I waited for what seemed like a long time before I decided it was possible Mom and Dad might not come back for me. They might not notice I was missing. They might decide that it wasn’t worth the drive back to retrieve me; that, like Quixote the cat, I was a bother and a burden they could do without.

When Jeannette is accidentally thrown out of the car due to her dad’s speeding, she worries that her parents won’t return to retrieve her. Although they do, and her father promises that he would never leave her, the fact that she would even consider that her parents would abandon her shows how emotionally difficult their chaotic life is for a developing child. Although Jeannette is still far too young to criticize her parents, she is already feeling the effects of their negligence.

Dad kept telling me that he loved me, that he never would have let me drown, but you can’t cling to the side your whole life, that one lesson every parent needs to teach a child is “If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim.” What other reason, he asked, would possibly make him do this?

While Rex’s sink-or-swim philosophy ends in Jeannette learning to swim, it also frightens her and makes her question how much she can trust her father to protect her. Later, Rex compares his actions in the swimming hole to him practically prostituting his own daughter to win a game of pool. To Rex, both situations are fine, because Jeannette proves that she can handle herself. But to Jeannette and the outside viewer, Rex’s sink-or-swim philosophy has a dark undertone, as, in both cases, her father exhibits a glimmer of cruelty and manipulation toward his daughter and a willingness to see her get hurt.

It was gross and creepy, but it would explain a lot. Why Dad left home as soon as he could. Why he drank so much and got so angry. Why he was shaking his head so hard, almost like he wanted to put his hands over his ears, when I tried to explain what Erma was doing to Brian.

When Jeannette tries to tell Rex that she caught Erma molesting Brian, Rex doesn’t handle the information well. Not only does he defend Erma rather than show concern for Brian, he suggests that Brian should be able to “take it” – referring to the sexual abuse – like a man. When the children continue to protest, he becomes increasingly agitated. Jeannette begins to wonder if her father may have suffered the same kind of abuse at Erma’s hands, and she thinks it would explain his dislike of his hometown, his anger issues, and his substance abuse. A lot of Rex’s self-destructive, risky behaviors and mental health issues are indicative of untreated psychological trauma.

She said that sexual assault was a crime of perception. “If you don’t think you’re hurt, then you aren’t,” she said. “So many women make such a big deal out of these things. But you’re stronger than that.”

When Jeannette tells her mother that Uncle Stanley rubbed her leg while masturbating, her mother does not have the appropriate response to learning that her child has been sexually assaulted. She not only seems to empathize more with Stanley’s loneliness than she does with her own daughter’s discomfort, but she also downplays Jeannette’s experience by claiming that if a woman chooses not to make a big deal out of sexual assault, she won’t be traumatized by it. Despite knowing about both Brian and Jeannette’s assaults, she doesn’t protect her children and sweeps the severity of what’s happened to them under the rug.

It went on that way for a couple of hours, with Robbie getting sloppy drunk, losing to Dad, and groping me when we danced or sat at the bar between games. All Dad said to me was “Keep your legs crossed, honey, and keep ‘em crossed tight.”

When Rex asks a teenaged Jeannette to accompany him to a business meeting, Jeannette agrees, hoping that there might be some spark left in her father to do something meaningful for the family. Instead, Rex’s business opportunity is really just betting on pool. He allows and encourages his adult opponent, Robbie, to flirt with, dance with, and touch Jeannette in the hopes that he’ll loosen up and become increasingly intoxicated. While Rex does warn Jeannette to keep her legs crossed so that Robbie can’t touch her privates, he later allows Jeannette to accompany Robbie to his home, knowing full well that Robbie expects sex. Rex is essentially sexually exploiting his own daughter to make money.