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Archive 08-19 GR Discussions > The Glass Castle **Possible Spoilers**

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message 1: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Welcome to our discussion of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

What was your overall impression of the book?

Which stories from Jeannette's childhood were most memorable to you and why?


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Although I read this a while ago, the word that comes to mind for this book is "chilling". I could not believe the conditions under which these children lived and yet found their spirit to be alive and functioning. They were truly mistreated children and their mother and father so indifferent to their needs it was startling. The parents were obviously depraved and I couldn't help but wonder why someone, anyone, didn't intervene in their lives. Why didn't the grandmother take them away? I know if I saw my grandchildren being dragged up this way I would have done everything in my power to get them. I think however, that the author would not have been the person she is today without the struggles she went through. It shapes who she is and what she does. It was a heart breaking novel for sure and one that I will remember for a very long time.


Elizabeth (Alaska) The human spirit is amazing. That, in spite of her childhood rather than because of it, the author grew to be a fully functioning adult is remarkable.

I read this several years ago. I have snippets of pictures in my mind, none of which are enough to really discuss the book. But thank you for wanting to read it now and reminding me of it.


message 4: by Holli (new)

Holli My overall impression of this book was sadness and familiarity and understanding. My ex-husband's mother was like the mother in this book and I never truly understood his childhood nor his attachment to a mother who so clearly wasn't attached to him until I read this book......


message 5: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments I think one of the most memorable stories in this book was the one about the margarine. The kids were so hungry and all they had to eat in the house was a stick of margarine, so they split it between themselves. I cannot imagine being so hungry as to resort to eating margarine. ANd afterwards they were scolded by their mother because she had wanted it for herself!


message 6: by Linda (new)

Linda | 1569 comments I just read this book last month and it makes you feel quite grateful if you were raised by a responsible, caring parent(s). It was so troubling that parents that could have provided for their children chose not to and literally let their children starve. Some may call the mother eccentric, but I think she was selfish. As for the dad, he was no better. He was a lazy dreamer who let alcohol take over his life and a poor excuse for a human being(exp.-trying to prostitute his daughter at the bars).


message 7: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
It was obvious that the dad was an alcoholic, and that explained alot of his behaviour. Does anyone else think that the mom most likely had mental health issues though? Her behaviour is just not that of a "normal" person, so I really think she must have had some kind of mental health condition.


message 8: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
The real mom (in present day) is included in this video of the author that is posted here on Goodreads on the book page, if anyone is interested in seeing them in real life.

http://www.goodreads.com/videos/show/...


message 9: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments That was really interesting, thank you Sheila for that link! I definitely think there is some mental illness in the mother. I am not a psychiatrist and am by no means an epert in mental illness, but there does seem to be something underlying her behavior.


message 10: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2563 comments Mod
I read this and her follow up book which was more of a prequel to this story talking about her maternal grandmother.

Maybe it's because I grew up dirt poor, or maybe I'm jaded but I didn't think her story was terribly extraordinary.
Yes her parents were totally inept and should never have had kids. But I know a lot of people like that. Yes she grew up dirt poor and in unspeakable conditions. But again, I know a lot of people who grew up beyond poor coping at times in conditions that are horrible.

I think if having crazy parents and growing up poor the basis for a book there are a lot of untapped books out there.

I liked the book but probably more because I could relate in part to it or know people who could.

I also think that while it's difficult to grow up under such circumstances it is not impossible. There is a level of understanding, compassion and wisdom that I believe comes with growing up in less than ideal circumstances. Of course that is dependant on if you don't use it as an excuse for every failure and misfortune you have and reach past it.

You ask which story were most memorable for me they were the stories that made me laugh. I know maybe a lot of people didn't laugh during this book but I really did laugh a lot when I read it. I think because I could relate or grew up with others that could relate or one up these stories. I love the one where she is falls out of the car and they don't notice for miles. I loved when her dad basically stole her from the hospital. I also really liked the stories when she went to school and people expected nothing from her because she was so poor and from the wrong part of town or from crazy family and yet she could and did know more.


message 11: by Holli (new)

Holli Watched the video... thanks for that link! I didn't see any sort of mental illness in her mother at all... she's just a kooky old bird as my English friend would say and reminds me exactly of my ex's mom.

