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When the semester ends, Tara returns home for the summer. She does not yet know whether she will be able to return to college in the fall; her grades need to be good enough to earn her a scholarship. Tara is eager to return to working at the local grocery store in order to earn money, but her father insists that she return to scrapping. Faced with the threat that she will not be able to live at home unless she goes back to scrapping, Tara quits her job at the grocery store.
Tara's old friend Charles takes an interest in her, and asks her out on a date. Shyly, Tara begins to spend more and more time with him. She is also delighted to learn that she has been awarded a scholarship, and can return to college in the fall. Although Tara has hoped that Charles will make a romantic gesture, she panics the first time he tries to touch her.
Tara's education and new worldliness, as well as her budding relationship with Charles, attract the attention of Shawn and her father. Both men are determined to put Tara in her place. Tara finds the experience of interacting with her father and brother uncomfortable in light of her newly acquired knowledge. For example, her brother uses a racial epithet as a nickname for her. This has not bothered Tara in the past, but she now knows about the history of slavery and the civil rights movement. She understands how wrong it is for her brother to use this term, but she is also powerless to stop him.
Shortly before Tara is supposed to go back to college, she experiences a severe earache. None of her mother's herbal remedies provide any relief, and when she mentions her pain to Charles, he offers her pain medication. After hesitantly taking the medication, Tara is shocked that her pain disappears.
Tara returns to school, moving in with her new roommates, Robin, Megan, and Jenni. Robin helps Tara learn about some of the social norms she has not previously understood. Tara struggles with her algebra class, and the stress leads her to develop stomach ulcers. Despite the pain, Tara refuses to see a doctor and also takes on additional work as a janitor. She is going home to Buck's Peak for Thanksgiving, and she asks Charles if he will help her study algebra during this time.
Tara returns home, and is nervous about having Charles come to dinner. When Shawn taunts her, the two of them end up in a physical struggle. Once Charles arrives, Shawn attacks Tara again. She is panicked and desperate to prevent Charles from seeing her abuse. Charles rushes out of the house, but he and Tara meet up later that night. She tells him that everything is fine. Driven by shame, Tara and Charles eventually break up.
Back at college, Tara's physical symptoms draw the attention of her roommate Robin. Tara still refuses to see a doctor, and also ignores Robin's suggestion of meeting with a counselor. Tara manages to score a perfect grade on her algebra final, and this result convinces her that she is invincible. Tara returns home for Christmas, observing her brother Richard and noting his intelligence. Tara is shocked when Tyler mentions to her that Gene is supportive of Richard going to college, and eventually learns that her father wants Richard to go to college because he believes his son will use his intelligence to undermine current cultural values.
Throughout Tara's time at home, Shawn forces her to go into the store where Charles is working while she is wearing her dirty work clothes. When Tara resists, Shawn physically attacks her in the parking lot. That night, Shawn apologizes, and Tara wrestles with confusion about whether or not she could have misunderstood the events.
Tara's relationship with Charles reflects a new stage of emotional development but also shows the lingering trauma of her childhood. Charles may have always had feelings for her, or his attraction may be ignited by seeing Tara as a new person once she has started to build a new life for herself. Tara is acquiring an intellectual education at college, but the possibility of a romantic relationship gives her the chance to learn about herself in a romantic and sexual context. In the same way that she was curious about college and the wider world, Tara is curious about exploring what it means to date Charles. However, even a simple touch from Charles is too much for Tara because she has been taught that her body and her desires are bad and sinful. While she is developing her independence in crucial ways, Tara's panic shows that she is still deeply influenced by the way she grew up.
Read more about why Tara finds it difficult to pursue romantic relationships.
Along with her intelligence, Tara's grit and resilience become a huge factor in the success of her education. She is capable of excelling in her classes, but she also needs money, and this means that she needs to juggle her classes and work multiple jobs. Because she is used to hard, manual labor, Tara is prepared to do whatever it takes—including taking on a janitorial role—and doesn't even comment on the work she does in her memoir. On top of her many exhausting commitments, Tara must grapple with physical suffering. Her ulcers and tooth problems result directly from her stressful life and an upbringing in which she did not receive proper care. Most college students would not have to contend with these problems, but Tara meets her challenges head-on.
Shawn's abusive behavior becomes heightened because he senses that Tara is slipping beyond his control. His sister is now physically absent for months at a time, and she is building a future for herself where she will someday be able to live and work independently from the family if she chooses. Tara's relationship with Charles also shows Shawn that she is starting to make her own choices, and that she is drawn to a man who is not seeking to control or dominate her. Shawn's physical abuse becomes more pronounced and blatant, and he does not care whether people outside of the family know what is happening. Shawn is also psychologically astute, and knows how to cause Tara shame, which actually hurts her more than any of the physical actions do.
Despite her increasing independence, Tara still second-guesses the severity of what Shawn is doing and blames herself. When Tara realizes that Charles has seen the way Shawn treats her, she reacts with intense shame, as if she is the one who has done something wrong. Tara is terrified of pity. In her family, vulnerability is wielded against people, so she cannot imagine Charles feeling compassion for her. Because of the abuse, Tara's view of the world becomes very distorted, and she isolates herself. Her shame and insecurity allow Shawn to prey on her further, because Tara is always tempted to blame herself or minimize what has happened. Shawn does seem to sometimes experience genuine regret, even though he always repeats his abusive behavior later. Because Tara is not confident in her own perspective, she can fall victim to believing that nothing bad is actually happening to her.
Read more about how the motif of injury reminds readers that Tara is regularly being exposed to trauma.
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