The mysterious Sandy, it seems, is Marshall’s daughter. Instantly, the setting is laid for a Freudian excuse for her problems – though we don’t know what they are yet. Marshall was never around when she was a child, and in fact, outright hated her: “her cries for love and attention came out like stabs, and Marshall gave her attention, all right, like dogs give to cats”. As someone who grew up with the knowledge that one of my parents didn’t love me*, someone who grew up in a home torn apart by parent-child fighting, my heart immediately goes out to Sandy. All she wants is her daddy’s love, and here he is musing that “his love for her kept coming out like spite, with anger and cutting words”. To a young child, that sort of thing is downright emotionally abusive – it’s a hard thing to hear about how a parent’s love is unconditional, especially in church where God is likened to a father figure, and then turn around and find conditions put on that love, and nothing but hostility when you try to claim it. I’d not be surprised to find that Sandy is an atheist – from my experience, either you cling more tightly to God the Father as a replacement for an earthly shitty father, or you reject the notion of perfect all-loving parents at all and learn to accept the flawed world of humanity as it is. She’s also likely to have deep-seated insecurities relating to her father’s rejection of her, which may at this point in her life lead to neuroses which make it even harder to relate to her father.
To Marshall’s credit, he seems to be trying: “Let her talk, let her spill how she feels, and don’t be harsh with her. Love her for who she is, let her be herself, don’t try to corral her.” It’s indicative of just how bad things have gotten that he’s giving this pep talk to himself before something as mundane as picking her up from university – apparently, he’s avoided all interaction with her in an effort to curb the fighting, something she can’t be taking well. Sadly, instructing yourself to just love someone and let petty things go is easier said than done. One wonders if Marshall himself is ready for this encounter or if he could benefit from some therapy to work through whatever issues he’s projecting onto his progeny.
Sandy is a freshman, taking some summer classes to catch up thanks to moving to town too late to enroll on time – which is unusual because we’re talking about college here. Why couldn’t she have moved on her own to go into the dorms? Why didn’t she enroll for fall like every other college-bound 18-year-old? Why did she feel trapped into going to a school where her parents moved? Why didn’t she use this chance to escape from a toxic home situation? We’re not told, primarily because we’re seeing this interaction through Marshall’s eyes and he doesn’t seem to care about any of this. Of course their moving dictates Sandy’s college choices, just like it’d dictate her high school, middle school, and elementary school options. Of course she can’t live on her own yet. She’s only 18. That’s hardly fully grown.
Sandy is, like many freshman, undeclared. Marshall passes judgement silently on her choice to take “psychology of the self” – showing that he doesn’t understand college. A psych class – any psych class – would probably count as a soft science, thus filling a science-without-lab prerequisite without requiring dissections or chemicals or other nastiness for those of us who aren’t into that sort of thing. Furthermore, “psychology of the self” sounds like the softest of the psych classes – I took Biological Psychology to fill a life science credit, and that took a lot of memorization and work. A class like that just screams “easy A” – and it’s a summer class, when you really don’t want to have to work hard because it’s too damn hot(I took Intro to Earth Science over the summer for similar reasons). Show up, go through some worksheets, write an essay about why the self is really not a single entity but an ever-changing snapshot of blah blah blah, get your A, move on with life, never having to dissect a single frog or squid. But I suppose he can’t really ask Sandy to explain all this, not if he’s screaming at her by the time she finishes a sentence.
Marshall finds her classroom – room 101, stereotypically – and we’re treated to a bit of eavesdropping that supports the easy-A idea: “…so if we settle for a simple ontological formula, ‘I think, therefore I am’, that should be the end of the question. But being does not presuppose meaning…” They’re discussing the meaning of life, starting from Descartes. This is the softest of sciences – assuming Sandy is reasonably intelligent, she’s probably already decided what to say in her final essay and checked out. “The meaning of life is to find your own meaning”, or “The meaning of life is whatever you make of it”, or “Life is an illusion, and any meaning found therein is similarly illusion, therefore, there is no meaning” – something that sounds well-reasoned without having to actually commit to any given philosophy.
Marshall, on the other hand, has a similarly dismissive attitude towards the class, but for entirely different reasons. “Here was more of that college stuff, that funny conglomeration of sixty-four-dollar words which impress people with your academic prowess but can’t get you a paying job”. This tells us that Marshall has no degree of his own – he’s utterly dismissive of the idea of college, so it’s doubtful he ever went – and furthermore, fails to understand…. well, okay, back up. We have no idea when this is taking place, but it’s reasonably modern – probably the 70s or 80s. That’s far back enough that the modern educational jump – the bachelor’s degree being the new high school degree – hadn’t quite happened yet, meaning a degree was still worth quite a lot on paper. The idea that education is entirely irrelevant, that it poisons your soul to no earthly benefit and at great earthly as well as spiritual cost, is a fundamentalist Christian one that persists to this day, and it’s never made much sense to me. It doesn’t matter what you learn if the piece of paper can get you a job on its own, does it?
