Charlie spends two months in the hospital after his family finds him naked, unresponsive, and looking at a blank television. He didn’t speak to anyone for a week. When he finally starts talking again, he answers a new doctor’s questions. Charlie says he doesn’t want to talk about the questions and his answers, but he explains that with this doctor’s help, he realizes that Aunt Helen molested him as a child every Saturday while they watched TV. He explains that the hardest thing for him was being in the room when the doctor told his parents that Aunt Helen molested him. His mother sobs, and his father looks extremely angry because they didn’t know. Charlie says that he likes his doctor, and she has helped him work through the stages of this experience.
Charlie’s triggering experience seems to have resulted in an almost catatonic state because his mind couldn’t handle the resurgence of his traumatic memories. Where he has been rather forthcoming previously, now Charlie only wants to give the reader the high-level summary of his recent experiences, perhaps because he’s still working through extremely tough things. Knowing that Aunt Helen turned out to be both Charlie’s favorite person who showed him open affection and his abuser helps the reader to understand why Charlie might have been inclined to forgive other abusers: his own experiences of abuse were tangled up and confused with affection.
Charlie’s family and friends visit him regularly, and his older brother even reads Charlie’s essay on Walden and tells him how much he liked it. His brother’s praise makes Charlie feel good. Charlie also talks about how Patrick treats him the same in the hospital and cracks jokes to make him feel better. Patrick and Sam promise to drive Charlie through the tunnel once he’s released. Bill and his girlfriend visit Charlie and invite him to their wedding, and Charlie writes that it’s exciting to have things to look forward to. When his siblings visit him, they talk about Aunt Helen, and Charlie realizes there’s no point in blaming her for what she did to him because he would then have to blame the people who abused her, and so on. He writes that thinking that way “wasn’t going anywhere” and “wasn’t the point.”
Though it was extremely hard, having his family finally know about his experience of abuse creates a new understanding and openness between them. Patrick once again demonstrates his knack for making people feel accepted by not being careful or nervous around Charlie. Sam and Patrick’s promise to drive Charlie through the tunnel represents their commitment to helping him enjoy and experience his adolescence and all the transformations it involves. One major transformation that already occurred is Charlie’s acceptance of his experience and releasing of any anger or resentment he feels about it. Following Sam’s example, Charlie realizes that the most productive thing he can do is to move on.
In the hospital, Charlie decides that he isn’t the way he is because of what happened with Aunt Helen. He knows what happened is important, and he should remember it, but people are who they are for a lot of reasons, as his doctor tells him. Charlie says that he can choose where to go from there, to do things, and feel good about them. Thinking about the future, Charlie decides that if he has children, he’ll never tell them that someone has it worse because it doesn’t change the fact that the kids are upset.
By deciding that his past experiences don’t define him, Charlie takes further control over his identity and his life. He recognizes the significance of his experiences and uses them to evaluate his future choices, but doesn’t allow them to prevent him from living. He also seems to have learned that while other people might have even worse problems, other’s experiences don’t invalidate his.
When Charlie gets released from the hospital he goes to McDonald’s with his mom and they eat french fries together. Later, Sam and Patrick pick him up and drive Charlie through the tunnel. Patrick turns up the radio, and Charlie stands in the back of the truck with the wind in his face. He thinks about how he still loves his Aunt Helen for buying him to presents, and how much he wants the people around him to be happy. He starts crying because he’s aware that he’s “really there,” and that feeling is enough to make him feel “infinite.” Charlie writes that this will be his last letter because the new school year is starting, and he plans to be too busy with “participating” to write letters anymore. He ends by asking the reader to believe that things are good with him and promises to believe the same about the reader.
In a direct comparison to the lost little boy at the mall, Charlie also returns from feeling lost and overwhelmed to bonding with his mom as they share french fries. As Charlie later rides through the tunnel standing in the back of Sam’s truck, he relishes the freedom he feels living in the present moment. He doesn’t care about reaching downtown, but instead sees the tunnel as a destination itself—something, like adolescence, that he can enjoy along with his peers. In this moment, the reader can see Charlie’s largest transformation yet, which is his joy in the present and hope for the future.