If I had to describe my ex MIL I would call her eccentric, intelligent, creative, stubborn, opinionated, vocal, earthy, selfish, bizarre.... that's how I pictured Jeanette Walls' mom too.


message 12: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Tera, I understand how you can see humor in parts of this story. I found a lot of it entertaining and I think the author told the story in such a way that did not impart judgement on her parents. As a parent myself, I can see some value in not being hypervigilant and allowing children to struggle in order to teach them how to succeed.

What I thought was extraordinary, however, was that the parents weren't really poor. They had money in property (as we learned towards the end of the book) and her mom never had problems finding work when she wanted it, however, they chose to not spend money on food and basic necessities; any money they had was spent on alcohol for Rex and paint supplies for her mom.


message 13: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments After Jeannette "escapes" to New York City and enrolls in college, she is singled out by a professor for not understanding the plight of homeless people; why do you think she keeps quiet instead of defending herself?

(And was I the only one that was disappointed by her response? I really wanted her to give a speech)


message 14: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
Gillian wrote: "After Jeannette "escapes" to New York City and enrolls in college, she is singled out by a professor for not understanding the plight of homeless people; why do you think she keeps quiet instead of..."

I am thinking that at that point in her life, she was probably quite embarrased about her parents and her upbringing, so that is why she kept quiet. She didn't want any of her classmates to feel sorry for her, or look down on her. She had escaped that world, and for once she wanted to feel and be seen as "normal".


message 15: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
Gillian wrote: "What I thought was extraordinary, however, was that the parents weren't really poor. They had money in property (as we learned towards the end of the book) and her mom never had problems finding work when she wanted it, however, they chose to not spend money on food and basic necessities; any money they had was spent on alcohol for Rex and paint supplies for her mom. "

I agree Gillian, this family did not need to be poor and live the life they did. The mom owned the property in Texas which she got money from, she ended up owning the house in Arizone, which they basically just abandoned. The father was only interested in getting his next drink, and the mom couldn't get past thinking about herself. That is why I think she must have had some kind of a mental health issue. These are not normal choices a person makes. And there were parts in the story about her laying on her bed crying for days at a time, and like you mentioned, while she easily found work as a teacher she chose not to be a responsible adult, and instead chose a life of poverty and made her children live the same life.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I watched the link too! Thank you Sheila for it. Sad to see don't you think? Here was a very talented woman who just lost her way. I would think there had to be mental issues there. One hopes that in this day and age, the children would have been taken away and assistance would have been given to the parents.

You are a product always of your environment and it is a happy thing to see that Jennifer succeeded despite an extremely rough start.


message 17: by Dero (new)

Dero Great link. I read both of her books but liked "The Glass Castle" best but after reading the prequel, I understood a little bit more of where her mother got some of her quirks. I also agree that there appears to be a mental issue here.


message 18: by Megan (new)

Megan Underwood | 267 comments I loved Jeannette Walls’ ability to write her memoir without coming off as melodramatic, wallowing in self-pity, or complaining (unlike Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir - Eat, Pray, Love). "The Glass Castle" was a motivational and interesting read.


message 19: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments What do you think the glass castle symbolizes?


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Something breakable, an illusion, fragile, a fairy tale, a pie in the sky idea is what I thought. Something that would never be.


message 21: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
I agree with Marialyce. The Glass Castle was just a fantasy of the father, something he promised his kids, but something that would never be. He made them want to believe in it, and believe in him, because they had little else to believe in in their life. So I guess maybe the Glass Castle symbolizes broken promises and false hopes?


message 22: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Before Jeannette leaves West Virginia she tells her father that she doesn't think that he will ever build it. This was a pivotal point in the story, since she was also "escaping" from living under his broken promises.


message 23: by Tiffany (last edited Aug 19, 2010 07:57AM) (new)

Tiffany | 92 comments Sheila wrote: "It was obvious that the dad was an alcoholic, and that explained alot of his behaviour. Does anyone else think that the mom most likely had mental health issues though? Her behaviour is just not ..."

