Study Guide

Where Things Come Back Isolation

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I wasn't thinking about missing him or pitying him or even about how angry I was at him. I was just standing there like some ass-hat, mouth half-open and eyes glued to one spot. (1.5) 

Oslo's death doesn't necessarily make Cullen sad or angry—in the moment that he sees the body, he's just struck by the fact that he has one less family member alive. He has no cousins now. 

He still slept, an impossibly sincere smile on his face. He had a habit of shutting out the world. Habits like this meant that he didn't look up when he walked down the hallway at school. (1.12) 

Gabriel is alone by choice. He may just have a few friends, but he doesn't feel lonely or left out. He's in his own little world and he's perfectly content with that. 

With that, his father left the room and Benton, anger boiling up from places he hadn't known existed, clenched his fists tightly and, for a few moments, forgot how to breathe. He wanted to get up, walk out, and pick up Susie at her house; continue with the plans he'd been excited about for weeks. But he couldn't. (6.34) 

Poor Benton—he'll never feel at home amongst his peers if he's trying to live up to his father's expectations. Since everyone else is a terrible sinner to Benton's father, it means that Benton doesn't get to go out and socialize. 

Upon his return home and after hearing of his conversation with Reverend Hughes, Benton's father chose to stop acknowledging his son altogether. As if this wasn't bad enough, Benton was nearly shunned by his entire family, who, save for the occasional "How are you?" or "Could you pass the salt?" seemed oblivious to his very existence. (6.35) 

Wow, that's a pretty cold reception. Instead of supporting Benton in his time of need, his family pretty much turns their backs on him. No wonder he ends up killing himself; it's not like anyone is there to tell him that it's all going to be okay. 

My least favorite thing about that summer was the way in which strangers looked at me in stores, restaurants, and places like that. I would walk by them and enter a room and suddenly, as if they had practiced and been waiting to do so, people would lean their heads down or turn to someone next to them and begin to whisper… (11.32) 

People probably think that they're being nice to Cullen and his family by offering them food and free stuff, but Cullen would prefer that they just <em>look</em> at him normally again. 

Before Lucas Cader moved to Lily and became my friend, I spent most of my time either with my brother or completely alone. (13.46) 

It's a good thing Lucas came around and befriended the Witter brothers, huh? They didn't really have a busy social calendar before that, and it would have been really rough for Cullen to go through Gabriel's disappearance without any friends to support him. 

"Cullen, no matter what ya'll do, I'll always be all alone. A dead husband, a dead son. Then there's me. Ole Julia"—she began to get louder—"the queen of Sherwood Drive!" (15.54) 

Poor Aunt Julia. There really is very little that Cullen and his family can offer her. She's had the people who she loves most in the world snatched from her, and now she just has to keep living with the pain. 

"She's at his house again," I said to him.

"Damn," he said.

"That guy's more appealing in a wheelchair than I am able-bodied. How sad is that?" (17.3-5) 

It's pretty cold of Ada Taylor to ditch out on Cullen without a word when he's dealing with the worst summer of his life. Maybe she wasn't the girl of his dreams after all; it was all just a fantasy. 

Lucas Cader walked quickly out the front door and my dad turned the television off, stood up, and left me in the middle of the living room. I dragged my feet all the way back to my bedroom and threw myself face-first onto my bed… And I screamed just loud enough for the sound to be muffled, as if it hadn't existed at all. (17.59) 

Lucas has been right there with Cullen this whole time: sleeping on his floor, going through all the unpleasant situations (like the psychic fiasco), and even making sure that Cullen still has fun. He doesn't deserve to be pushed away like this, but maybe Cullen just feels like he's so undeserving of all this love. 

Not only had my brother disappeared, but—and bear with me here—a part of my very being had gone with him. Stories about us could, from then on, be told from only one perspective. Memories could be told but not shared. (17.60) 

Cullen feels as though his own identity has been stripped away from him now that Gabriel is gone. The brothers share all this history, and without Gabriel around, Cullen is the only person left to tell those stories and recall those memories. What a lonely responsibility. 

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