Educated

Educated

A Memoir

Book - 2018
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NadiaHathor
Oct 02, 2019

"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."

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

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.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

…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.”

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

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.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

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.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

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.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

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.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

“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.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

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.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

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.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

I wrote my paper on the effect bipolar parents have on their children. It was accusative, brutal. I wrote that children of bipolar parents are hit with double risk factors: first, because they are genetically predisposed to mood disorders, and second, because of the stressful environment and poor parenting of parents with such disorders.
===

According to some who were there, although my father was horribly burned, he did not seem in any real danger until the third day, when the scabbing began, making it difficult to breathe. Dehydration compounded the situation. In this account, it was then that they feared for his life, and that is when my sister called me, only I misunderstood and assumed that the explosion had happened the day before.
===

“The devil tempts him more than other men,” Emily said. “Because of his gifts, because he’s a threat to Satan. That’s why he has problems. Because of his righteousness.”

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

I never told him of my life before, never sketched for him the world that had invaded and obliterated the one he and I had shared. I could have explained. I could have said,” That place has a hold on me, which I may never break. “That would have got to the heart of it. Instead I sank through time. It was too late to confide in Nick, to take him with me wherever I was going. So I said goodbye.
===

…why I dropped advanced music theory in favor of geography and comparative politics, or gave up sight-singing to take History of the Jews. But when I’d seen those courses in the catalog, and read their titles aloud, I had felt something infinite
===

My love of music, and my desire to study it, had been compatible with my idea of what a woman is. My love of history and politics and world affairs was not. And yet they called to me.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

“I think you should stretch yourself. See what happens.” “Stretch myself how?” He leaned forward suddenly, as if he’d just had an idea. “Have you heard of Cambridge?” I hadn’t. “It’s a university in England,” he said. “One of the best in the world. I organize a study abroad program there for students. It’s highly competitive and extremely demanding. You might not be accepted, but if you are, it may give you some idea of your abilities.”
===

“First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.”
===

The change could be summed up simply: before, they had been employees; now they were followers.
===

“Peter was supposed to come into the world this way,” she said. “He is a gift from God, and God gives His gifts in whatever way He chooses.”

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

“Everyone has undergone a change,” he said. “The other students were relaxed until we came to this height. Now they are uncomfortable, on edge. You seem to have made the opposite journey. This is the first time I’ve seen you at home in yourself. It’s in the way you move: it’s as if you’ve been on this roof all your life.”
===

“ I can stand in this wind, because I’m not trying to stand in it,” I said. “The wind is just wind. You could withstand these gusts on the ground, so you can withstand them in the air. There is no difference. Except the difference you make in your head. ”
===
I read them to learn what to think, not how to think for myself.
===

I could tolerate any form of cruelty better than kindness. Praise was a poison to me; I choked on it. I wanted the professor to shout at me, wanted it so deeply I felt dizzy from the deprivation.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

I knew what it was to have a misconception corrected — a misconception of such magnitude that shifting it shifted the world. Now I needed to understand how the great gatekeepers of history had come to terms with their own ignorance and partiality. I thought if I could accept that what they had written was not absolute but was the result of a biased process of conversation and revision, maybe I could reconcile myself with the fact that the history most people agreed upon was not the history I had been taught.
===

A poorly written sentence was a poorly conceived idea, and in his view the grammatical logic was as much in need of correction. “Tell me,” he would say,” why have you placed this comma here? What relationship between these phrases are you hoping to establish? ” When I gave my explanation sometimes he would say,” Quite right,” and other times he would correct me with lengthy explanations of syntax.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself — even gold appears dull in some lighting — but that is the illusion. And it always was. ”
===

I couldn’t belong at Cambridge, reasons having to do with class and status: that it was because I was poor, had grown up poor. Because I could stand in the wind on the chapel roof and not tilt. That was the person who didn’t belong in Cambridge: the roofer, not the whore. I can go to school, I had written in my journal that very afternoon. And I can buy new clothes. But I am still Tara Westover. I have done jobs no Cambridge student would do. Dress us any way you like, we are not the same. Clothes could not fix what was wrong with me. Something had rotted on the inside, and the stench was too powerful, the core too rancid, to be covered up by mere dressings.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

“The most powerful determinant of who you are is inside you,” he said. “Professor Steinberg says this is Pygmalion. Think of the story, Tara. “He paused, his eyes fierce, his voice piercing. “She was just a cockney in a nice dress. Until she believed in herself. Then it didn’t matter what dress she wore.”
===

“Many women struggle with their faith after they learn about polygamy,” he said. “My mother did. I don’t think she’s ever understood it.” “I’ve never understood it, either,” I said. There was a tense silence. He was waiting for me to say my line: that I was praying for faith. And I had prayed for it, many, many times. Perhaps both of us were thinking of our history, or perhaps only I was. I thought of Joseph Smith, who’d had as many as forty wives. Brigham Young had had fifty-five wives and fifty-six children. The church had ended the temporal practice of polygamy in 1890, but it had never recanted the doctrine.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

As a child I’d been taught — by my father but also in Sunday school — that in the fullness of time God would restore polygamy, and in the afterlife, I would be a plural wife. The number of my sister wives would depend on my husband’s righteousness: the more nobly he lived, the more wives he would be given.
===

Mother said I should honor Anna Mathea because she had given me a gift: her voice. “It was her voice that brought our family to the church,” Mother said. “She heard Mormon missionaries preaching in the streets of Norway. She prayed, and God blessed her with faith, with the knowledge that Joseph Smith was His prophet. She told her father, but he’d heard stories about the Mormons and wouldn’t allow her to be baptized. So she sang for him. She sang him a Mormon hymn called’ O My Father.’ When she finished singing, her father had tears in his eyes. He said that any religion with music so beautiful must be the work of God. They were baptized together.”