Of course, it might just be his irrational Scientology-esque hatred of psychology and psychologists. Marshall smirks as he mentally rips apart the entire field based on his teenage daughter’s understanding of pop psychology: “first Sandy blamed her snotty attitude on a violent birth experience, and then what was it? Poor potty training?” It’s a shame, really, because here is a man who could use some counselling, and a broken home that is likely the cause of her issues, but he’s already decided the entire field has nothing of interest to say to him or his daughter and therefore rejects the chance at healing ahead of time.
Worse, he rejects any chance at healing SHE might find. Remember that she’s grown up being yelled at over nothing every time she interacts with her father: odds are, she has low self esteem and some insecurity issues. Now, as a young adult, she’s exploring “self-knowledge, self-esteem, identity”; Marshall continues to mentally deride her for this, insisting that “she already knew how to be hung up on herself — now they were teaching it to her in college.” And where did you learn to be so hung up on yourself that you ignore your daughter’s needs, Marshall? Did you have to take a night class?
He decides to sneak into the class so he can spy on his daughter; he’s amazed to find that the teacher is actually pretty, not an older woman with horn-rimmed glasses. Surprise, Marshall: all kinds of people can be teachers, not just old maids. The teacher notices his presence, however, and the following very normal exchange follows:
“Is there something you want?” […]
“I’m just waiting for my daughter,” he answered, and his tone was courteous.
“Would you like to wait outside?”
Oh wait, my mistake. That would be too normal for this book. While the above exchange is occurring, the teacher uses some kind of voodoo witchcraft to make him really creeped out, followed by mind control to make him leave the room without actually consenting to turn and leave. Apparently whatever Brummel sold his soul to, she’s done it as well.
Sandy, understandably, ignores her dad’s presence. She’s not fond of the guy, nor he of her, and he just disturbed her class. Of course she’s not going to own up to being his kid. As he follows her, his legs feel like lead weights – because unseen by him, there’s a demon clinging to his legs. She waits for him outside, once her friends have left, and he immediately becomes sarcastic and angry with her. “So who stole all the ‘No Parents Allowed’ signs? How was I supposed to know she didn’t want me in there?” I don’t know, maybe because you’re not a student here, nor did you pay to take the class? How would you feel if random strangers were allowed to sneak in and stare at your daughter creepily? There’s meant to be security to keep non-students off the campus so that it’s a safe learning environment – and furthermore, if you don’t pay for the class, you’re not supposed to sit in on it. But apparently common sense is beyond this man.
He screams at her in public, insisting he has the right to know what she’s learning; she retorts that the professor has every right to decide who is and is not allowed in her class. Marshall falls back on the old standby of assholes everywhere: “And just who’s paying her salary, anyway?”. Sandy lets that go in favor of the more important issue – her autonomy as an adult and as a person. “As for me, and what I am learning, and what I am becoming, and where I am going, and what I wish, I say you have no right to infringe on my universe unless I personally grant you that right!”
Her words are a bit harsh for a child to a parent, but understandable – he’s been nothing but a dick to her, and she wants him to butt out of her life. She sounds a bit pretentious doing so, but she’s using the words she’s managed to learn, falling back on them to explain herself because she doesn’t have any others. Marshall, meanwhile, is blinded by anger, anger so fierce and overwhelming he needs to hit someone – though he’s careful to aim away from his daughter. She, of course, flees from him, given he’s out of control and consumed by rage – and the demon that’s been following him latches on, preying on Marshall’s insecurities to drag him down.
The angels from before apparently save him, but we’re left to wonder – how could this have been prevented? Marshall’s anger issues aren’t mentioned as such, nor addressed as the problem – the narrative, being from his point of view, seems to be blaming Sandy for his own lack of self-control. Are we seriously meant to believe that Sandy should have meekly submitted to her father’s controlling, inappropriate behavior, lest she wake his wrath and summon demons to prey on his soul?
*Love is a funny thing. It may or may not have been, strictly speaking, true, but as a child, I was utterly convinced I was unlovable because my primary caregiver seemed, to my eyes, to hate me. Now I understand better that she had a number of issues, most of which had little to nothing to do with me, but it’s impossible not to take that kind of thing personally.