What “The Glass Castle” Taught Me
I understand why The Glass Castle was so vital to Jeannette Walls’ childhood psyche, because my three older sisters and I had our own version of it—The Gunni Cabin.
For Jeanette and her siblings, it symbolized survival and promise.
For us, it represented a return to innocence.
My eldest sister, Miya, was the innovator. She envisioned an enormous home built out of wood and stone in Gunnison, Colorado, where she lived. With a well-equipped kitchen, cozy living room, a communal bunk-bed room for our children, five wings, one for each of our families and one for my parents, and acres and acres of land and rivers where we could hike, swim and play, the Gunni Cabin would have been our safe haven, too. It was going to be a place where all of our little ones could frolic around in their naked splendor, as we did when the four of us were kids.
Over the years, Miya and I would fantasize about its creation. “When you finish school, you’ll move out here and marry one of my friends, so we can start building it,” Miya would assert.
Both Jeanette and I had dreams that represented our individual paradises.
Both never happened.
When I finished reading The Glass Castle, a year into writing Must Girls Love, my memoir about grieving Miya’s suicide, I knew what I finally needed to include, the part of myself that I most feared exposing. I had danced around certain issues throughout the manuscript about how I struggled the entire year after Miya died. More specifically, how I used binging as a means to suffocate my emotional pain—unsuccessfully. My entire life, this was a behavior I observed my dad do and shame, and what my mom shamed my dad for doing. As a result, I learned to shame myself if I acted similarly.
I remember when I cracked open The Glass Castle one quiet night in my house, nestled beneath my covers, hiding from all the judgment from the outside world. Jeanette’s words inspired me.
Her memoir is about integrity, about being proud of who you are as an individual. Not shaming or hiding from characteristics and a background both light and dark. Instead, she made it okay to learn and celebrate from every experience and value every lesson gained from your past and upbringing.
She did anything but shame herself.
In turn, I was compelled to try to do the same.
I immediately started writing the chapter that detailed the parts I really wanted to hide, those which scared the living shit out of me. But Must Girls Love was about exposing—exposing the truth of my sister’s death, exposing my sister’s husband for the abuser he was, exposing what truly happens to those left behind, exposing the ways in which we struggle both publicly and privately. Sharing 90% of the hard truth wasn’t good enough. It all had to be in there.
Last week, I saw the recently released movie version of The Glass Castle. I was excited to see the film because I was eager to re-experience the magic I felt reading it over 9 years ago. What I didn’t expect was the incredible sadness released from deep inside. I sat, during many moments of the film, tears welling, reliving the heavy emotions I had felt as a 23-year-old. I’ve written before that often the sadness I feel when I think of my sister is the sadness I feel for my younger self, the young woman who had been lost and annihilated within. I watched the screen, secretly weeping for that young girl.
As my friend and I walked to the car, the sadness became overwhelming, and I stared at the night sky. I was grateful that I saw the film, because it reminded me it’s okay if we’re sad and it’s okay to relive it, because we gain perspective for how far we have come.