So I stayed up until after 1am finishing A Wolf at the Table, Augusten Burroughs’ memoir about his father, who is portrayed as a man so sociopathic and terrifying I was afraid I might not be able to sleep after taking the stories into my head. I’ll admit this to you: I did some skimming. I wanted to get the book done. It’s presented as a prequel to Running with Scissors, and gives some interesting backstory and depth to that book, in which the mother is presented as simply selfish and wildly unhinged, resolutely putting herself first before anyone or anything else, including her son. A Wolf at the Table gives me a different mother, one who was able to at least attempt to protect her son from the damage and violence his father / her husband brought into their home. I read the book like I might a mystery, trying to figure out whodunnit, only in this case, I wanted to know, just like any tabloid reader: what did he do? Burroughs book is filled with mostly psychological terrorizing, which was familiar to me in my teenage home, too. I’m left with images from the book that I can’t erase. I can’t tell yet whether or not I’m glad I read it.
I managed to fall asleep and didn’t have any nightmares I can remember. I woke up grateful that I was finished with the Burroughs book, though. There’s not a great deal of closure at the end of Wolf, but then again, how do we really get closure after being tortured by a parent or someone pretending to be a parent? What does that mean, closure, when there’s someone we love or loved who said they loved us and then stuck their pinkies into the soft skin at the lowest part of our backs, pushed in and tugged at our spines until everything in us collapsed? What does closure look like when our minds and bodies, our childhoods, and thus our adulthoods, have been warped out of all recognition, bent fully away from wherever we might once have thought we were going, could become? How can I expect closure from such a text? Wouldn’t it be more authentic — that is, less mainstream trauma narrative redemptive story arc — to end the book with no closure at all: These fucked-up things happened, and I am fucked up as a result. The end.
It’s been a day of reading. I read the paper in the morning — Bill Cosby felt entailed to lure young women into his gravitational pull with promises of mentorship and assistance. He kept a stash of quaaludes around just so he could offer them to young women. He “helped” the women he was finished having sex with, paying for school or other bills, so that they wouldn’t reveal anything to his wife. He is our cultural father figure, our Mr. Huxtable. Doesn’t that tell you’ll you need to know about our culture — this is our father figure. This man. They have two sides, our father figures: the side the public sees and remains determined to believe in no matter what, and the side that the people inside the house, behind closed doors, are forced to know.