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What Jamie Saw

Koman, Carolyn | Puffin, 1995


pp. 7, 69, 72-73

A story about a good woman whose boyfriend Van one day tosses her daughter, actually hurls her daughter, whom, fortunately the mother catches. That’s the day the mother, her son Jamie (who saw the throw and the catch), and Jamie’s half-sister Nin move out of Van’s house. So the (by now half-famous) first sentence of the book (p. 7): “’When Jamie saw him throw the baby, saw Van throw the little baby, saw Van throw his little sister Nin, when Jamie saw Van throw his baby sister Nin, then they moved.’ They move into a trailer out in the middle of nowhere that belongs to Jamie’s mother’s friend Earl, and life there is hard. There is absolutely no money. No money at all. His mother has to sleep in a recliner in the trailer, and Nin has to sleep in a drawer. One day in frustration Jamie kicks the drawer that has his little half-sister in it. She’s tucked in there complete with the cheap toy that Jamie won at the Carnival. And his mother comes at him: (p. 69) ”’What are you doing? What are you doing?’ She had her hands on Jamie’s shoulders. ‘What?’ she screamed in his face. ‘Van wasn’t enough, now you have to start this sh*t?’ She shook him once, hard, dropped her hands off his shoulders, and spun around to pick up Nin.’ And Jamie vomited. Now the key passage. His mother cools Jamie off with a moistened facecloth, and he asks (pp. 72-73), ‘What happened?’ And she says to him, ‘Oh God, Jamie, we’re afraid–just sick with fear. And it’s so settled inside us that we don’t even know what living feels like without it. That must be the thing about fear, the trick of it–you forget that that’s what it is because it just starts to feel like your life. We’re afraid, Jamie. That’s all we are. And if we don’t get past it, we’ll be hiding from strangers and throwing up in the sink until the day we die.’”