Educated: A Memoir
“The Lord has called me to testify,” he said. “He is displeased. You have cast aside His blessings to whore after man’s knowledge. His wrath is stirred against you. It will not be long in coming.”
Dad seemed to grow five inches. Shawn bent unsteadily and lifted a piece of heavy iron, then heaved it toward the Shear. “Don’t be stupid,” Dad said. “If she’s doing it, I’m doing it,” Shawn said. The fight had left his voice. I’d never seen Shawn give way to Dad, not once, but he’d decided to lose this argument. He understood that if he didn’t submit, I surely would.
That failure sat uneasily in my mind. It was the first indication of whether I would be okay, whether whatever I had in my head by way of education was enough. After the quiz, the answer seemed clear: it was not enough. On realizing this, I might have resented my upbringing but I didn’t. My loyalty to my father had increased in proportion to the miles between us. On the mountain, I could rebel. But here, in this loud, bright place, surrounded by gentiles disguised as saints, I clung to every truth, every doctrine he had given me. Doctors were Sons of Perdition. Homeschooling was a commandment from the Lord.
I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others—because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.
Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. 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 began to experience the most powerful advantage of money: the ability to think of things besides money.
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. The ugliness of me had to be given expression. If it was not expressed in his voice, I would need to express it in mine.
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.
Blood rushed to my brain; I felt an animating surge of adrenaline, of possibility, of a frontier being pushed outward. Of the nature of women, nothing final can be known. Never had I found such comfort in a void, in the black absence of knowledge. It seemed to say: whatever you are, you are woman.
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.
If there was a single moment when the breach between us, which had been cracking and splintering for two decades, was at last too vast to be bridged, I believe it was that winter night, when I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, while, without my knowing it, my father grasped the phone in his knotted hands and dialed my brother. Diego, the knife. What followed was very dramatic. But the real drama had already played out in the bathroom.
Until that moment she had always been there. No matter how much I appeared to have changed—how illustrious my education, how altered my appearance—I was still her. At best I was two people, a fractured mind. She was inside, and emerged whenever I crossed the threshold of my father’s house.
That night I called on her and she didn’t answer. She left me. She stayed in the mirror. The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self. You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.