Sheila,
I do think mental health problems are part of the story here, especially the descriptions of the mother's mood swings. There were moments in the book where I had a strong feeling that both of these parents loved their children, but they were not always capable of meeting their physical and emotional needs.

Today, we live in a society of great parental anxiety, where children are completely protected from everything. I could really relate to some of the scenes where the children were allowed to explore and make their own decisions because my mother gave me as much leeway as safety would allow. Her sense of safety was much different than mine as a parent today, but it really did strengthen my ability to survive as an adult. Don't get me wrong, I was never abused or neglected, and my parents did their best to make sure I had three meals a day, even when food was limited. However, part of their love for me was allowing me to explore and make my own mistakes. Some of the comments made by the mother really resonated with me.

One of the things I find interesting is how much the children enjoyed their time in the desert. Their lives were not much different in terms of being poor, but it was warm there and easy to hunt for food. They could see sleeping under the stars as an adventure instead of having rain and snow invade the only shelter they had from the cold in West Virginia. I also grew up in the desert and I have other friends from warm climates. One friend of mine always associates hamburgers for breakfast because her dad would grind the venison he hunted and would grill up burgers first thing in the morning. I found a lot of similar stories in this book that made me laugh.


message 24: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (findingjackie) | 214 comments I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who didn't really see this book as some extraordinary childhood on the part of the author. She did have a very difficult and poverty stricken upbringing but it didn't seem (to me at least) that different that what some endure. So maybe I'm jaded, right along with Tera. Or as my husband says I "grew up too poor for my own good."

From the build-up I'd heard and read, I opened this book expecting just horribly depraved abuse and neglect that would just shock me to read how Walls could show her parents in such a forgiving light. I was a little disappointed in that regard.

I will say I did enjoy the book because I could relate to it on many levels. And I was very thankful as well that she didn't come across as whiny or like she was having a pity party.


For my part, I think she didn't say anything in class when the professor challenged the author's opinion about how people end up in poverty because she was ashamed or embarrassed about it. I was a little disappointed in her reaction, too. Maybe she didn't need to give a speech, but I would have liked to see her push back on the professor. It was almost like the professor thinks this student sitting in a Ivy League school that no one who ever went to a good college could know what it means to be poor? I would have pushed back. I never advertise my upbringing but I never deny it either. I do think, on the flip side, this book is a part of Walls claiming her past as much as she tried to distance herself from in as a young adult.


message 25: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Jackie wrote: "I will say I did enjoy the book because I could relate to it on many levels. And I was very thankful as well that she didn't come across as whiny or like she was having a pity party. "

You bring up a good topic, Jackie.

And this is addressed to anyone who wants to discuss it...
What did you think about the tone that Walls used when writing the book and how did the tone contribute to the story that she told?


message 26: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1274 comments This has been a great discussion and I wished I could participate more, but we are back to school this week.

I think Wall's tone was that of a reporter - which afterall she is - looking in on a story. She told the tale of her family background with an observers eye, unencumbered by any self-pity, indignation or bitterness. I think perhaps that is also part of why she survived such a childhood. She has had the ability somewhere along the line to maintain some objectivity. She tells it so matter-of-factly that there is a sense of forgiveness, grace and even humor.

I agreed with everything everyone has been saying about the mental illness issue. Her parents are anything but conventional in their vision of family and society. They are certainly dysfunctional by most standards. On the other hand, as many have pointed out, that is probably what made Walls independent and self-sufficient. We are obviously a product of our past. What might weigh one person down could be an inspiration to triumph above it for another.


message 27: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Nancy, great point about the tone being that of a reporter. I have read some criticism about the tone, some readers didn't care for her lack of emotion or judgment, but I personally think it added to the story.

