Study Guide

Dark Water Choices

By Laura McNeal


He said it happened two weeks ago when his mother was on her way to Paris and his dad was supposedly gunning his motorbike on trails. Robby wasn't supposed to be home, either, because the Redlands Symphony orchestra was performing in the auditorium at the high school. (8.1)

Here Pearl describes Robby's reaction to Hoyt's "affair." While the affair never actually took place, we can see here that the choices we make (in this case, stashing some girl away in your room) often lead other people to believe we are doing something that we really aren't.

Budweiser. Cold. Pre-purchased. Ready for the not-spontaneous spontaneous outing. I tried to get Greenie's eyes on mine when he snapped a beer out of its plastic bracelet and handed it to her, but Greenie didn't meet my eyes as she casually popped the metal tab. She took a sip, screwed the bottom of the can into the sand so it wouldn't tip over, and began to unwrap her taco like we were all still in Normal World. (13.41)

When Pearl ditches school with Greenie and Hickey, she doesn't realize how much of the adventure they've planned already. It's not until they bust out some cold ones that it dawns on her she might actually be doing something bad. Even though she doesn't know about the beer initially, her poor choices of lying to her teachers and skipping school lead her down this path.

I'd never been there so late in the day, when the light was orange and gnats hung in nameless constellations. In certain parts of the woods, the oldest, biggest trees were burnt to charcoal from past fires, but they'd sprouted soft leaves and young white branches. […] I always felt when I reached these huge shrouded rooms that I'd found my way to a foreign country, a secret wilderness into which I could disappear. (18.6)

Breaking her grounding (again) and sneaking off to see Amiel, Pearl realizes that she might be able to get away with this more often. There's nothing like getting away with deception to consider doing it again… and again… and again.

My whole life reminded me of how it felt to ride, when Greenie and I were little, in the back of Greenie's mother's car, an ancient Pacer with a seat that faced backward and left us staring at places we'd already been and drivers who didn't want to make eye contact. I was facing the wrong direction, but time still went forward, gliding toward destinations I couldn't see or choose. (33.4)

Leave it to Pearl to get all poetic on us. Maybe she feels like she's going backward and just floating through life because she's not being purposeful with her choices. Many times, she waits until the moment to decide what to do, without thinking through the consequences. It turns out that's not the best way to decide stuff.

Occasionally, you saw muscled men in helmets, sunglasses, and Spandex using the bike lanes of Fallbrook, but mostly it was dark-skinned men in ball caps. "They," my mother said, "have no choice." (34.8)

Pearl's mom might be talking about riding a bike with no helmet here, but we'd like to think what she says is much more telling than just her thoughts about cycling. She fills Pearl in on the fact that the undocumented workers don't have as many choices as Pearl does in life.

Then, taking just one more glance at the house, I ran to the lilac bush and began to pick my way down the rocky slope to the river. (43.28)

It only takes Pearl a split-second to decide to look for Amiel after the fire starts. We get to see her make the decision as it happens, and we aren't surprised to learn it includes a couple of lies (to Hoyt, Robby, her mom, and Greenie) and little planning. Pearl instantly knows what she wants to do and goes through with it.

I lay there thinking and trying not to think, trusting him to know when we should get in the water and fearing that no one could know when to get in the water. I felt his shadow and heard the scrape of his feet. He lay down beside me and put one arm over my waist, and we lay there front to back until I took the fists away from my eyes and turned around. (45.17)

We'd be totally scared if we were just hanging out in the woods while a fire was headed our way, but as Pearl considers her options, she chooses not to decide anything for herself at all, instead handing over the reigns to Amiel. Luckily they don't go up in flames, but it's a risky decision.

I think now we should have followed Amiel's plan. If we had, we would have stayed in the place where Robby told my uncle to look, and he would have found us. (46.2)

Pearl second-guesses Amiel's plan so much that she comes up with one of her own. It's too bad she didn't just stick with the one Amiel hatched, though, because it might have caused fewer problems for her down the line. As Pearl realizes her mistake, we wonder whether she will make decisions differently in the future.

I used him as a pillow and a sort of bed, one leg flung over his. Burrowing and gnawing into my sleep was the memory that I had never called my mother, and that memory chewed sleep to bits until I was awake again thinking, What have I done? (48.2)

Hey, we know the feeling—it's the one you can't shake after you've made a big decision and think it wasn't the right one. Pearl figures this out all too late. She knows when she wakes up after the fire that she's messed up big-time by staying in the woods; she just doesn't know how badly yet.

"So, Pearl?" various friends and not-friends asked. "Who were you with at the river?" "I can't really talk," I said, whispering as though my own voice were too damaged to explain the many things that would, if told, exonerate me. (56.8)

In the end, Pearl is embarrassed by her choices. She doesn't want to face anyone at school or at the funeral, and when she does, she pretends she can't talk so she doesn't have to face the music. It's evident that Pearl blames herself for what went down (there's even a whole theme dedicated to it), mainly because she made poor choices.