. The horror of it hit me, the thing they wanted to keep from me: that he was trapped, pinned in a burning car, trying to get out. I heard Raymond Cino saying, "All I could do was watch him die."I lost my breath, and as I gasped and trembled, I felt like I was suffocating. I thought I was going to die. Roy has come back, I thought, for me. I clasped my hands over my mouth to quiet my rasping breath, & I waited for luminous transformation, a magical ascension out of this world: I waited for death. But death did not come. It was a simple panic attack, & like all attacks it passed and left me as limp as a dustrag, soaked in sweat, & very much alive. When my breathing finally slowed, I could not sit still. I wandered thru the rms of the house the way we had in the months right after he died...The red-&-blue comforter on his bed,the big closet that held our baseball gloves, our childhood toys, the green marbled wallpaper of the front hall, the iron door handle that would not latch, the silver-plate crucifix...The wind picked up and buckled in the cold March night, & I heard the icy rain pattering against the side of the house. The creaking in the eaves, a low ticking in the walls, the hum of the refrigerator. It was as if the house had come to life, whispering its secrets to me, confessing.I went into Mother & Father's unheated room ...For a small sliver of time, as I sat in Mother's wicker rocker hugging my knees, they became my children -- scared, hungry, bereft, & young, too young for all that happened to them. I remembered Mother's face when they came for us a yr & a half before, when the officers showed up at the door & she knew right away, before they even said a word. How she had begged them not to say it; she clutched her chest that late July morning & said, "Please, please, no." How can they sleep? I wondered. When he burned to death a half mile from here? But of course they had known for a year & a half. They had known all along, & they kept it from me. How can they forgive God when he died so terribly I gazed at them, the secret-keepers, the whisperers, the bearers of dangerous memory. I wondered why they had excluded me from so much, from his last minutes & the story of Raymond Cino & the fire, from grief itself.... In that moment I understood all that we had lost. I understood also why they had kept so much from me. They wanted me to be untouched by it. They wanted to protect me, but more than that, they wanted some piece of innocence to remain intact. They wanted one thing in their life that was pure and untroubled, unstained by tragedy. p.184-7.Sometimes it occurred to me that my biggest problem might be loneliness. But I had stepped so far into the life of a dead boy that the path back to the living world seemed impassable. My classmates felt far away. I watched them apply lip gloss & whisper secrets to each other while we waited for the buses. I could not imagine reaching across the great chasm between us to say hello. My mind shimmered on the edges of sanity. I hovered above the living world -- stunned, sullen, watching. When the words & thoughts blocked up inside me floated back down, they pointed in 1 direction: Roy. He haunted every quiet, voiceless moment of my life. p271If I lived past the summer of my 18th yr, the days would pile up inside me, & for every 1, every moment beyond that am in late July, I would have to face that Roy died & that I -- the little sister, the tagalong, the 2d-place girl - would surpass him. p.306-7I heard his voice. Morninglight bounced off the van behind me,an apple core cradled in the palm of my hand. Roy leaned in, & he whispered, "It's your turn, Al." p.309