Also, despite the chaotic and deprived childhood that the children experienced, there was still plenty of love in the family. The children stuck together and they still loved their parents. Even though their dad stole from them and angered them and their mom bought herself chocolate instead of feeding the children, I could still pick up on a strong bond and love among them.

One of my favorite parts of the book was when the dad gave them stars for Christmas. To me, that story showed me that Rex really did love his children and for the most part he seemed like a very lovable dad (until he took Jeannette to the bar later on and sent her away with a questionable man, that part made me a bit uncomfortable).

We've talked a little about Jeannette's mother and there seems to be some opinion that mental illness may have affected her behaviors--- what is your opinion of Rex Walls? He was certainly an alcoholic, but also showed love to his children in his own unique way. What do you think Jeannette's opinion of her father is/was?


message 28: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1274 comments I think there is a fine fine line between madness and brilliance and both Rex and her mother were riding that line back and forth. One moment they would be impatient with people who's priorities seemed out of whack in their system of values and sometimes made some very valid points. The next minute they were dishonest, rationalizing all their poor choices with one excuse after another. I do think they did love their children in their own fashion, in the only ways they knew how.


message 29: by Jackie (last edited Aug 23, 2010 07:12PM) (new)

Jackie (findingjackie) | 214 comments I was actually glad Walls' tone was more factual, because if she had veered into anything like whiny, I don't know if I would have gotten to the end of the book. But, on the flip side, I do think the emotional end of the book is shallow. I feel she could have explored her own reactions and feelings a lot more without dipping to the pity party mode.

I don't think it's too unusual that the parents and kids still love each other, even after putting each other through various kinds of hell. I've learned from my own experience as well as watching my friends' families, it's (usually) pretty difficult to make a kid hate his or her family.

In that regard, I think she loved her father, but given her lack of any emotional discussions, it's hard for me to discern what she really felt about her parents and if she harbored any resentment toward them all. Or even what she thought of the emotional issues. Did she think her mother and father were mentally ill or just making unconventional choices? She doesn't really explore that much.

Rex was an alcoholic, no doubt. I also think he was probably abused as a child in some fashion, if Brian's run-in with Irma is any indication. I think both of her parents had their own mental issues and those issues just fed off each other, to make a very co-dependent and dysfunctional dynamic between the 2 of them. They were too wrapped up in their own issues and co-dependence to really be a true parenting figure for the children.


message 30: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1274 comments Well put Jackie!


message 31: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments I agree, Nancy, well put Jackie! And I think it's interesting that (as far as my research has led me to believe) none of the Walls kids have kids of their own. If someone finds anything that disagrees with that let me know.

What about Maureen? She seemed to "break" at the end of the book when she stabbed her mother. Jeannette didn't really go into detail about that incident or about Maureen herself, and I am curious....


message 32: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany | 92 comments I was curious about Maureen as well and I wonder if the signs of depression and possible mental illness we see in her mother was also affecting Maureen. I also found it interesting that Walls felt brining Maureen to New York was a mistake. It was clear that other families had "adopted" her, so it is hard not to wonder what would have happened if she stayed where she was.


message 33: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jwilliams1284) | 12 comments I'm only about 50 pages into the book but I am captivated. Walls tells a story of such a tragic childhood in a way I have never seen. The circumstances on their own, such as the children being forced to ride in the back of the uhaul, is just heart wrenching. However. The way Walls tells the story makes the parents actions seems 'completely logical'. I think what has captured me thus far is how Walls manages to tell such a sad story that makes you chuckle at the idiocracy of her situation often! Never had I thought I would read a story about child abuse that would make me laugh and cry all at the same time.


message 34: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (findingjackie) | 214 comments I think part of Maureen's issues was she only had memories from WV. The life they had out West was not even close to ideal but it seem to get worse when they moved back east.

