Chapter 35 Summary

August Through the Peephole

Olivia describes her brother’s appearance in detail: his eyes are too low, and they are oddly slanted. They sit crooked on his face, and they bulge out from too-small eye sockets. His top eyelids hang halfway over the eyes even when he is wide awake, and his bottom eyelids droop to reveal the red skin below. He has no eyebrows and no eyelashes. His nose is a huge blob. His face is pinched in at the sides as if it has been crushed. He has no cheekbones, so his skin sags. He looks “melted, like the drippings on the side of a candle.” Surgical scars surround his mouth. He has an overbite, and his teeth stick straight out.

When August was little, he looked even worse than he does now. He had no chin, and his tongue hung out all the time. After jaw surgery, he learned to keep his tongue in his mouth and to eat on his own. Before that he had to use a feeding tube, and he could not talk. All his improvements are “considered miracles.” When he was a baby, nobody expected him to survive so long.

Another miracle is that August is able to hear. His ears are tiny “cauliflower-shaped” blobs, and the doctors expected him to be deaf. But he can hear okay, at least for now. August dreads the day when he will have to start wearing hearing aids, although Olivia thinks this will be “the least of his problems.”

Olivia wonders how much August understands about the way others see him. He is good at pretending it does not bother him. Maybe he barely notices. He certainly never mentions it.

Olivia also wonders how August sees himself. Maybe he sees the beautiful, beloved child their parents see. Maybe he has a dream self that lurks beneath his misshapen face. Olivia sometimes saw a younger version of Grans shine out from underneath all the wrinkles. Does August have an imaginary, more perfect self underneath? 

But Olivia cannot tell how August feels, not anymore. Before his surgeries, she could read his face. Now he looks much better, but it is hard for her to keep up with the changes that every surgery brings. Her parents can read him, but she always seems to lag behind. And she does not always feel like putting out the effort: “Why can’t he say what he’s feeling like everybody else?”

It is starting to bother Olivia, the way she and her family constantly accommodate August’s every need and mood. Everyone treats him like a baby, and he acts like a baby. It is time for him to grow up and accept the real world. She reflects:

Here’s what I think: we’ve all spent so much time trying to make August think he’s normal that he actually thinks he is normal. And the problem is, he’s not.