The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
Castle: A Memoir
To John, for convincing me that everyone who is interesting has a past
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A WOMAN ON THE STREET
NEW YORK CITY
I'd like to thank my brother, Brian, for standing by me when we were
growing up and while I wrote this. I'm also grateful to my mother for
believing in art and truth and for supporting the idea of the book; to my
brilliant and talented older sister, Lori, for coming around to it; and to
my younger sister, Maureen, whom I will always love. And to my father,
Rex S. Walls, for dreaming all those big dreams.
Very special thanks also to my agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, for her
compassion, wit, tenacity, and enthusiastic support; to my editor, Nan
Graham, for her keen sense of how much is enough and for caring so
deeply; and to Alexis Gargagliano for her thoughtful and sensitive
My gratitude for their early and constant support goes to Jay and Betsy
Taylor, Laurie Peck, Cynthia and David Young, Amy and Jim Scully,
Ashley Pearson, Dan Mathews, Susan Watson, and Jessica Taylor and
I can never adequately thank my husband, John Taylor, who persuaded
me it was time to tell my story and then pulled it out of me.
Dark is a way and light is a place, Heaven that never was Nor will be
ever is always true —Dylan Thomas,
"Poem on His Birthday"
A WOMAN ON THE STREET
I WAS SITTING IN a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the
evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a
Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the
steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the
sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks
from the party where I was heading.
Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to
keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her
dog, a black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet. Mom's gestures
were all familiar—the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower
lip when studying items of potential value that she'd hoisted out of the
Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found
something she liked. Her long hair was streaked with gray, tangled and
matted, and her eyes had sunk deep into their sockets, but still she
reminded me of the mom she'd been when I was a kid, swan-diving off
cliffs and painting in the desert and reading Shakespeare aloud. Her
cheekbones were still high and strong, but the skin was parched and
ruddy from all those winters and summers exposed to the elements. To
the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of
homeless people in New York City.
It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I
was overcome with panic that she'd see me and call out my name, and that someone on the way to the same party would spot us together and
Mom would introduce herself and my secret would be out.
I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me
home to Park Avenue.
The taxi pulled up in front of my building, the doorman held the door for
me, and the elevator man took me up to my floor. My husband was
working late, as he did most nights, and the apartment was silent except
for the click of my heels on the polished wood floor. I was still rattled
from seeing Mom, the unexpectedness of coming across her, the sight of
her rooting happily through the Dumpster. I put some Vivaldi on, hoping
the music would settle me down.
I looked around the room. There were the turn-of-the-century bronze-
and-silver vases and the old books with worn leather spines that I'd
collected at flea markets. There were the Georgian maps I'd had framed,
the Persian rugs, and the overstuffed leather armchair I liked to sink into
at the end of the day. I'd tried to make a home for myself here, tried to
turn the apartment into the sort of place where the person I wanted to be
would live. But I could never enjoy the room without worrying about
Mom and Dad huddled on a sidewalk grate somewhere. I fretted about
them, but I was embarrassed by them, too, and ashamed of myself for
wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy
keeping warm and finding something to eat.
What could I do? I'd tried to help them countless times, but Dad would
insist they didn't need anything, and Mom would ask for something silly,
like a perfume atomizer or a membership in a health club. They said that
they were living the way they wanted to.
After ducking down in the taxi so Mom wouldn't see me, I hated myself
—hated my antiques, my clothes, and my apartment. I had to do
something, so I called a friend of Mom's and left a message. It was our system of staying in touch. It always took Mom a few days to get back to
me, but when I heard from her, she sounded, as always, cheerful and
casual, as though we'd had lunch the day before. I told her I wanted to
see her and suggested she drop by the apartment, but she wanted to go to
a restaurant. She loved eating out, so we agreed to meet for lunch at her
favorite Chinese restaurant.
Mom was sitting at a booth, studying the menu, when I arrived. She'd
made an effort to fix herself up. She wore a bulky gray sweater with only
a few light stains, and black leather men's shoes. She'd washed her face,
but her neck and temples were still dark with grime.
She waved enthusiastically when she saw me. "It's my baby girl!" she
called out. I kissed her cheek. Mom had dumped all the plastic packets
of soy sauce and duck sauce and hot-and-spicy mustard from the table
into her purse. Now she emptied a wooden bowl of dried noodles into it
as well. "A little snack for later on," she explained.
We ordered. Mom chose the Seafood Delight. "You know how I love my
seafood," she said.
She started talking about Picasso. She'd seen a retrospective of his work
and decided he was hugely overrated. All the cubist stuff was gimmicky,
as far as she was concerned. He hadn't really done anything worthwhile
after his Rose Period.
"I'm worried about you," I said. "Tell me what I can do to help."
Her smile faded. "What makes you think I need your help?"
"I'm not rich," I said. "But I have some money. Tell me what it is you
She thought for a moment. "I could use an electrolysis treatment." "Be serious."
"I am serious. If a woman looks good, she feels good."
"Come on, Mom." I felt my shoulders tightening up, the way they
invariably did during these conversations. "I'm talking about something
that could help you change your life, make it better."
"You want to help me change my life?" Mom asked. "I'm fine. You're the
one who needs help. Your values are all confused."
"Mom, I saw you picking through trash in the East Village a few days
"Well, people in this country are too wasteful. It's my way of recycling."
She took a bite of her Seafood Delight. "Why didn't you say hello?"
"I was too ashamed, Mom. I hid."
Mom pointed her chopsticks at me. "You see?" she said. "Right there.
That's exactly what I'm saying. You're way too easily embarrassed. Your
father and I are who we are. Accept it."
"And what am I supposed to tell people about my parents?"
"Just tell the truth," Mom said. "That's simple enough."
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