It was the in the middle of July when my mother had made the abrupt decision to move us across the country from the sunny city of Desert Hot Springs, California to a small, backwoods town of Vancleave, Mississippi whose population was just under 5,000. This was one year after my mother discordant divorce with my father, which I am sure played a significant role in her decision, that and the fact that we had family all around Jackson County. I was in fifth grade, having just developed an intense dislike of being around other people. The cafeteria was a place of foul odors, over ecstatic boys, loudmouth girls, and I recall fasting from breakfast, at about 7 in the morning, until 3:15, as I walked home through the woods from the bus stop I fantasized about the big bowl of ramen I would make myself when I got home.
I absolutely loved it, and how you could buy it in flats, at 25 cents a packet. My favorite flavors were beef, the red wrapper and pork, brown wrapper, followed closely by the strange spices of Oriental, the blue wrapper. Chicken, the orange wrapper and shrimp, the pink wrapper lacked the savory punch of the superior flavors, but they would always do. The sight of those square packets nested together into a 12-pack brick aroused a feeling of warm contentment. My love of ramen came to be as it was the only meal I could prepare myself, and my inexplicable worship ‘Naruto’ of course.
Instead of eating during the school day, I read. Every day at lunch and recess, when the other kids dashed towards the cafeteria and playground, I went in the opposite direction, to the library. The school let you check out two books at a time, and for being an unpretentious school it had an abundance of books which for me was paradise. I prefered the graphic novels and manga, and read things like “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, “Samurai Champloo”, “Fullmetal Alchemist”, “Cowboy Bebop”, and my all-time favorite “Naruto” . I read with my book concealed under my desk in practically every class until the end of sixth grade. This is when I read “Where the Red Fern Grows”, “Dicey’s Song”, “A Single Shard”, “The Giver”, and “The Outsiders” (my personal favorite). The teachers didn’t bother me about it. I got high marks on homework and tests, and they had better things to deal with. The only teacher who plotted revenge for my reading was my sixth grade English teacher, Ms. Bennett. She was a complex bigot-minded woman, constantly discriminating against me. She always took my manga away from me, spewing phrases like, “Those silly gooks know nothing about literature” and “Books with pictures aren’t real books”. She’d make me sit at my desk for the rest of class, powerless, alone, unsupported, and furious as I waited for time to pass.
At home, I assembled my ramen meal over and over without fail. It was a perfectly self-sufficient food, and the kitchen was a private place, with a different kind of solitude than at school. With my mother at work and my sisters elsewhere, no one was watching. I put the water on to boil with a practiced hand. While I waited, I tipped a few dried noodles into my mouth accompanied with Sriracha sauce. The crunch, tiny bit of salt, and a nice spicy tang were always enough to have me back for more. Reading was not allowed at family meals, but at my afternoon snack, I could prop my book against the bowl of noodles and read while I slurped.
Ramen was so critical to my nourishment that my mom turned to it to appease me on road trips. To her, it was a transportable contentment system for someone who was hard to satisfy. “There was something about hot food, something about warmth, that you need,” my mother would say. Most of the time I didn’t want or need her help, didn’t want the vulnerability that came with needing anyone else. But, trapped in a car, I had no choice. I remember on one trip, when I was irritated from hunger and frustration, my mother leaping out of the car, red beef packet in hand, saying over her shoulder, “I need to go find some boiling water.”
I was waiting to get to a place where there were other people like me and to figure out exactly what “like me” meant. This artificial diet, inadequate for a lifetime of proper nutrition, but fitting for brief periods of weakness, got me through the strangest feeling years my life. I was positive for a long time that my feeling of isolation was the result of growing up in my situation and people outside of my family who cared about words and ideas. But I now think some flavor of that secluded mentality is something everybody goes through, a universal experience. For what seemed to be three years I ate a packet nearly every day, a thousand steaming bowls. I read easily hundreds of books. My life was the reliable, satisfying bite of those easy-to-make noodles and the warm cocoon of the world’s books.
Isolation plays a major key role in “The Glass Castle”. Jeanette, albeit along with her family, are lonely but together. They are seen as freak of society, and are social outcasts put aside by the rest of civilization. This is due to how they dress, what they eat, how they speak, and where they live. They have one another, but in the end that’s all they have. They are segregated, but not by choice. The parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, choose to live life in exile. The children in the family are not given a choice in how they live, and go along with what they are told. This is why, when finally able to leave home and escape the remoteness they have faced all their life they take it.