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

Dad asked about my classes. I said I was studying French. “That’s a socialist language,” he said, then he lectured for twenty minutes on twentieth-century history. He said Jewish bankers in Europe had signed secret agreements to start World War II, and that they had colluded with Jews in America to pay for it. They had engineered the Holocaust, he said, because they would benefit financially from worldwide disorder. They had sent their own people to the gas chambers for money.
===

I just couldn’t stand the thought of people patting me on the back, telling me how impressive I was. I didn’t want to be Horatio Alger in someone’s tear-filled homage to the American dream. I wanted my life to make sense, and nothing in that narrative made sense to me.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

“If you’re in America,” he’d whispered,” we can come for you. Wherever you are. I’ve got a thousand gallons of fuel buried in the field. I can fetch you when The End comes, bring you home, make you safe. But if you cross the ocean … ”
===

I chose a seat around the large square table and listened as the two students nearest me discussed the lecture topic, which was Isaiah Berlin’s two concepts of liberty. The student next to me said he’d studied Isaiah Berlin at Oxford; the other said he’d already heard this lecturer’s remarks on Berlin when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge. I had never heard of Isaiah Berlin.
===

He said positive liberty is self-mastery — the rule of the self, by the self. To have positive liberty, he explained, is to take control of one’s own mind; to be liberated from irrational fears and beliefs, from addictions, superstitions and all other forms of self-coercion.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

“ It is a subject on which nothing final can be known. “The subject Mill had in mind was the nature of women. Mill claimed that women have been coaxed, cajoled, shoved and squashed into a series of feminine contortions for so many centuries, that it is now quite impossible to define their natural abilities or aspirations.
===

It would be many years before I would understand what had happened that night, and what my role in it had been. How I had opened my mouth when I should have stayed silent, and shut it when I should have spoken out.
===

At breakfast the next morning, the others talked about their families. Someone’s father was a diplomat; another’s was an Oxford don. I was asked about my parents. I said my father owned a junkyard.
===
I know only this: that when my mother told me she had not been the mother to me that she wished she’d been, she became that mother for the first time.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

We visited the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, the Sistine Chapel. My instinct was to worship, to venerate. That was how I felt toward the whole city: that it should be behind glass, adored from a distance, never touched, never altered. My companions moved through the city differently, aware of its significance but not subdued by it. They were not hushed by the Trevi Fountain; they were not silenced by the Colosseum. Instead, as we moved from one relic to the next, they debated philosophy — Hobbes and Descartes, Aquinas and Machiavelli. There was a kind of symbiosis in their relationship to these grand places: they gave life to the ancient architecture by making it the backdrop of their discourse, by refusing to worship at its altar as if it were a dead thing.
===

Mother asked why I hadn’t come to her sooner, why I hadn’t asked for help, I answered honestly. Because you were so bullied by Dad, I said. You were not powerful in the house. Dad ran things, and he was not going to help us.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

I half-wondered if I should return to the bathroom and climb through the mirror, then send out the other girl, the one who was sixteen. She could handle this, I thought. She would not be afraid, like I was. She would not be hurt, like I was. She was a thing of stone, with no fleshy tenderness.

===

I DON’T KNOW WHAT happened in the days that followed. Even now, as I scrutinize the components of the confrontation — the threat, the denial, the lecture, the apology — it is difficult to relate them. When I considered it weeks later, it seemed I had made a thousand mistakes, driven a thousand knives into the heart of my own family.
===

I tried to forget that night. For the first time in fifteen years, I closed my journal and put it away. Journaling is contemplative, and I didn’t want to contemplate anything.
===
It was the same mirror I’d gazed into as a child, then as a girl, then as a youth, half woman, half girl.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

Dad said I was hysterical, that I’d thrown thoughtless accusations when it was obvious my memory couldn’t be trusted. Mother said my rage was a real threat and that Shawn had a right to protect his family. “Your anger that night,” she told me on the phone, meaning the night Shawn had killed Diego,” was twice as dangerous as Shawn has ever been. ”
===

“Talking to you,” she said,” your reality is so warped. It’s like talking to someone who wasn’t even there. “I agreed. It was exactly like that.
===

I found a logic to banish her: that I was likely insane. If I was insane, everything could be made to make sense. If I was sane, nothing could. This logic seemed damning. It was also a relief. I was not evil; I was clinical.

j
jimg2000
Sep 12, 2019

I lived the life of a lunatic. Seeing sunshine, I suspected rain. I felt a relentless desire to ask people to verify whether they were seeing what I was seeing. Is this book blue? I wanted to ask. Is that man tall?
===

While traveling in Utah for research, I would meet a young man who would bristle at my last name. “Westover,” he would say, his face darkening. “Any relation to Shawn?” “My brother.” “Well, the last time I saw your brother,” he would say, emphasizing this last word as if he were spitting on it,” he had both hands wrapped around my cousin’s neck, and he was smashing her head into a brick wall. He would have killed her, if it weren’t for my grandfather. “And there it was. A witness. An impartial account. But by the time I heard it, I no longer needed to hear it. The fever of self-doubt had broken long ago. That’s not to say I trusted my memory absolutely, but I trusted it as much as I trusted anybody else’s, and more than some people’s.


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