In order to keep ourselves happy, we have to free ourselves from thinking unhappy thoughts. We have to free ourselves from the damage caused by the incidents that happened in the past, sometimes there are childhood traumas that need to be revisited to understand our fears, our worries and our dilemmas. Like Rosemary Cooke in the fiction We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves written by Karen Joy Fowler, we cannot go forward without going back to the times when certain happenings or memory of these incidents had caused a mark in our lives.
In the fiction written by Fowler , Fern had arrived when Rosemary was just over one month old and Fern was just shy of three months. Rosemary felt her loss in a powerful way when Fern was sent away. This is how Rosemary’s mother described her and Fern:
When Fern woke up, she woke up. Spun like a pinwheel. Burst like a sunburst. Swung through our house like a miniature Colossus. You remember how Dad used to call her our Mighty Whirlitzer? All the noise and color and excitement of Mardi Gras, and right in our very own home.
When you got just a little older, you and she were quite the team. She’d open the cupboards and you’d pull out every pot, every pan. She could work the childproof locks in a heartbeat, but she didn’t have your stick-to-itiveness. Remember how obsessed she was with shoelaces? We were tripping over our feet because Fern had untied our shoelaces without us noticing.
She’d climb up in the closets and pull the coats from the hangers, drop them down to you below. Fetch coins from my purse for you to suck on. Open the drawers and hand you the pins and the needles , the scissors and the knives.’
As the daughter of a psychology professor at Indiana University, Rosemary was raised with a chimpanzee as part of a scientific experiment. When Fern was sent away, both Rosemary and her brother Lowell were shattered. Lowell blamed Rosemary for Fern’s departure and he became an animal activist to the point of no return. Rosemary asked her mother if she was worried about her and what the impact might be to adopt a chimpanzee and introduced her as her twin sister. Her mother replied,
“ Of course I did,” she said.” I worried about that all the time. But you adored Fern. You were a happy, happy child.”
“ Was I ? I don’t remember.”
“Absolutely. I worried about what being Fern’s sister would do to you, but I wanted it for you, too.” The candlelight was casting shadow puppets in the kitchen. The wine was red. Mom took another sip and turned her softly sagging face away from mine. “I wanted you to have an extraordinary life,” she said.
Is the reason given by Rosemary’s mother good enough to exonerate her parents from all that damage caused by her early years growing up with a chimpanzee whose exile had subsequently caused her to carry the weight of her guilt till her adult years ? It was an interesting story about how parents might have damaged their children even if they have the best of intentions.
When Rosemary went to college, as part of her brand new start, she made a careful decision never ever tell anyone about her sister, Fern. She shared a room with Scully who was gregarious and outgoing. So they had all these people who came to their room and they carried on about "the Whac-A-Mole dynamics of the homes they'd just left. Their parents were so weird!!"
‘I’d come back from class or dinner, or I ‘d wake up in the middle of the night, and there’d be a half-dozen freshmen, sitting with their backs against the walls, carrying on about the Whac-A-Mole dynamics of the homes they’d just left. Their parents were so weird! Like Scully, they’d just figured that out. Every single one of them had weird parents.
One of them had a mother who’d once grounded her a whole summer because she’d gotten a B-plus in biology. Her mother had grown up in some part of Delhi where they didn’t abide B-pluses.
One of them had a father who made the whole family stand at the refrigerator and down a glass of orange juice before going out for breakfast, because restaurant orange juice was too expensive to order, but you could hardly call it breakfast without.’
So it appeared to Rosemary that every single one of Scully's friends had weird parents.
I was first drawn to the title of the book We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves so when my daughter’s package that she had shipped home finally arrived, I was glad to get my hand on her copy of the novel. The fiction is smartly told about sibling love and rivalry and what constitutes a family. This is the first book by Karen Joy Fowler that I have ever read and I will be seeking out her earlier fictions when I next hit the bookstore.