Study Guide

The Rules of Survival Choices

By Nancy Werlin


I have decided to write it all down for you, and I will, but that decision doesn't keep me from having my doubts. I wonder if maybe it would be better if you never read this. I wonder if you really need to know exactly what happened to us—me, you, Callie—at the hands of our mother. (P.2)

Even Matthew—the writer of this long letter—isn't sure that he should hand it over to Emmy. Would it be better for her to know everything that happened, or is she better off just forgetting the bad parts of their childhood?

A weak man would be hypnotized, paralyzed. (As far as I can tell, this was what happened to my father, Ben, when he met Nikki as a teenager.) A bad man would be attracted to her on a more equal basis. And a good man, of course, would run like hell. (9.2)

When Murdoch realizes that Nikki is a violent and unhinged person, he makes the choice to leave. Matthew can respect that choice, but this doesn't mean that he doesn't resent Murdoch at least a little bit for leaving them all in the lurch.

He'd left us, left me and Callie, just because he was told to. He was there one day, and then the next, he was slinking off with one old suitcase and a backpack, leaving behind lots of stuff he cared about… (13.6)

Ben chose to give up his role as a father just because Nikki told him to go. Instead of fighting for the kids, he made the decision to take the easy way out—and it's haunted him ever since.

Callie and I knew a couple of kids from school who had had to go into foster care. Foster care didn't sound good, and it didn't' sound safe. They often broke siblings up, we understood, and sent them to different families. (17.9)

It's easy for someone else to say that the kids should have reported their mother to the authorities, but the reality isn't that simple. They made the choice to keep it all a secret because they didn't want to be broken up.

"But she ignored so much, for so long. How come suddenly—"

"One day, she took that first step to get involved. It felt right to her, so that led to more. It's simple." (22.7-8)

Matthew doesn't get how Aunt Bobbie could just wake up one day and decide to be an awesome mother figure. But it really does happen like that—she just decides that she needs to start protecting the kids. And that's exactly what she does from thereon out.

"I'll think about it all," Murdoch said. "I don't know how yet, but I'll figure something out." His voice was calm. "Just give me some time—oh, and your father's and your aunt's phone numbers. Okay?" (25.76)

Murdoch could have easily turned Matthew away and washed his hands of the whole messy Walsh clan, but he doesn't. When Matthew comes to him for help, Murdoch rises to the occasion and comes up with a plan to get the kids out of there.

But her good mood didn't last past the next morning, when—after consulting with my new, unexpected ally, Aunt Bobbie—I went to the police station. I had gotten the name of the right policeman, an Officer Brooks, from simply listening to Nikki. Aunt Bobbie, clearly scared but also somehow righteous, went with me. (28.1)

Matthew is playing with fire when he goes to give his statement against Nikki, but he's willing to put himself in danger. If it means that Nikki might lose custody—or at least get in trouble with the law—he's willing to risk it all.

Julie saw Nikki sitting out there in her car, watching his house, waiting for him. And she decided to draw her off, because she thought the whole situation was like something in a suspense thriller. (38.14)

Talk about a bad move. Julie really underestimates Nikki and what she is capable of. Instead of understanding that Nikki is totally dangerous, Julie decides to play a little game of cat and mouse with her… and it ends very badly.

And to this day, Emmy, I think often about Julie and what my desires and my actions did to her and her life. I suppose she was the one who made the decision that night to go out and play games with Nikki. But even so, I believe my fingerprints are all over Julie's wheelchair. (39.13)

Even though Julie is the one who decides to mess with Nikki, Matthew still feels awfully guilty about what happens to her. And it's only complicated for him by the fact that what happens to Julie is also what saves the kids.

I would have done it, Emmy. I had drawn back my foot to kick Nikki in the head with the full force of all that rage and hate inside me, when a truck came roaring to the gate again. (51.1)

Murdoch steps in and stops Matthew from making a terrible, long-lasting decision. He wants to kill his mother, but Murdoch convinces him that it's not the right thing to do, and that he doesn't want to live with that kind of blood on his hands.