Toph Eggers Quotes in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Would we have enough towels? God no. We could use sheets, we have plenty of sheets— It might be only a few hours. Would that be enough time? What’s enough time? We would talk a lot. Yes. We would sum up. Would we be serious, sober, or funny? We would be serious for a few minutes— Okay okay okay okay. Fuck, what if we ran out of things to say and— We’ve already made the necessary arrangements. Yes, yes, we wouldn’t need to talk details. We’d have Toph come up. Would we have Toph come up? Of course, but… oh he shouldn’t be there, should he? Who wants to be there at the very end? No one, no one. But for her to be alone…of course she won’t be alone, you’ll be there, Beth’ll be there, dumb-ass. Fuck.
Only here are you almost sure that you are careening on top of a big shiny globe, blurrily spinning—you are never aware of these things in Chicago, it being so flat, so straight—and and and we have been chosen, you see, chosen, and have been given this, it being owed to us, earned by us, all of this—the sky is blue for us, the sun makes passing cars twinkle like toys for us, the ocean undulates and churns for us, murmurs and coos to us. We are owed, see this is ours, see.
They laugh, I chuckle—not too much, I don’t want to seem overeager, but enough to say “I hear you. I laugh with you. I share in the moment.” But when the chuckling is over I am still apart, something else, and no one is sure what I am. They don’t want to invest their time in the brother sent to pick up Toph while his mother cooks dinner or is stuck at work or in traffic. To them I’m a temp. A cousin maybe. The young boyfriend of a divorcee? They don’t care.
Fuck it. I don’t want to be friends with these women, anyway. Why would I care? I am not them. They are the old model and we are the new.
It’s an effort […] to let him know, if it weren’t already obvious, that as much as I want to carry on our parents’ legacy, he and I will also be doing some experimenting. And constantly entertaining, like some amazing, endless telethon. There is a voice inside me, a very excited, chirpy voice, that urges me to keep things merry, madcap even, the mood buoyant. Because Beth is always pulling out old photo albums, crying, asking Toph how he feels, I feel I have to overcompensate by keeping us occupied. I am making our lives a music video, a game show on Nickelodeon—lots of quick cuts, crazy camera angles, fun, fun, fun! It’s a campaign of distraction and revisionist history—leaflets dropped behind enemy lines, fireworks, funny dances, magic tricks.
They are scared. They are jealous.
We are pathetic. We are stars.
We are either sad and sickly or we are glamorous and new. We walk in and the choices race through my head. Sad and sickly? Or glamorous and new? Sad/sickly or glamorous/new? Sad/sickly? Glamorous/new?
We are unusual and tragic and alive.
If when she comes over she questions anything about the state of the house—“Oh God, there’s food under the couch!” or even “Holy bachelor pad!”—or worse, any parental decisions made in her company or otherwise, she is first glared at in Toph’s presence, later lectured out of his earshot, and then becomes fodder for month-long trashings in conversations with Beth about people who know nothing about anything and how dare they say anything, these people, these lotus-eating simpletons who have never known struggle, who would never question other parents, but feel the right to question me, us, simply because we are new at it, are young, are siblings.
“[…] I mean, it was almost as if it was too much to happen in one day, as if a number of days had been spliced together to quickly paint a picture of an entire period of time, to create a whole-seeming idea of how we are living, without having to stoop (or rise) to actually pacing the story out.”
“What are you getting at?”
“No, I think it’s good, it’s fine. Not entirely believable, but it works fine, in general. It’s fine.”
You know, to be honest, though, what I see is less a problem with form, all that garbage, and more a problem of conscience. You’re completely paralyzed with guilt about relating all this in the first place, especially the stuff earlier on. You feel somehow obligated to do it, but you also know that Mom and Dad would hate it, would crucify you […]. But then again, I should say, and Bill and Beth would say—well, probably not Bill, but definitely Beth—that your guilt, and their disapproval, is a very middlebrow, middle-class, midwestern sort of disapproval. It’s superstition as much as anything—like the primitives who fear the camera will take their soul. You struggle with a guilt both Catholic and unique to the home in which you were raised. Everything there was a secret—for instance, your father being in AA was not to be spoken of, ever, while he was in and after he stopped attending. You never told even your closest friends about anything that happened inside that house. And now you alternately rebel against and embrace that kind of suppression.
Anyway, with me you have this amazing chance to right the wrongs of your own upbringing, you have an opportunity to do everything better—to carry on those traditions that made sense and to jettison those that didn’t—which is something every parent has the chance to do, of course, to show up one’s own parents, do everything better, to upwardly evolve from them—but in this case, it’s even more heightened, means so much more, because you get to do this with me, their own progeny.
Then, at the moment that I am turning the corner, I become convinced, in a flash of pure truth-seeing—it happens every time I leave him anywhere—that Toph will be killed. Of course. The baby-sitter was acting peculiar, was too quiet, too unassuming. His eyes had plans. Of course. So obvious from the beginning. I ignored the signals. Toph had told me Stephen was weird, repeatedly had mentioned his scary laugh, the veggie food he brought and cooked, and I just shrugged it all off. If something happens it’ll be my fault. He will try bad things on Toph. He will try to molest Toph. While Toph is sleeping he will do something with wax and rope. The possibilities snap through my head like pedophilia flashcards—handcuffs, floorboards, clown suits, leather, videotape, duct tape, knives, bathtubs, refrigerators—
Toph will never wake up.
[…] maybe they’d just be sitting around, at Moodie’s usually, watching cable, getting ready, and I would be there, on the couch, with a beer from the fridge, savoring every minute, not knowing when it would come again, and they would be casual, having no idea what it meant to me, even when I’d be a little manic about it all, a little overeager, laughing too much, drinking too quickly, getting another from the fridge, no problem, okay, hoping for something to happen, hoping we’d go somewhere good, anything to make the night count, make it worth it, justify the constant red/black worry, the visions—I felt so detached sometimes, went for weeks at a time without really being around people my age, like living in a country where no one understands your words[.]
You wouldn’t believe what people will believe once they know our story. They’re ready for anything, basically—will believe anything, because they’ve been thrown off-balance, are still wondering if any of this is true, our story in general, but aren’t sure and are terrified of offending us.
While the ill are ill, if you can be there you should be there. I know these things. Bizarre, self-sacrificing gestures are important. On days that you cannot possibly come visit, you must visit. When you get home one night, and Toph says, “So, are you going to pretend to be a parent tonight, or what?”—which he means as a kind of joke, because you two have been eating fast food for weeks, and you’ve been napping on the couch every night after dinner—you should take a breath and know that this is okay, that this sort of thing, this struggle and sacrifice, is essential, that he does not understand but someday will.
To hear anger from him is a great relief. I had worried about his lack of anger, had worried that he and I had been too harmonious, that I hadn’t given him enough friction. He needed friction, I had begun insisting to myself. After all the years of normalcy and coddling, it was time to give the boy something to be pissed about. How else would he succeed? Where would he find his motivation, if not from the desire to tread over me?