The Glass Castle: Section 2, Chapters 20-21

Summary – Section Two, Chapters Twenty and Twenty One
Life improved while Mom was working in that they had food in the fridge for most of the month, but the money often ran out before the end of the month as neither parent was good at budgeting.
Mom’s salary also caused problems as Dad thought the check should be turned over to him (as he saw himself as the head of the household). He said it was his responsibility and wanted money for his gold-leaching research. Mom said, ‘“the only research you’re doing is on the liver’s capacity to absorb alcohol.”’ However, she still found it hard to defy him ‘outright’ and was evasive with him. He took to escorting her to the bank on pay day and on one trip Mom passed the money to Jeannette, but Dad realized what she was doing and persuaded Jeannette to hand it over later.
They were soon out of money again and at one point their father noticed Jeannette and Brian did not have a lunch bag for school. He asked where they were and Brian said there was no food in the house. Dad pretended to mutter to himself about their mother wasting money on art supplies. He turned up at school at lunchtime and asked them rhetorically if he had ever let them down. In a voice too quiet for Dad to hear, Brian said ‘“yes”’.
The narrative then cuts to Lori, Brian and Jeannette at home and to when Lori stared in the empty fridge and said it was time for Dad to pull his weight. Jeannette defended him, and said how he needed money for his ‘cyanide leaching’. Only Brian and Lori laughed when he said he was already an expert in leaching.
Jeannette’s father told her she was his favorite, but made her promise not to tell the others. He also said he did not know what he would do if she lost faith in him. She told him this would not happen and promised herself she never would.
A few months after Mom started teaching, Brian and Jeannette passed the Green Lantern. A woman waved at Brian, but he did not wave back. He also ignored her (Ginger) when she shouted to him. He explained to Jeannette that he met her on his birthday. On that day, Dad told him to pick a present and Brian chose a Sad Sack comic book. They then went to the Nevada Hotel, which was near the Owl Club,and there they had dinner with Ginger. After this, all three went to a hotel suite. Brian stayed in the front room and read his comic book while Dad and Ginger went to the bedroom. When they came out, Ginger sat with Brian and said she loved Sad Sack, and Dad made him give it to her. Brian said to Jeannette how the comic book was his, and that she kept asking him to read out the bigger words.
Jeannette realized Ginger must have done more than this as his dislike was so powerful and wondered if he had worked out why Mom thought the women at the Green Lantern were so ‘bad’. She asked him this and he stared off ahead at nothing. He then said how she makes a lot of money and she should buy ‘“her own darn comic book”’.
Chapter Twenty One cuts to how just after Jeannette’s eighth birthday Billy Deel and his father moved into the neighborhood. He was three years older than her and lit his cigarettes with a Zippo lighter. He never mentioned his mother, who was absent, and his father worked in the barite mines. He spent his evenings at the Owl Club, ‘so Billy had a lot of unsupervised time on his hands’.
He took to following Jeannette about and telling others that she was his girlfriend. One day he told her he wanted to show her something funny and she went with him into his house. His father was in there sleeping on one of the mattresses; his trousers were wet and his penis was out of his trousers. She asked what was funny and Billy said how his Dad had ‘“pissed himself”’. She said, ‘“you’re not supposed to laugh at your own father”’ and he told her not to be ‘“high and mighty”’, and added that her father was a drunk like his. She wanted to tell him about things like the Glass Castle and binary numbers, which made her father special, but knew he would not understand. As she left, though, she turned around and shouted, ‘“when my daddy passes out, he never pisses himself”’.
At dinner that night, Jeannette told everyone about Billy’s father and ‘the ugly dump’ they lived in. Her mother reprimanded her for not showing Billy compassion and also looked pointedly at Jeannette’s father and said, ‘“unloved children grow up to become serial murderers or alcoholics”’.
The next time she saw Billy she said she would be his friend but not his girlfriend. A week later he gave her a ring (of his mother’s he said) and she said she would keep it but not wear it. He started telling everyone they would marry when they were older and she knew she should return the ring, but did not as it was too pretty.
A few weeks later she was playing hide and seek with some other children and he joined her in her cramped hiding place. He forced her to kiss him and undid his trousers. There was not room to knee him in the groin as she had been taught so she bit his ear and he hit her back.
The next day she gave him his ring back and said she did not want to be his friend anymore. As she walked away, he threw the ring at her and shouted that he had raped her. She did not know what this meant, but said ‘“big deal”’.
The day after this Jeannette and her siblings were indoors playing cards while their parents were at the Owl Club. They heard Billy outside and Lori saw he had a gun (a BB gun). He broke a window, reminded Jeannette she would be sorry and then shot at them. Jeannette felt her ribs sting and after they hid behind a spool table Lori went upstairs and returned with their father’s pistol. Billy dared her to fire it, and she did.
They all ran outside and saw he had run down the tracks. Fifty yards away he shot at them again and Jeannette fired back. The dirt kicked up in front of him and he jumped and ran off again.
A short while later a police car pulled up and their parents got out. Their father asked what had happened and Jeannette said it was ‘“self-defense”’. The policeman said gunshots had been heard and also told them the whole family would have to come to court the next day. Billy Deel and his father would be there too and the magistrates would get to the bottom of what happened. Brian asked if they would be sent away and he was told this would be up to the magistrate.
After the policeman left, their parents discussed the matter and decided they were going to leave for Phoenix that night. Their father said they could take one item each and she chose to take her rock collection. However, she had to choose just one of these (the geode). Lori took The Wizard of Oz and Brian took his toy soldiers.
Analysis – Section Two, Chapters Twenty and Twenty One
The fight with Billy Deel is described in comic terms despite the obvious truth that Billy and the Walls children were in many ways neglected. Jeannette also demonstrates that our perceptions of childhood have shifted over the years and highlights the aspects of her upbringing that were at times life-threatening but nevertheless interesting.