An excerpt

April 19, 2009

posted & written by Caroline Picard

(this too will be cut)



climbed into the Westphalia van with the rest of her family. Trees brimming and green, the air full of singing cicadas, wet with the summer heat. She turned to look over her shoulder as they pulled away from her family home—a four story house with small windows, the same dark wood staining inside and out, and inside lined with Navajo blankets instead of carpets or curtains or bathmats. The wet room was perhaps the most lively room in the whole house, a constant pile of snow gear, whether in season or not. The glass window on the door lit the room well and growing up, Margo used to read there for hours. It was the chilliest room in the house. She hadn’t been home in over a year. She found excuses to stay away, in more urban parts of the country.

She still missed her brothers, though. She the eldest of four.

Asher, the oldest brother, refused to come home at all. He sent her a postcard from New Orleans six months ago; she had not heard from him since and while she had left a forwarding address, she often supposed his letters had been lost.

He was an emancipated minor. He’d left them when he was 16.

Margo went to college.


In the van:


Margo and her brothers ignored their parents.

Joey the youngest—almost hysterical and nearly nine, farting like crazy and giggling each time, trying each time to fart in Margo’s face. He kept clambering on top of her, wriggling when she pulled and pushed him off. He gasped with ridiculous enthusiasm, releasing every now and again a piercing scream.

“Joey. Stoppit,” their mother said. The children paid no attention.

Margo was nearly in hysterics herself. “Oh I’ll getchoo you crazy freak.” She followed him around the back of the van with her tickle hands. All she had to do was wriggle her fingers and he’d start giggling. “I’m going to make you pee your pants!” His little moon face with big blue eyes, wide and hysterical, he gasped for breath.

Joey liked to fart in Nigel’s face also, but Nigel found it far less charming and wasn’t opposed to kicking Joey in the stomach when he had a good angle. Hard. He liked to kick his younger brother and bit his lower lip concentratedly, waiting for the right moment. Waiting, when he did kick at last, to see Joey turn pink and cry. When finally Joey cried, Margo punched Nigel on the thigh. Hard enough to leave a bruise. Nigel wasn’t ticklish.

Their mother put headphones on.

“Hey tough guy,” she mocked, her voice shrill, “how’s that feel? huh? You like taking it too?”

Their father’s eyes flashed back and forth between the road he wove around and his clamoring children. His right eye twitched. Margo sneered at him, repositioned her baseball hat and folded her arms across her chest. Suddenly uninterested in her brothers. She stared at the rearview mirror, hard, unflinching, waiting to catch her father’s eyes again.

            He stopped looking back altogether.

            Joey put his head in her lap and she smiled.

            “What are you learning in school, Nigel?” she asked. Though her voice had softened she kept her eyes on her father.


They are driving to a facility in Massachussettes, a camp for unhappy kids with adolescent problems, a boarding school. Her brother Seth, third-born, has been living there for the year. The family is going to his graduation. He is coming home for the summer, much improved, report cards said.


At the boarding school.


Margo’s family trudges into the family therapy room. Instructors are positioned in different parts of the room, shaking hands. About 25 people sit down in a big circle of folding chairs.  Margo sits on top of the one with her name on it. She picks up Joey and puts him on her lap, but he squirms away.

A man whom Margo decides is the principle walks into the center of the circle.

“Thank you all for coming,” he says. “I know it’s pretty hard to get all the way out here. I know this can be a difficult thing to come and face, but you should all be proud. I am certain you will find your children new and improved and happier than they have ever been before.

“What we are about to start here is the Integration Process. We believe that young adults have a hard time dealing with vulnerability. Therefore we help them face their vulnerabilities, together, so that they don’t have to be afraid anymore. We call it Shadow Work.

“As you can imagine, I’m sure,” he laughs softly, “well, as you can imagine, it’s pretty scary being vulnerable. Especially in front of other people who aren’t.

“That’s where you come in. What I’d like your help with is creating a safe space for your child to come home to. To help them stay in touch with their fears and anxieties, hopes and, ultimately, potential. To do that, I’d like to have a Share Session. Your children are about to come in here—we’ll have a short greeting ceremony—I know most of you haven’t seen them in about a year, isn’t that right? A short greeting session and then, if you would all take your seats, I’d like to go around the room and ask each of you individually to talk about the things you wrestle with in yourselves, in your relationships, career and family. Of course most of us here are already pretty family with one version of that story.” He laughs again. This time shakes his head. “But in all seriousness. This is your chance!”


Seth looks the same, more or less. Margo hugs him.

            She sits back down in her chair.

            It’s her turn and she doesn’t want to speak. She tries to pass the microphone. The principle takes it back from her neighbor and replaces it in Margo’s hand.

            “Margo? It’s Margo, right?”

Until Margo walked out.

            Margo gives the microphone to Nigel on her other side. “I’m not interested in this,” she says. She walks outside with her ears burning.

She waits for them to come out—all of them, one of them, her mother. 


When it became clear that no one was coming to get her, she walked into town to get a slice of pizza. Then she hitchhiked to New York. Back to school.



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