Summary: Part II (Battle Mountain), continued

In Battle Mountain, Dad gets a decent job in the Barite mine. The owner of the barite mine also owns the Walls’ house and the commissary, so he deducts rent and food out of Dad’s weekly paycheck. Mom only cooks occasionally, usually one large pot of beans meant to last all week. Dad stays mostly in good spirits, drinking less and staying home with the family in the evenings. Strays and wild animals such as lizards, coyotes, and buzzards come in and out of the house.

One afternoon, while exploring the nearby dump, Brian and Jeannette mix together various hazardous waste liquids in an old shed and set it on fire. The flame quickly grows out of their control, and Brian gets stuck in the shed while Jeannette runs for help. She finds Dad, who kicks in a wall and rescues Brian. A few weeks later, Dad takes the family to a natural sulfur spring called the Hot Pot and teaches Jeannette how to swim by throwing her into the spring and letting her sink again and again. The process terrifies and infuriates Jeannette, and at first she refuses to allow him to hug her. When Dad insists he loves her and only wanted to teach her independence, she quickly forgives him.

Jeannette and Brian become fascinated by the Green Lantern, the local brothel. They do not yet know about sex, but Mom tells them that the women who work there do bad things, piquing their interest. They attempt to spy on the Green Lantern, but learn nothing about what goes on inside.

After six months in Battle Mountain, Dad loses his job. He disappears for long stretches of time, saying he is looking for gold. The family starts to go hungry, and the kids resort to stealing food from classmates and neighbors. When Mom finally confronts Dad about not providing for his family, they have a long and violent screaming match that lasts through the night. In the end, they decide that Mom will start teaching.

Mom makes good money teaching, but Dad often confiscates Mom’s paychecks and spends them on elaborate family dinners and alcohol. For Brian’s birthday, Dad buys him a comic book and takes him to dinner with Ginger, a woman who works at the Green Lantern. Later, Dad disappears with Ginger in a hotel bedroom. When Brian tells Jeannette about his birthday dinner, he says that Ginger is stupid, but refuses to elaborate what about his encounter with Ginger upset him.

A boy named Billy Deel moves to Battle Mountain. He is known to be a juvenile delinquent and develops a crush on Jeannette. One day, he invites Jeannette into his house to look at his father, who has passed out on a mattress with his genitals hanging out and his jeans soaked with urine. When she tells her mother about the incident, Mom tells her to show Billy more compassion. Later, Billy gives Jeannette a ring made out of real silver and turquoise. One day, while Jeannette plays hide and seek with the neighbors, Billy forces his way into Jeannette’s cramped hiding spot, kisses her, and tries to undress her. She fights him off and goes to his house the next day to return the ring.

The next day, Billy comes to the house with a BB gun and starts shooting up the house. To retaliate, Lori grabs Dad’s pistol and shoots it at Billy’s feet. As he runs away, Jeannette grabs the pistol and shoots at him too. The neighbors call in the incident, and the police come by with Mom and Dad to tell them they need to come by the magistrate the next morning. That night, they pack up and leave for Phoenix.

Analysis: Part II (Battle Mountain), continued

Dad’s job at the Barite mine reveals a societal layer to the Walls family’s poverty because of the mine’s exploitive treatment of its workers. In Battle Mountain, as Jeannette explains it, the Wallses live in a mining camp, wherein the company owns the miners’ homes and the commissary, the only place to buy groceries. Because the mine determines their employees’ wages and cost of living, the mine can adjust prices to drive miners into debt, essentially making them indentured servants. Dad rarely drinks when they first move to Battle Mountain, and yet they consistently run out of money and sometimes owe the mine on payday. Between the commissary’s prices and Mom and Dad’s terrible budgeting skills, the family has no real opportunity to profit from Dad’s job. While Mom and Dad often unfairly scapegoat the government and society for creating their problems, the mining camp’s financial system shows that structural issues at the very least worsen the Walls family’s situation.

Dad’s assessment of Jeannette and Brian’s fire as them getting too close to “the boundary between turbulence and order” provides a useful description of the Walls children’s lives. Dad speaks to Jeannette and Brian in a quiet and grave tone, which may indicate that he was afraid for their lives, or it could also suggest a moment of self-reflection. Dad intentionally subjects his kids to a life of chaos and lawlessness, not unlike the boundary between turbulence and order, and this incident left Brian closer to death than his usual antics. Unlike with the fire from Jeannette’s first memory, Dad characterizes this explosion as an elemental force instead of an adversary. His recognition that the explosion is not something the children can fight but something they should avoid comes close to admitting that sometimes staying in the realm of rules and order is necessary for safety. Unfortunately, he never follows through on this realization, and maintains the family’s status quo.

Around this part of the memoir, Jeannette begins to question Dad’s infallibility, particularly at the Hot Pot. At first when Dad throws Jeannette into the water, she reaches for him, instinctively counting on her father to keep her safe. Her surprise and fear at Dad’s repeated throwing shows that while Dad intended to teach Jeannette to swim, he actually taught Jeannette that he was willing to hurt her. After Jeannette’s terrifying ordeal, she doesn’t immediately allow Dad to hug her, a great contrast from her instant glee at Dad’s “snot locker” comment when she falls out of the car. Her hesitation to forgive Dad marks the first moment she questions his heroism and his ability to protect her. When Dad asks Jeannette why he would throw her into the water if not for her betterment, he equates her frustration over a traumatic experience with doubting his love, effectively manipulating Jeannette into forgiving him. Here Jeannette begins to learn that some of the fear and suffering Dad creates is because of his personal failures, and not for any greater purpose.

At this point, no one has talked to Jeannette about sex, and yet her unstructured upbringing has brought sexuality to her attention in ways that are both confusing and traumatizing. Mom’s explanation that “bad things” happen at the Green Lantern both intrigues and frightens Jeannette and Brian, leading them to spy on the women. Although Jeannette doesn’t understand what the women do, this early depiction of sex portrays it as something hurtful. Brian’s later anger at Ginger only increases Jeannette’s confusion because he refuses to explain why he’s angry. Whereas discussing the Green Lantern had once been a shared experience, Brian’s newfound understanding of sex work divides Jeannette and Brian. In this way, Jeannette’s early encounters with sex involve discomfort and isolation. Jeannette’s other early introduction to sexuality comes from Billy Deel. At only eleven, Billy acts sexually precocious, likely because of negative influence from his alcoholic father. When he forcibly kisses Jeannette, he calls it “rape,” increasing Jeannette’s association of sex with violence.