In WV, the wheels just start to come off. Dad's more out of control, mom's even more disconnected. The older 3 kids seemed to have bonded and had a "us against the world" thing that did not include Maureen. She was going from one person's house to another, looking for escape and comfort, I think. As messed up as it was, Jeanette had Brian and Lori. They were each other's push to get out. Who did Maureen have? Lori and Jeanette knew there was a way out.. Did Maureen know that? I don't know. You'd be surprised at the patterns that people repeat just because they don't know they have a choice to change or they don't have the support to give them courage to make changes.

And I think being less bonded to her siblings and then being left in WV with no one to look out for her but herself, she was going to more prone to repeat her parents patterns than to make her own way like the older kids. Even toward the end with Maureen freaks out and then goes to CA, it doesn't seem like Jeanette reaches out to her as much as she does with Brian and Lori, or even her parents.


message 35: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (findingjackie) | 214 comments Ok.. that last post was a bit disjointed. I'll try to post some thing more coherent tomorrow.


message 36: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments I am so sorry I entered this discussion so late. I read this book with my in-person book group a couple of years ago and we all enjoyed it. I appreciated the tone. Jeannette id not come off as self-serving. She was able to depict a realistic situation, both its pain and its laughter. I did not hate the parents, despite their inadequacies. After meeting the paternal grandparents and extended family, the father's limitations became understandable. He certainly was a better parent than anything he had known, and maybe all we can ever hope to o is a bit better. I need to read Half Broke Horses in the hope that it may help me understand Jeannette's mother in a similar way.

I agree with the comments that identified mental health illness in the mothr. I thought I saw both mania and depression in her behavior. She could stay in bed with no communication for long periods. She likewise would start huge projects like filling the tiny house with paintings which never got completed. Both parents could move in unrealistic visionary directions that suddenly evaporated.

I also wondered about Maureen. I thought that her age, the lack of bonding with and shared experience with the older siblings may have crippled her emotionally. When a child, I thought that Maureen might escape the worse that the family dynamic could cause. Her escapes to the homes of other families seemed to allow her to avoid the worse of the malnurition and lack of adequate clothing and need to parent the parents. But, as an adult, she seemed to have the greatest need to continue to escape, turning to drugs.

I thought I saw signs of the mothr's mental health problems in the behaviors of the adult Lori. Lori had her mother's creativity, but also her inability to fully function. I wonder how Brian performed as a husband and father. I wonder if alcoholism ravaged other family membes. I only recall Maureen struggling with addictions, but, it has been several years since the story was fresh in my mind.

Thanks for allowing me to stic my 2 cents in so late in the conversation.


message 37: by Tera, First Chick (new)

Tera | 2563 comments Mod
Irene you can jump in a discussion at any point in the game... even months after a book was discussed if you have something you want to add so no need to apologize. :)

Jackie I totally get what you're saying about Maureen. I had never thought about her making her choices because of her lack of sibling bonding but I do now and think the argument has merit. Although at the same time I think she had examples of two livestyles when it came time for her to decide what path she wanted - her parents or her siblings.

I do think the mother had some issues but after reading Half Broke Horses I think she was just prone to reckless choices. I dont know enough about mental illness to know if it's something that is always there or developes later in life or perhaps a life trigger sets it off.


message 38: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Irene wrote: "I am so sorry I entered this discussion so late. I read this book with my in-person book group a couple of years ago and we all enjoyed it. I appreciated the tone. Jeannette id not come off as s..."

THanks for joining us, Irene! Please do not apologize for joining late.

I'm also curious about Lori. She certainly inherited the artistic side of her mother, and I wonder about the other parts. Is Brian a father? I hadn't read that he had kids, but I do remember reading somewhere that he was married.

And to answer Tera's question about mental illness, the onset of bipolar disorder is usually in the 2nd-3rd decade of life, but it can also be diagnosed a bit later.


message 39: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jwilliams1284) | 12 comments I just finished the story and am finding it difficult to come to conclusions about it because of the conflicting emotions involved with it. I found it inspiring to read how the children escaped the trap and made successful lives for themselves in the toughest city around.

I agree with what Jackie said about Maureen. I think the fact that she was so far apart in age from her other siblings caused an impossible gap between them. Maureen had to find her own way through some bad decisions. I'm curious to know what happened to her after moving to California.

