Study Guide

Where Things Come Back Versions of Reality

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Versions of Reality

When one is sitting in the passenger seat of his best friend's car, and an overly enthusiastic hillbilly is ranting in the backseat about being snubbed by a cheerleader at lunch, his mind begins to wander and think about zombies. (1.48) 

Hmm… do you think that Cullen would maybe have more friends if he wasn't always imagining zombie apocalypses happening in his town? It's obvious that he's using these alternate worlds in order to escape his own when he's bored or having a particularly unpleasant time. 

"Cullen Witter, folks! He lives in the future, only he does it today!" Lucas shouted out the window as we passed an endless span of trees, grass, and nothingness. (5.81) 

Cullen Witter may live in boring old Lily like everyone else, but in his mind, he's long gone. He's always living in the bright, exciting future where he's gotten out of this Podunk town and has made it to somewhere dazzling. 

"I think I don't care. I'm tired of seeing posters for that bird in the place of posters for my brother. I'm tired of reading articles about the bird instead of ones about my brother, and I'm tired of hearing John Barling's voice on the radio and seeing his face on the TV when he is talking about that bird instead of talking about my brother." (5.159) 

Maybe it seems harmless that all the townspeople in Lily are super into the reemergence of the Lazarus bird, but Cullen sees it as a personal affront. All these people are putting their energy into finding a stupid bird instead of finding his brother. 

The road was lonely and desolate and all those things that a road is not supposed to be when you are driving down it at five minutes to midnight after leaving your new girlfriend's house and wondering whether or not she really exists or is part of your imagination—some mental coping mechanism that has taken over your thoughts and actions. (11.18) 

Things have been so crazy this summer that Cullen has a hard time believing that <em>anything</em> is real. After all, his brother has disappeared without a trace, his cousin has died, and a woodpecker has apparently come back from extinction. That's surreal. 

"What's funny?" Mena asked.

"There's a psychic in my house and I'm crying on the porch."

"And?" Lucas said.

"And I'm wondering how much more absurd this can all get." (11.80-83) 

The whole situation surrounding Gabriel's death is heartbreaking, but it's also funny in a dark way. And if Cullen can laugh about it, then who can blame him? It's better than crying all the time. 

Lucas Cader looked for his lost brother in everyone he met, but in Gabriel and me in particular. Aunt Julia would, from then on, look for Oslo in the people she met. And likewise, I assumed that my mom and dad would always look for Gabriel, both literally and figuratively speaking. (15.107) 

Loss changes the way people see the world because they're always going to look for ways to fill the gap in their life with what they miss the most. Cullen can see it changing his parents and aunt even over the course of that summer. 

In his eyes, Cabot Searcy had perhaps rushed into this marriage, but did not regret it for one single moment. Alma Ember was beginning to doubt every single decision she'd ever made. (16.1) 

Well, Alma Ember and her new husband, Cabot Searcy, are definitely not on the same page. In fact, Alma doesn't even know if she wants to be married to him anymore. Maybe this isn't what she thought it was. 

"I want you to know that it's gonna be okay, Cullen."


"School'll start soon, and one day you're gonna come home and Gabe's gonna be sittin' right here on the floor listening to this song." (17.81) 

Everyone else is losing hope, but Cullen's mom seems to hold onto the belief that one of these days, everything will right itself. Gabriel will just show up as though he was only gone for a few hours. 

"Cullen, you're just in love with the idea of us being together and the idea of this working. It's not me, I promise."

"It's not you," I repeated back, a blank look on my face. (17.96-97) 

All this time, Cullen has been convinced that he's madly in love with Ada Taylor. But she recognizes his blind adoration for what it is: a boy idealizing a girl he doesn't even know.  None of this clicks until she says it to his face. 

The meaning of some bird showing up and some boy disappearing and you knowing all about it. The meaning of this was not to save me, but to warn you instead. To warn you of confusion and delusion and assumption. To warn you of physics and zombies and ghosts of your lost brother. (21.15) 

Maybe the stories of the Lazarus bird and Gabriel's disappearance seems pointless to most people, but to Cullen they <em>do </em>mean something. They serve as a warning of how dangerous and random life can be, and how it can throw you some pretty unexpected curveballs. 

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