The one part of the book I was really disappointed in was the scene where Jeannette was in class discussing the homeless. After everything she had been through and how tough she was raised, I was surprised that she would not speak up about how she related to the topic. Maybe this was all part of her building a new life and erasing the past but, still disappointing.


message 40: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Nelson (jmnelson419) | 16 comments I just finished this book last night. One thing I found interesting was how Rex's alcoholism seemed to get progressively worse throughout the story. Then, after I thought about it, I realized he was probably always about the same level of an alcoholic--but the progression in the book is due to the fact of Jeannette was growing up and realizing what was really going on. Her early memories are told in the eyes of a child, not as an adult looking back on her childhood. I thought this was an interesting way to tackle this subject. Early in the book the actions of the parents were easily justified by Jeannette, then as the book progressed she realized how wrong their actions were.

I too, found myself laughing at times, but less so as the story progressed. And like many of you I was disappointed in Jeanette's silence during class.

Overall I enjoyed this book, it kept my interest and was an easy read--and it gave me a new perspective on my own upbringing.


message 41: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments I may be in the minority, but I would have found anything other than silence in class by Jeannette to have been odd. Most children who grow up in a situation condemned by society experiences shame. This seems to be true of abuse, incest, parental substance abuse, family mental illness, isolated poverty, neglect, exploitation, homelessness and the like. Somehow, the child so identifies with the situation that the child feels as if the condition disapproved of by others is either their fault or will otherwise stigmatize them. Jeannette was not very far removed from poverty and homelessness when she found herself in that classroom. She had tried to hide her poverty as much as possible from her high school peers. She had experienced first hand the rejection and negative sterotypes that comes from such poverty. She did not yet have experiences that could have told her that her story might elicit understanding, praise for her ability to overcome, or even open-minded acceptance. Her gut would have told her that being associated with homelessness would have resulted in pity at best and condemnation at worse, neither of which she would have wanted to have risked at that point in her development.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Well, said, Irene. It's been quite awhile since I read this, but that is how I recall my feelings at the time.


message 43: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Great observations, Jessica. I hadn't yet considered that Jeannette perceptions of her parent's actions dictated how she told the story.

Irene, I absolutely agree that those are the reasons why Jeannette didn't speak up in class, however, a part of me was "rooting" for her and wanted her to stand up to her professor. It's kind of like rooting for the underdog or witnessing someone succeed after constantly being suppressed. She has mentioned that it took a lot of courage for her to write this book as she was afraid that she would lose some friends once they learned how she was raised.


message 44: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments Gillian, I had forgotten that she had expressed that concern about losing friends after writing the book. It has been a while since I read the book. Isn't it so sad that se would have to fear that even though she has proven herself in so many ways. How hard it must be for those first moving across the line from such poverty into middle class social norms. How quick we all can be to judge. It is a good challenge for me.


message 45: by Donna (new)

Donna Greene (donaverde) | 9 comments Tera wrote: "I read this and her follow up book which was more of a prequel to this story talking about her maternal grandmother.

Maybe it's because I grew up dirt poor, or maybe I'm jaded but I didn't thi..."


I think having an interesting story to tell and the talent to tell it well is the basis for a book. I too grew up poor and had friends who were poorer than I. I could never write about my childhood in the way that Jeannette has.


message 46: by Donna (new)

Donna Greene (donaverde) | 9 comments Irene wrote: "I may be in the minority, but I would have found anything other than silence in class by Jeannette to have been odd. Most children who grow up in a situation condemned by society experiences shame..."

I agree Irene. I also grew up poor and was ashamed and even lied as a child to try and hide my family poverty. As I have aged I have become more open about my childhood and try to help children living in poverty see that there are roads that can lead out of poverty. I would not have spoken up either, I would have been secretly proud that I fooled him and others into thinking I was like them and not an outsider.


Maggie the Muskoka Library Mouse (mcurry1990) An eye-opening read that did a good job at reminding me that not everyone is as lucky as I am.


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